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.

Working Women and School Holiday Hell

Week 1: Working from home...
Week 1: Working from home… (Photo credit: Mish Mish)

School holidays upset the natural order in our house.

For working women, school holidays are akin to waxing your own bikini line with fabric strips – (those who have done it will know what I mean).

As if working ‘around’ children isn’t hard enough, mothers also have to ‘manage’ them during school holidays, whilst trying to maintain a level of professionalism at work at the same time.

And let me assure you, holiday-anxiety gets far worse when kids become teenagers. You see, you can’t shove them into childcare then, in the knowledge that at least they’ll be safe for the day – you have to leave them to prowl the streets looking for things not to do whilst you try to earn a dollar, engulfed by guilt.

School holidays probably sit at number 3 on the list of Working Mother’s Guilt, just below ‘sending your kids to school when you know they are sick’ and ‘picking them up late from childcare’.

Luckily, my teenagers do sleep through half of the day, so if I can bribe them with wads of cash, take-out food or movies on Foxtel during the afternoon, I might just find a small window to earn a living.

But things don’t always work to plan.

My job means that I work from home for approximately half of my paid hours.

The problem with working from home is that no-one in the family actually believes you are working.

Nevertheless, on paper my job sounds like the dream job for any working woman. It gives me that precious commodity of flexibility for all those unforeseen events that can send normal healthy working women to their GP begging for a Valium script at the very mention of head lice, school carnivals and orthodontist appointments.

But where this working-from-home nirvana comes horribly unstuck is when I attempt to maintain some professional dignity during the school holidays.

It is fair to say that I might have been guilty of exaggerating my home working facilities as a ‘separate home office’, during the interview for my job. Yes, I do own a desk and computer – they just happen to be located in the war zone between the kitchen and the television. This area is a high traffic area for teenagers, (and their teenage hanger-on friends), whose main purpose of existence seems to be eating or doing nothing.

If you listen really carefully, a loud and very distinguishable communal sigh of relief reverberates around the city suburbs from working mums on the day the public schools re-open after the holidays. Frankly I’m surprised we don’t all set up tents in front of the school gates the night before, like fans do for Wimbledon.

I had an interesting experience of working woman school holiday hell just yesterday.

I might have mentioned that Kurt can be quite hyperactive euphoric in the mornings, and particularly during the school holidays  – this symptom of ADHD is often labelled as ‘morning mania’. His anxiety is lessened by no train times to meet and no assignments to (suddenly) remember as he is walking out the door and his excitement for life (one that is infinitely much less complicated in holiday time) is magnified about three times. His euphoria, which is generally demonstrated by uncontrollable noise, lasts for the first hour of each day, until ‘holiday boredom’ sets in.

On Friday morning, I was in the middle of a very important preliminary call with a new client in Japan. I had assumed that Kurt would remain in bed until at least 10.30am – GROWING – as a result of that three packets of chocolate biscuits that he stole in the middle of the night.

The telephone call with my client would have been delicate at the best of times as his English is not what you would describe as ‘fluent’ and it doesn’t help that I have this awful habit of barking into the phone during international calls, as though I can somehow compensate for the distance by increasing the volume of my voice.

Anyway, at the point where I was trying to decipher some important information pertaining to my client’s visa, Kurt suddenly descended upon my work space (aka the kitchen), blaring out (with a volume to challenge the PA system at the Enmore) ‘Because I got High’ by Afroman. In fairness to Kurt, he couldn’t see that I was on the phone initially, not until he moved directly above me in all his naked glory and promptly went into his ‘I’ve got a big penis’ song; even more loudly.

Obviously, I stood up immediately to try and grab his attention, waving my arms frantically like some military traffic controller on Speed, in a bleak attempt to get him to shut the f*ck up; unfortunately, he mistook my signals for encouragement.

The silence from Japan was deafening.

Eventually my client spoke and asked me politely if I was too busy to talk at the moment, (which roughly translated meant sort your domestic shit out).

I was relating this to a friend later, (who is also trying to balance work with school holidays and failing miserably), and she questioned when exactly we women become so ‘bitter and twisted’.

I don’t think it has anything to do with the inadequacies of men (well, not much), or even menopause, and it’s not because we are trying to ‘have it all’ either.

It’s because we have to do it all.

Never work with animals and children.

