Mother’s Guilt and The Mindfuck Caused by Parenting

Anyone worked out ‘parenting’ yet?

When you do, you will inbox me, won’t you?

The great thing about these summer holidays is that they have given me lots of time to reflect, focus, over-analyse and privately condemn my parenting skills.

Again.

Family relationships have been tested and redefined this holiday.

Indian Drum
Indian Drum by Agelakis at http://www.flickr.com

It’s not all been bad, but I have come to the conclusion that ‘Parenting’ is the root of more stress and anxiety than any other job, so if you have personally survived the experience, send me a few pointers, discounting murder of course – (already been there and decided that I wouldn’t survive prison either).

My main problem with parenting is the perpetual guilt. Mother’s guilt.

I think that ‘guilt’ has been at the core of my parenting makeup since I had NC. There could be many reasons for that, of course. It might have something to do with losing my own mother when I was a teenager, which inspired this ridiculous innate desire to be perfect in the role of motherhood when I had my own children, or it may simply be that I’m just not a ‘natural’ mother and I feel guilty about that.

If you work as a barista and your coffee sucks you can always try another job; but if you have kids and suck at being a mum, there’s no way out.

So what do you do?

Do you do what I’ve done for the past nineteen years and consume parenting manual after parenting manual, irritate your best mates for advice – (those ones who seem to be tolerating their spawn better than you, even though you know they will make you feel even more guilty) – or do you head straight for therapy?

There should be some extra training available for those mothers who don’t quite cut it, shouldn’t there?

The old man and I should be tentatively celebrating by now. With one child at uni, we’re nearly at the end of the parenting tunnel, in theory; if you accept the premise that the kids should be thinking about leaving home sometime after eighteen. (I know that a lot of you will tell me to rethink that theory more along the lines of wishful thinking).

So why do I still feel so much pressure from parenting?

Because if I’m honest, I still never know if I’m doing the right thing by my kids. Because I always feel torn when I make a decision for them, and they are the only people in my little world who can still tie my stomach up into painful knots of self-loathing and anxiety.

And, of course, the old man has this wonderful knack of making me feel guilty about feeling guilty about the kids.

I’m finally coming to the realisation that everyone was right when they told me that you never stop worrying about your kids.

We honestly believed when we had survived NC’s drunken forays into the city and had gone through the nightly cross-examination of ‘who are you staying with’, ‘have you been drinking’ and ‘I can smell smoke’, that we would be professionals at parenting by the time it came to Kurt.

But, before she boarded that plane to Thailand, I was still at it. I couldn’t help myself and asked her what she would do if the tide suddenly went out on the beach! When what I should have been doing was feigning excitement for her at the airport (like a good mother would do), and concealed my irrational fears.

Not passed on my own pathetic anxieties!

And then there’s the albino recluse who dwells at the top of our house, who now communicates with us in drumbeats, like some native American emo. Three hits of the bass drum is toast with peanut butter (please), a steady crescendo means it’s a good day, and crashing of the cymbals means he still hates us.

I have tried to coax him out of his room this summer holiday, baited him like an animal, with all his favourite treats. Is it so wrong to want him to get some sunlight, for him to feel the wash of the ocean on his white body and the sand between his toes?

He used to love the beach; when he was still my little boy.

But the more I push him be one of the family, the more he resists. And then I feel guilty.

Everything is a negotiation these days and has to be on his terms or nothing.

The old man is tougher than me. He will negotiate to a point and then takes a ‘fuck him’ attitude, which brings us to a resolution of sorts. And I know he’s right. We can’t let a sixteen year old wield the power in our home, but then I feel guilty for leaving him in the house on his own, educating himself through the computer rather than via experience, drumming his death rap… sticking pins in effigies of us.

Is that any way to live? Perhaps it is when you are a teenager intent on hating the world.

He knows that what I really want to do is to look after him in my amateur maternal way. But these days, if I dare to stroke his face or touch his arm, he jerks away like he has been stung.

He used to beg me for cuddles.

I wanted us to share this few precious weeks of holiday together and look back on it fondly one day, smile at photos of us together, tanned and happy like all those other families on Facebook. Instead there will be lots of awkward photos of the old man and I, trying to look like we know what the fuck to do together now that our relationship has been redefined by the absence of our children.

Not that we invested everything in them, you understand – we were always wary of that trap. We have our own lives, just as NC now has hers, but Kurt still represents ‘unfinished business’ for me. Unlike his sister, who has reached that stage of maturity where she is finally comfortable in her own skin, Kurt is still a work in progress who still needs more preparation for the big, scary world outside.

If only he’d let me in to finish the job I started.

But then, that’s the mindfuck caused by parenting.

Helicopter versus Satellite Parenting

There has been a surprising amount of accusation levelled at me by both the old man and the teens about my mode of parenting recently.

The minute I am caught stalking, probing, over-organising, suffocating (NC’s words), or indeed ‘parenting’ (my words), NC starts making patronising whirring noises above my head. 

Helicopter versus satellite parenting.
Helicopter versus satellite parenting.

She appears to have forgotten the benefits of such intensive care – the ferrying from late night parties and testing of her knowledge in daily, quick fire breakfast rounds, just prior to her entry exam to selective school.

What none of my family seem to understand is that I am actually quite proud to be known as a helicopter parent.

I realise that it might be seen as wrong by some that I check the messages on my kids phones when they are in the shower and vet their friends on Facebook, or call them a minimum of ten times per day, but it is because I care.

I admit that the phone tracker may be a step too far.

And I admit that when you have helicoptered your child, it can be quite difficult to then get them out of the nest when you are finally ready for them to leave assert some independence.

