Tuesday, September 30, 2014
My Day In A Nutshell - 30 Day Challenge Day 22 - Dealing With Parental Guilt
Today was one of those hard parenting days. It wasn't overtly traumatic in any way, but if you are a sensitive person like myself you tend to package up guilt for no reason and carry it with you forever.
Basically it was a situation where the munchkin got in an unusually excessive amount of trouble during the school day which included their first blatant expression of defiance towards a teacher following what has turned into more and more consecutive days of getting into some type of trouble and then was topped off by lying and saying they got a perfect behavior score for the day and trying to trick me into not checking.
Now, I have to be honest and say that after all my years of teaching and without actually knowing the teacher, but knowing the child very well my intuition is that the teacher has not successfully established themselves with the children as an authority figure and is struggling to control the classroom OR needs to better learn the children's personalities so they can do a better job of redirecting them or having a preemptive approach BEFORE the behaviors happen. At some point they have to realize that if the same problem is happening over and over again that they are playing half of the role in that problem by expecting something different to magically happen especially when dealing with the youngest children. For example, if you know that at the end of recess you have a child who is wound up and excited and tends to continue talking to their friends in line or who is typically so engrossed in what they do that they will not hear directives, then you can't keep expecting the child to suddenly change even though you continue to allow them to get in the back of the line where it is harder to hear you anyway. Instead you bring that child to the front where they are directly supervised, where they are not distracted by other children, and where they can more clearly hear you and you stop the problem before it even starts. Over time the child will then acclimate to how they are supposed to behave in line and you can start to allow them to mix back in with the other children because the proper behavior has been successfully established.
Anyway, it isn't all the teacher's fault. The child does have to learn and since I'm not in a position to teach the teacher I can only be responsible for the child.
Enter the first time the munchkin has been in "big" trouble with me.
Most serious issues on the table =
1. telling the teacher they weren't going to finish another assignment after the teacher asked them to do some task (essentially talking back and establishing control over the teacher which is another indicator that the teacher has not established themselves as a person to respect since this isn't at all typical behavior for the munchkin to this degree) and
2. trying to be deceptive so I would not find out they were in trouble during the school day.
Enter the point where my stern teacher voice comes in and the fun after school stuff gets eliminated (no watching Hocus Pocus, no playing outside, no books or toys or sidewalk chalk) and writing the sentence "I will not talk back to my teacher or tell fibs." until the page is full or it is time to go home comes into play instead. We also have to explain to Grandpa why his TV has to stay off and why the Munchkin is writing sentences.
Enter the point where it all clicks with the munchkin and the tears start to trickle while the sentences quietly start to be written.
Now, you have to remember that this is the first time ever in her whole life that she has been in this kind of trouble with me. She has of course been in trouble at home on a few occasions and has been redirected or verbally reprimanded by me, but never has had the scenario set up to make the point to her that this is a big deal and is much more severe than before.
So, the tears start to trickle because now for the very first time ever she is encountering the sense that she has maybe disappointed someone whose opinion of her matters to her and she is feeling the first trickles of the guilt and shame and regret that good children feel when they have made a bad choice and are learning from it.
It is an extremely positive sign because you can immediately see that she gets it and she has evolved a conscious and empathy and she has just learned that there are consequences more important than having to write sentences when you make bad choices.
Yay! She is an amazing loving child!
Enter the parental guilt.
Man that lesson is so hard to watch evolve in a child and be a part of isn't it?
Now, of course once the sentences were written we talked about her choices and why listening and respecting teachers is so important and we re-affirmed that I love her more than anything in the whole wide world which elicited the biggest hug ever.
Enter more parental guilt mixed with exploding love.
These types of lessons are the hardest to teach aren't they? It is always harder on a good child when they are disciplined than on a child (or adult) who is less empathetic or connected to others. If you were one of those good kids who would rather die than disappoint someone who loved you then you know exactly what the munchkin processed and learned today AND you are probably now the adult who carries the guilt of having to teach that lesson with you until the end of time like I am.
MAN it's so hard!