Allergies, Man Tears and Family Sickness

"Cover Coughs, Cover Sneezes" - NARA...
“Cover Coughs, Cover Sneezes” – NARA – 514081 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve alluded to my reputation as ‘worst mother’ and ‘bitch wife’ in the dysfunctional family in previous posts.

Empathy doesn’t come naturally to me so sickness in the family fills me with abject horror.

I had a mother who worked full-time and we were brought up to believe that unless you needed hospitalizing, you went to school. If you did manage to wag a day off school, the guilt for causing Mum to have a day off work far outweighed the pain of any illness.

For while I admit to being the biggest hypochondriac in the world, (the type that moans about an ailment for weeks, gets all anxious about it only for the symptoms to miraculously disappear the minute I book a doctor’s appointment), I am intolerant to other people’s sickness and pain.

It unnerves me. Psychologically, I cope much better if I can convince myself that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those I love.

Kurt has been coughing, sneezing and wheezing, (quite irritatingly so), on and off for the past six to eight weeks. He also consistently loses his voice, which is obviously quite problematic for a potential rock star while providing some relief for the rest of the family.

And Kurt is anxious like me. He is convinced he has cancer, while I have been trying to reassure him that it is a minor cold and that if he just replaced some of his Coco Pops meals with fruit and vegetables, he might actually get rid of it.

(When exactly do we become our mothers?)

Initially, I did try the ‘good parent’ approach of reassuring him with loving reassurances of ‘toughen up’ ‘you’re fine,’ then I succumbed to buying him Strepsils which I thought might give him some sort of psychological boost and finally I showed him where the Neurofen was kept.

Eventually I caved in and took him to the doctor.

After a lengthy discussion with Kurt about his lifestyle (hmmmm!), the doctor diagnosed him with a possible allergy to our house.

BECAUSE THAT’S REALLY SIMPLE TO DEAL WITH!

Apparently, a lot of teenagers (especially those who were asthmatic or suffered from eczema as an infant) develop allergies in their teens and our teenager (whose middle name is ‘trouble’) appears to have developed one from the multitude of microbes that inhabit our new ‘old’ house. Nothing to do with my lack of housekeeping, it’s simply that the house is old. The doctor discharged us with thousands of dollars worth of drugs that included an interesting selection of nasal sprays and a Penicillin. I assumed that the problem would be sorted.

I think Kurt managed two snot-free days and then the allergy/cancer came back with a vengeance.

Along with that annoying sniffle.

As it is Glee School’s ‘I want to live forever’ show next week and he needs some voice, the atmosphere in the house has been tense.

So when the old man began demonstrating similar symptoms later in the week, any traces of empathy on my part were shot.

As we watched Friends with Kids on Friday night, the old man began sniveling in the same irritating way as his son. Admittedly it was the third time I’d seen the film so I could have been more patient, but I love the cynical humour in the film about relationships and I didn’t want to miss it. (It reminds me of our own thirty-something decade when the initial joy of becoming parents was jolted into a massive reality check of how life and fate irreversibly changes with that one decision to have kids).

Let’s face it, parenting can be f*cking fraught at times. Not least when there is man flu in the house.

The old man didn’t want to watch the film at first because there were no guns or car chases in it, so during the last ten minutes when this sniffling noise began to rev up beside me, (not dissimilar to the noise Kurt had been perfecting for the last six weeks) and even my best ‘stop that ridiculous noise or I’ll make you stop right now’ look didn’t stop him, I thought he was trying to rile me. But when I shot him my best death stare, I suddenly realised that the old man was actually sniveling from emotion.

This is not a man who is particularly emotional at any time except during sport on tv. This is the man who told Nerd Child not to let her team down and get back on the pitch when she broke her collar bone playing soccer; the man who ridiculed me when I needed to be sedated after sobbing through the whole ninety minutes of ‘My Sister’s Keeper’.

‘Why didn’t you tell me this film was so sad,’ he sniffed pathetically as the main couple finally got it together at the end of the film, wiping away his streaming eyes.

Which just goes to prove that you never really know a person, no matter how long you are forced to live with them.

The Mothers Day Grinch

I might be mildly excited about Mother’s Day if I was getting a real treat this year – just for me – TIME OUT from my kids, say?

Does that make me bitter? A Mother’s Day Grinch?

