Friday, August 31, 2012

Snakes in the Path

Scott and I recently started running again.  It feels so incredibly good to be out again in the morning coolness, before my day begins.  Just alone with my thoughts and the drum, drum, drum of my feet on the pavement.  No sound except for my hot, heavy breathing in and out, in and out, in and out.  Arms pumping, hips loose in an easy stride ... I love it.

Since we both want to run while the kids still sleep, we take turns.  He'll go out first, and then when he's home I take off.  A week ago he came in, sweaty and breathing hard at the tail end of his workout.

"Be careful out there this morning, I saw another snake on the trail.  That makes three so far this month." Yikes.  So not what I wanted to hear before I headed out on my daily indulgence.

You know how once you start looking for something, you think you see it everywhere?  It's like a suggestion gets planted in your mind, and suddenly your brain interprets everything you see based on that suggestion.  That's how it was for me when I got out on the trail that morning.  Every twig, every crack in the asphalt, I shied at.  I was seeing snakes everywhere, hearing them in every rustle of the brush.  I even imagined that I saw sticks become animated and start to slither across the trail ahead of me.  I made excellent time that morning, and arrived at home with breathless relief.

It occurred to me that relationships can be like that.  Especially if there is a history of wounding, of distrust, if you feel unsafe emotionally with a person.  Tutored by your experiences to be apprehensive of injury, you interpret every look, every word, every interaction as malicious.  It doesn't matter if the person you're interacting with has malintent towards you or not - if they have repeatedly hurt you in the past, you won't trust them in the present, and will constantly be on the lookout for how they will hurt you this time.

The really tragic thing is that sometimes, we internalize the lessons of mistrust so well, having been hurt so often and repeatedly throughout our lives, that we begin to apply the guarded, dubious attitude towards everyone we interact with, not just those who have hurt us.  Particularly if the rejection and pain come from a parent, we learn early in life to be on the constant, suspicious watch for snakes in our path.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

MotheringMyth #2: {The Perfect Baby}

Continuing on in my response to the 'Myths of Mothering' (expounded upon here) ...

Mothering Myth #2:  {The Perfect Baby}
"... the myth of the 'perfect baby'"
I have never ... EVER ... seen people more competitive than when it comes to their children.  A typical conversation between two mommies at the park often goes something like this:

Mommy 1:   Little Sally is so cranky lately.  She's cutting her teeth, bless her heart ... she's only 3 months, you know.

Mommy 2:  Oh, you poor thing.  I remember when my Billy cut his teeth.  He got both upper and lower sets all at once!

Mommy 1:  ... Of course, now Sally's chewing on everything she can get her hands on.  Her favorite thing to gnaw is her board books.  She simply loooooves her books.  She won't pick up any other toys.

Mommy 2:  Did I tell you Billy already knows ten signs?  It's probably because we read so much at home.

And on and on it goes.  I have participated in my fair share of mommy brag-a-thons, so this post is written at myself as much as at anyone else.

Here's the thing.  There's nothing bad about bragging about your kid - it's great that we feel so proud of our progeny that we want to sing their praises to anyone who has ears.  But the problem is that when we only hear the good things about everyone else's children, it's easy (very easy) to fall into the trap of believing that your child is the only one who hits their sibling when they're angry.  Who throws a fit in Walmart.  Who refuses to talk to adults when addressed.

I think new moms are especially susceptible to this tendency.  When you hold the new, perfect little life in  your arms for the first time, this fear sneaks up on you and you think, "Oh boy, I hope I don't totally screw this kid up."  Then, when baby doesn't hit certain milestones when doctors (or your friends, or your mother) say he should, it confirms the fear that yes, you are indeed screwing your child up.  You're screwing him or her up royally.  And you feel helpless to do anything, because you can't make a baby sit up by himself (for example).  They just do it, when they do it.  On their own time.

It's so very easy to internalize every little thing your child does, and let it reflect negatively on yourself.  Example:  Manasseh is 3 months old.  And he still hasn't laughed.  He barely started smiling a few weeks ago.  He's content, doesn't cry much, but is just a solemn, serious little guy.  It is so so easy for me to start vociferating on the fact that he hasn't laughed yet, and try to figure out what I have done wrong to cause this:  Was I too stressed out during pregnancy?  Is it too loud and chaotic in our home?  Do I not look into his eyes enough and give him enough attention?  What if he doesn't feel loved?!!

Do you see the crazy cycle?  Do you see how easy it is to spiral onto the crazy train?  Meanwhile, everywhere you look there are happy, seemingly perfect babies and mommies, because everybody's incredibly proud of their progeny and broadcast their little offsprings' every accomplishment.  Only the accomplishments.  And when you're already feeling self-conscious about this mothering thing, and nervous that you're doing it right, you become acutely, desperately aware that your baby is not a perfect baby.  This, if internalized, can lead to feelings of inadequacy and ultimately depression.