The good news is that because I am the type of adult who carries that sort of guilt just because of empathy let alone because of past mistakes around I understand how I got here and I can keep her from repeating this portion of the program. Tomorrow when there is less emotion tied to the incident we can talk about it again in a much more relaxed way and re-affirm how much she is loved and how much better life is when you make the right choices, but that no matter what she is loved and what she did today does not make who she is tomorrow. She will learn that she is not her mistakes so that she can let go of them as she learns.
Yesterday we also discussed that mistakes are learning here on the blog. We just discussed it in a in a different capacity than today. (Just when I think I might not have a topic to discuss for the day one I have thought about many times in the past presents itself perfectly and suddenly here we are.)
Really today's post though is for the parents who carry guilt over nothing. It's one thing to feel guilty for abusive behavior or foul language or manipulation or neglect and those are issues that come with a type of guilt that has to be worked through and processed as well. The guilt I'm talking about here is borderline pain and suffering that we feel just watching what we know is just the beginning of a lifetime of lessons your child will learn because life is hard and most of our biggest breakthroughs come out of our greatest suffering.
One of the many reasons I chose not to have children is because I already know that I am excessively sensitive to these types of things and watching the thing you love most in the world struggle through life lessons is just not something I can sign up for. Some people handle it much better than others, but for me it falls under my" not at all good at" category. Some of you feel these things as deeply as I do, but weren't as lucky to know it before you had children and are now struggling to know what to do with those feelings.
Believe me... I feel your pain... literally.
If you search parenting guilt topics you find all kinds of support for parents who used to beat their kids or neglected their kids or had some type of problem that affected their parenting like drugs and alcohol. What you don't find is support or guidance for parents who are doing as good of a job as anyone could possibly do and still feel guilt for the times that they have to be the parent or for any of the times that their child suffers in any way just because life is sometimes hard. There is support for all of the things we feel we did wrong, but there is no support for the people who are suffering even though they didn't do anything wrong. It is one thing when you can understand that you are inherently judging yourself harshly for the past because that is something we could process through. But what about those of us who are just carrying around pain because we can empathize completely with others and it just ends up looking like guilt because there really isn't any other box to categorize it into nice and neatly? It doesn't fit into the "I leave my kids with a sitter because I have to work and provide for them" guilt box or the "I feel guilty because my child was born with a disability and I'm wondering if it is my fault" guilt box or the "I just lost my temper with my child for no reason" guilt box. It doesn't fit anywhere. It just is.
I think that is the key to letting some of it go. Knowing for sure that the pain you feel isn't from something you did wrong (because that is really what we are wondering isn't it? "Why am I feeling this way if I didn't handle life wrong? I must have done it wrong or else it wouldn't hurt.") The pain is just empathy from that moment and once the moment is over it is ok to let it go. If they aren't feeling it anymore you shouldn't be either.
The definition of an empath is this
"(chiefly in science fiction) a person with the paranormal ability to apprehend the mental or emotional state of another individual."
I'm prepared to argue that the word isn't just a concept written for entertainment purposes in science fiction novels. I believe there are people who can relate to what another person is going through so deeply that it has a lasting affect or deeply impacts them in a permanent way and living a lifetime this way can almost lead to effects similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I also think that the better your memory is the harder it is to leave these empathetic memories behind. Trying to process your own life issues and everyone else's too is a lot to handle.
The only advice I can give you is this...
if you can at least be aware in the moment of your pain that you are in fact just in the moment and are feeling the echo of old suffering you are headed in the right direction. It is ok to feel the pain, but just remind yourself that this is old pain and it is ok to let it go. Feel it, have an awareness of it, allow it to subside, and then breathe it out and allow it to leave. I think just feeling ok about letting it go is the most important part. We almost sentence ourselves to continue carrying it don't we? It's like "I don't know why I'm feeling it so I must have done something to deserve it so because I take my punishments seriously I should really roll around with it and make it count because I must have earned it." Once you realize that it wasn't earned and is just a sort of residue that has attached itself to you then you will find it much easier to let go.
It will take a while to not constantly remember how I know the munchkin felt today as her awareness matured, but I am equipped to make sure she doesn't carry one little bad day with her for the rest of her life and I am able to allow myself not to carry it with me either. Your example might be different than mine, but whatever it is, you don't have to carry it either. Put it down. Who cares if there isn't a box to put it into that fits perfectly. Just put it down and walk forward and breathe in the air of a fresh new day.