Avoiding An Unlived Life — Even In the Toddler Years

“The greatest burden a child must bear is the unlived life of the parents.”  ~ Carl G. Jung

I was in grad school when I first heard this quote, and it rang so true to me that I vowed I would not place such a load on my own children.  The best thing about the creativity tidal wave I have been experiencing lately is that it is helping me get through a really difficult period in Olive’s development.  She is figuring out where she ends and I begin, and in the process of that, there is a lot of “NO!”, plenty of food-throwing, and an absolutely unacceptable amount of toddler yelling.  Those little lungs can BELLOW!

The other day I said to Joel, “What other group of people have a job is where they get yelled at all day, they can’t yell back, and theydon’t get paid?  Oh yeah, prisoners.”  Well, unlike folks who are incarcerated, I have the power to change things up.  I’ve been praying the Serenity Prayer a lot, to figure out what I do have control over, and letting go of what I don’t.

Quote by Reinhold Niebuhr, graphic by Pat Pitingolo

And that is *sort of* working.  I secretly think the glass of wine at the end of the day works better than all the prayer, but I can’t drink when I’m with her, so prayer will have to do!

In fact, whenever I ask my friends who have survived the toddler years how they did it, their answers often include fermented beverages. When I told Estelle that Olive was entering the so-called “Terrible Twos”, she tweeted me this blessing: “may your journey into hell be swift; your drinks strong & your babysitters always available. Gather your reinforcements, friend.” Rhiana just had one word: “booze”.

If I want to get through the next two years without becoming a total alkie, I’ve got to have more tricks up my sleeve than just my nightly glass of wine, but what should they be? Deep breathing and prayer? Check. Doing fun things with Olive so we have as many positive memories as we do battles of wills? Check. But truly, the number one thing I think I can do right now is live a brilliant life myself, immersing myself in things other than just my parenting, so that when Olive throws a tantrum about the cheese she has begged me to bring her, shredding it up and grinding it into the couch with astonishing speed, I won’t feel like my life is a total failure, because I have meaningful things going on other than just parenting.

Olive cannot appreciate that my writing, dancing, and singing is bringing me joy, meaning, and connections with other humans. She’s pretty self-centered — she just wants me at her disposal at all times. But I think children can feel when you are so invested in whether or not they are behaving well that you are taking it personally, basing your worth on their ability to obey a simple request to stop throwing toys at other kids. I’m not advocating disconnection, I’m asking for even MORE engagement with the world around you, so that one day Olive will say, “My mom was really rad. She kept up with her arts practices, even when I was in my screaming-on-the-streets-of-San-Francisco phase.” She may not understand that it is all that is keeping me sane, but hopefully, her burden will be lighter than if it also held the weight of years of giving up everything in my life as a service to hers. That is too much for a child to bear. So, parents, be brilliant, live your life boldly, even when you’re so exhausted from a day of wriggly diaper changes and copious hand washing. Not only is it keeping me afloat in a time of many frustrations, but it is building a life that one day, both Olive and I will be proud of.

I can’t believe I actually got a picture of both of us smiling! It’s probably because it was the end of the day, and Papa was home…

10 thoughts on “Avoiding An Unlived Life — Even In the Toddler Years

  1. Love this Rhea! So true. Living life solely for your children is a jagged path to disappointment in my experience. Dance your path to a happy parent/childhood ;0)

    • You have such a wonderful way of putting things, Joy. “Jagged path to disappointment” indeed! I’ll be channeling you as I boogie through this time.

  2. What an interesting quote – I’ve never heard it but it rings so true. Sometimes I have to try very hard to not begrudge my kids of the freedom and sense of self that I (willingly) gave up when they were born. But I’m a mother, not dead! So kudos to you for finding a part of you and keeping a positive attitude. PS – I’m sure you hear it a lot, but your daughter has AMAZING hair!

    • Thank you so much, Liz! I’m happy to have found your blog through this comment, as well — I really resonate with it and am grateful for it.

  3. I needed to read that Rhea! So true that the greatest gift we can give our kids is taking care of ourselves and appreciating them as an important part of our lives, but not our entire lives. So glad I get to booty shake with you!!

  4. Lots of sarcasm helps. So do other moms going through the same thing. My mantras are, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” and “Pick your battles” with that age. I imagine being the toddler and feeling like, “Hey, why doesn’t this lady just let me run shit? I totally know how to do it – I saw her do it once. Lemme in there to rough this thing up!”. And then, the drink after bedtime, obviously.

  5. I think we don’t value “me time” enough–taking time to process, going for long walks, writing in a journal, taking a bath. I’ve come to realize that it’s the short “me-time” that allows me to get through my day. You see with my blog I make long lists of how women can take great care of themselves so they have more to give the people around them. Then when you are with your daughter, you are 100 percent with Olive. (And when I’m with my boyfriend, I’m 100% with him–I don’t have a child yet–one day!). Thanks for your honesty Rhea. Was at lunch with Gabi yesterday gushing about how much I love your stuff. http://blakelandau.wordpress.com/2012/07/18/dont-throw-in-the-towel-wrap-your-hair-in-it/

  6. Pingback: Fear Is Your Friend: On Not Overparenting « thirty threadbare mercies

  7. Hi Rhea!
    Shanel told me about this post and I LOVE it! I’ve been having my own struggles as a mommy, but I’ve found that writing and continuing my public ritual work and developing my own business have helped to keep me from feeling that I’m spending my time being a doormat and a servant to a person who keeps me on an emotional rollercoaster- yelling and throwing things one minute and then stroking my face and saying, “I’m being gentle with mommy.” the next. I’m inspired to continue having more dance and fun and play in my life!

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