But while I may be over intrusive bearing at times and have earned my right to be called a ‘helicopter parent’, the old man is without doubt a ‘satellite’ parent.

I have discussed the old man’s parenting invisibility cloak on this blog many times. 

He is of the opinion that my approach to parenting, whereby I support and ‘scaffold’ our children’s development, will ultimately lead them to run away from home as soon as they can reach the free zone outside my tracking zone. He believes that his laissez-faire, ‘satellite’ approach, allows them to make mistakes and occasionally fail, meaning they have to face consequences. Yet while he remains a distant parent, his justification is that he will still be there to offer a reassuring arm in times of real need….say, before they actually kill themselves.

He calls this ‘teaching them about independence’; I call it child abuse.

When you have a satellite partner, you are effectively a single parent, except in moments of crisis. In my cynical opinion, a satellite parent only interferes when:

  • It will make them look more popular with the kids.
  • They are called upon in desperation, whereupon, because they are not used to parenting, they generally lose the plot and make matters far worse.
  • When their interference will serve themselves in some way eg. Refusing to allow the child do something because it will cost more money or mean that ‘the satellite’ will have to give up their own time ‘to parent.’

Don’t get me wrong, the typical ‘satellite’ loves their children, but they don’t want or like the responsibility of parenting.

And there are benefits to this style of parenting.

The ‘satellite’ parent rarely receives the ‘I hate you and when I’m older I will kill you slowly’ depth of communication with their offspring, because they are rarely involved in the minutiae of their child’s existence.

I imagine that most helicopter parents, like myself, are control freaks. Part of the reason parents like myself cannot let our children take responsibility for themselves or let go is because we want the best for them, in terms of their safety and reaching their full potential. We are over-protective because watching our children fail feels like a personal failure.

Of course, when they do fail, (because even a helicopter cannot hover and be there to pick up the pieces all the time), the satellite will then jump in quickly and blame the helicopter for not doing their job properly.

 

I’m Not A Helicopter Parent photo courtesy of Right Memes at http://www.flicker.com

Halloween Humbug

It’s Halloween tonight. (SIGH).

PumpkinSo here’s the thing. I’m wondering what the general consensus is vis a vis me hiding at the back of the house (with my earphones on), while the trick or treaters are doing the rounds?

To avoid them. Obviously.

The problem is, that we appear to have messed up geographically (big time) when we chose to live in the ‘trick or treating’ mecca of Sydney. Our street is so popular at Halloween that I reckon it’s programmed into every metropolitan GPS as a ‘popular destination’. And there is no doubt in my mind that the reason posses of kids travel from far and wide to beg at our doors, is because some weak-willed, desperate-to-please, do-gooder parents set a precedent a few years back, and were a little over-generous in the sugar department. Which means that we now have the whole of the Northern Beaches Thriller cast tramping through our street, trampling our garden-beds and whoring for sweets, every October.

So this year I’ve decided to make a stand. I refuse to be bullied in my own home.

We’ve had a family meeting to discuss our options; the most popular being to escape to the local Thai (where I imagine they don’t really celebrate Halloween). Until we remembered the dog. To be honest, we’re a little concerned for her sanity at the mercy of a marauding pack of sugar-high local delinquents. This is a ‘delicate’ dog, who has a mild thrombosis if someone so much as sighs audibly in HER street, let alone if masses of scary children suddenly descend on her territory ALL AT THE SAME TIME. She will without question bark herself hoarse, and it goes without saying that she will wee uncontrollably on the floor, (or my new sisal rug, which is her bathroom of choice in situations of anxiety).

The second option is to stay at home and hide ignore them.

By rights, I shouldn’t have to answer my door to strangers, of course. I mean, I don’t have to answer to canvassers or Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Estate Agents or even those annoying teenagers who try to sell me suspect household cleaning products that look dubiously like they’ve fallen off the back of a lorry. In theory, I should be able to either a) ignore the knocks without being guilted out or b) answer the door and explain succinctly why I am a humbug averse to the whole principle of Halloween, without the threat of being ‘tricked’.

But we all know that it wouldn’t be politically correct for me to do either of those things because CHILDREN are involved. And this generation has been wrapped in some serious cotton wool. They are from a world where they can’t be exposed to disappointment or real life scenarios, where they are encouraged (and supported even) when they are crap at something; they are from a crazy world where the ‘tight witch’ in the street, who refuses to supply them with more costly fillings, could be reported to social services for cruelty to children, if she doesn’t toe the line at Halloween.

So even though I harbour genuine disdain for this commercialized  pagan celebration foisted upon us by Americans, and although I am conscious of the fact that it represents just another lame excuse for those rather suspect people who enjoy fancy dress, to dress up in ridiculous clothes and stuff their faces with pumpkin, it means that I will, in effect, be a prisoner in my own home on Halloween night.

You see, ten years of enforced trick or treating have finally taken their toll on me and now that my own children have grown up and transferred their interests to drugs and alcohol, I could do with some respite. I’ve had ten years of spending a small fortune on lollies and plastering a fake grin on my face as obnoxious little kids shout ‘trick or treat’ through my letter box and prod their sticky mits into my bowl of sugar, leaving their wrappers on my lawn, (often without so much as a ‘thank you’). And ten years of worrying about THOSE teenagers, (the ones who always turn up just as you run out of sweets), who you know will end up venting their frustration in a mass mutilation of your prized Frangipani.

What I actually need is some Halloween therapy.

I’m still debating my tactic for tonight, but I think we’re going to move.

Pumpkin by Jibby! at www.flickr.com