We need to give our babies, and ourselves, permission to be who we were created to be:  Individual. Unique.  'Special Little Snowflakes'.  Defined not by what we do, or what we accomplish, but by who we are.  We need to learn to see our kids as exciting, interesting little treasures with unique personalities and characteristics that slowly unfold over time.  Because, in the end it won't matter when your baby cut his teeth, or learned to walk, or how many words he knew by the age of one.  What will matter is, did he grow up and into the person God designed him to be from the very beginining?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Boundaries

For reasons best kept private, I've been thinking a lot about boundaries lately.  Specifically, my lack of healthy boundaries as an adult.  I've spent a lot of time in introspection, recalling various times I've stumbled across a boundary, or failed to erect one.  I used to wonder,  "What is it about me that caused ____ to happen, or caused ____ to treat me that way?"

In college, we Education majors spent a lot of time observing in local schools.  My junior year, I was assigned to observe in a 3rd grade teacher's classroom for an hour a week.  I loved it.  I helped her grade papers, walked around and interacted with students during independent work time, and performed various tasks she set me to.  I felt like I was important, a part of her team, a little cog in the wheel of the learning taking place in the classroom.

Everything continued on hunky dory, weeks compounding into months as the semester wore on.  I noticed some dirty looks from a few staff, including the grumpy looking principal, but as the school in general seemed to be saturated with a negative mood, I did not let my heart be troubled and carried on in my happy little bubble.

Then, one day my professor came on site, as she would from time to time to observe us, and caught up with me in the copy room.  "Danica," she said, "I need to have a word with you."

"Ok,"  I said, "let me just finish these copies for my teacher."  I had been waiting in line for the copier and my turn had just come up.

A look crossed over her face, maybe anger, maybe displeasure, I can't be sure, but she said severely, "No, you need to come right NOW."  Embarrassed, I tucked my papers to my chest and hurriedly followed her out of the room.  At that point, I had no idea what was going on, but had a sinking premonition that it couldn't be good.  I was extremely confused.

My professor (whom I simply adored up to that point, teachers pet that I was) took me to a store room and sat me down at a broken child's desk.  "There have been complaints about you from several of the staff, Danica," she commenced.  I stared at her.

"What is it?  What have I done?"

"They say you're ... too bold.  Arrogant."  At this point I was completely flabbergasted.  Confusion quickly turned to hurt, and tears started to flow as she talked on.  I honestly don't remember any more of the conversation, except for the point when I whispered between my tears, "Help me, Jesus", and my professor stopped talking for a split second to give me a strange look.  I mostly cried, cried a lot, cried huge, ugly, sobbing, hiccuping tears, the kind that take your breath with their unkind rhythm.

To this day I still haven't been able to figure out what it was exactly that I did so wrong, wrong enough to warrant the little closeted session with  my professor.  All I can come up with is that I carried myself as if I was an equal to the other teachers and staff, which I guess I wasn't supposed to do, being a lowly college student.

Now, back to boundaries.  Coming out of that situation, the talk with my professor completely crushed me because I knew, since it came from an authority figure, the criticism MUST be true.  There was no room in my mind for her to be wrong, or mistaken (Could the staff have meant to complain about a different student and somehow gotten us mixed up?  After all I had classmates who simply didn't show up for their observation appointments at the school), or misinformed.  I was in the wrong.  And I spent years revisiting that conversation, trying to figure out what it was about ME that was so offensive to the rest of the school staff.  I accepted the shame and guilt because obviously I was in the wrong somehow.

That was the first boundary I failed to erect.  I shouldn't have accepted shame and guilt unquestioningly just because the accusation came from an authority figure.

I  may have unintentionally crossed over a boundary with the other staff, with my apparently misguided confidence, but I'm sure if that is true, the failure on my part was due to me not reading the cultural and social cues correctly.  Regardless, I know that I did not do anything heinous enough to justify my professor's handling of the affair.

Looking back at that situation, having learned about boundaries and given myself the permission to erect them, I can realize that I didn't have to let that conversation with my professor destroy my sense of self.  I didn't have to give in her perception of me.  Just because she said something about me, did not make it true.  Only I am in control of defining myself, by the grace of God.  As Popeye says, "I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam."

I read this on a blog recently:

Do any of these sound like you?
I have to always say yes to others, or else I am selfish.
I have to always hide my hurt, or else I am unloving.
I have to treat other people as faultless, or else I am holding a grudge.
I have to keep my wants and needs to myself, or else I am a burden to others.
Yes!  I replied silently.  Yes, yes, yes!  It is so incredibly freeing to realize that not everything is my fault, and I do not carry the blame for other peoples' emotions, feelings, thoughts, words, or actions.  And above and beyond that, it is ok for me to advocate for myself.  It is ok for me to assert myself in a situation where I am being taken advantage of.  It is ok, and even healthy, to set those boundaries for myself.  As the icing on the cake, on top of everything, comes the realization that I really do deserve that voice.  And it's ok for me to say it!!

If any of this resonated with you, I'd highly recommend the Boundaries books, by Dr. John Townsend and Dr. Henry Cloud.