When a dear friend comes to visit for an entire week, she sees everything about your life. She sees it because you tell her, you let her in, but she sees anyway, because she knows you, and there’s your life, in all its shining and/or stinking glory.
In my case, that means she saw the uber-sweet running hug my daughter gives me every time we’ve been apart, even if it’s only been for 15 minutes, but she also saw the same daughter throw her pupusa at me in the Salvadorian restaurant, like a tiny drunk. At times it felt validating, to have someone to laugh with when my Virgo three year old was yelling “my booty’s not right!” over and over, because her underwear was bunching, and to roll our eyes together when she rejects a perfectly good snack because it’s “brokeeeeeen”. But at other times it felt a little exposing, like when I had to say “Mama needs a break” and just leave the room, with my daughter crying in exasperation but unable to do anything about it because I was going to snap if I stayed one more second.
The saving grace was that this friend of mine is extremely non-judgmental, and I trust that. So, when we had 25 minutes to ourselves because my daughter wanted to bake gingerbread cookies alone with her friend and his mom (“Mama, you go for a walk!”), I decided to take a chance. We were sitting on the low concrete wall that surrounds the bell at Dolores Park, with an interesting gathering of metal heads smoking cheeba and making stances on a nearby stump providing some good people-watching.
“You’ve been here a week now, and I feel like I would be missing an opportunity for self-reflection and growth if I didn’t ask you: Is there anything you see in our family that we could be doing differently?”
I am lucky that my friend is both thoughtful and kind. She took her time, and what she eventually came up with made a lot of sense. Basically she said that sometimes, I have way too high expectations for myself as a parent. I hold myself to ideals that are difficult for even me to uphold, and then I make my little child adhere to them, even when it’s clear that she can’t, in the moment.
This hit home, this rang true. I nodded in agreement. I think having high goals is wonderful. But then when you don’t hit them, you need to readjust and not see it as a failure every time. And lately, when my parenting doesn’t match up with the ideal I have in my head, I’ve been rough with myself, and hard on my daughter, too.
Her example was from the other day – we were in the living room, and I was trying to engage my daughter in imaginative play. She was rejecting every offer, vehemently. My suggestions became terse, “Don’t you want to MAKE A GARDEN FROM BLOCKS?!” I imagine it sounded vaguely threatening. She was sick, she was exhausted, and she knew what she wanted to do. We don’t let her watch TV during the week, however, so I was countering her request to watch a Daniel Tiger episode with more and more ideas for free play, each one coming out more desperate and/or angry. In the end, I decided this stand-off was helping no one, so while I did not turn the TV on for her, I left for my dance class early, and told my husband it was up to him what they did. I’m pretty sure that cartoon tiger was up there in a hot minute, but to be honest, that was probably the call I should have made from the beginning.
It seems I’ve forgotten some of the guidelines for parenting I’ve set out for myself. Those would be:
1. Relax. Breathe. Don’t get desperate or nuts-o.
2. Never say no unless it really, really matters. Don’t draw a line in the sand unless you are truly willing to defend it at all costs. Use that no wisely.
3. Have fun and don’t lose sight of the actual child and her needs in the present moment.
I had pretty much let go of all of these in that particular example. So, I’m recommitting myself, not to being perfect, but to letting go and showing up for what’s happening in the now. I’m blessed to have a friend that would reflect back to me that I’m starting down a rigid path that I don’t want to follow.
How about you, dear reader? Are you overdoing something in your life, that you can see is probably not really helping? What can you simplify, in order to be a bit easier on yourself and your loved ones?
I did just that, letting her watch TV and veg out the following day, since she was still sick and really did not have the energy to play with me. And, lo and behold, she got better, and came back to me, ready to get all metaphysical again with crystals and imagination.
Which is pretty much my favorite thing.