Mothers Day Grinch
Mothers Day Grinch

Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids, but I spend the other 364 days of the year worrying about them, so ONE day to myself would be a real treat for me.

As you know, my two aren’t cute little knee-highs still innocently and naively worshipping their Mum.

They’re big, scary teenagers, resistant to parental demonstrations of love.

And if Mother’s Day is indeed ‘a celebration honoring mothers and motherhood, maternal bonds, and the influence of mothers in society’, (Wikipedia), I can think of no better way for my ‘orrible teens to ‘honour’ me, than by orchestrating a day off for me.

It’s been an interesting week month at Dysfunctionality House, as you are probably aware. So it’s hard not to be a tad cynical about the circus of Mothers Day.

Mothers Day is in danger of metamorphosing into the commercial carnival of Halloween (Halloween Humbug) and Valentine’s Day and it’s getting harder to avoid being sucked into it. Tried booking lunch in a decent restaurant on Mother’s Day? Think again. There are now special Mothers day menus created especially for us, althoughI have yet to discover the perfect restaurant that serves three courses of Chardonnay, cholesterol and chocolate.

As I said, my attitude might be a little less misanthropic if Mother’s Day hadn’t fallen during this particular month.

Sometimes it’s hard for us paragons of motherhood virtue to celebrate the joys of parenting with offspring who consistently cross every parenting boundary, or your endurance for door banging, and who rip apart the fabric of the moral code you’ve spent fifteen years painstakingly trying to teach them.

Does that sound bitter?

Of course I DO realise that in the very wise words of Chris Martin, ‘no-one said it would be easy’.

But did you know that turtle and snake mothers abandon their young at birth? That fact used to sadden me in the days when I had babies, was still lactating, still believed my children to be the most beautiful things ever created and even found pride in watching them pee in the toilet as opposed to on the floor.

Female Wolf spider on sidewalk
Female Wolf spider on sidewalk (Photo credit: imarsman)

Before they reached the age of 13.

Human mothers, like us, and Wolf Spiders (go figure!), protect and nurture their young for much longer. Our kids can remain in the fold as late as their mid-twenties before we turf them out, (or are forced to buy a one-bedroom unit).

I’m beginning to understand some of the logic behind the ‘abandonment at birth’ method of ante-mothering now, although I have no doubt that Kurt will be residing in the local correctional centre before next Mother’s Day anyway.

Typically I have begun questioning my own parenting skills, like all mothers do daily occasionally. Should I have been tougher with him? Should I have said ‘no’ more?

Perhaps our generation is guilty of mollycoddling Generation Y as has been suggested.

I blame those new-wave paediatricians that told us to educate our children through love, encouragement and play; they were obviously misleading us.

Our family is lying wounded in the trenches after Kurt’s recent ventures into ‘spreading his wings’. The Urban Dictionary’s definition of a teenager as ‘someone who has everything but appreciates nothing’ is particularly apt at the moment. Not that I don’t remember that feeling – of being young, invincible, self-important and able to conquer the world single-handedly (before responsibility and empathy finally kick in).

As you know if you follow my blog, this month he has managed to violate any deep-seated hope that he is not some mass murderer in the developmental stage.

Lest I forget, I am a mother, not a saint.

And hormones obviously have a huge amount to answer for. His, and mine. Teenagers and menopause are about as compatible as oil and water. God screwed up his timing there.

Teenage angst or mental unhingement, I have yet to decide which my son is suffering from?

So back to the point of how exactly I’m expected to sit through a pleasant Mother’s Day lunch without growling threateningly at Kurt over my Prawn Cocktail? Especially after his forage into the ‘mean’ dictionary this week, where he has sourced every hurtful adjective to sling back at me.

At least I know I’m not alone. There are as many mothers of teenagers out there suffering in silence as there are mothers of toddlers revelling in mummy worship.  Feral teenagers are on trend at the moment – it’s almost becoming a contagion.

It’s a phase we have to go through on their journey to adulthood.

Admittedly retaliation was immature, I realise that now. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am the adult. I never said I was perfect mother and ‘little git’ just popped out of my mouth in the heat of the moment. To be honest, far worst adjectives were queuing up in my vocal chords in that moment of intensified frustration. But of course he hasn’t let me forget those words. Especially when that lovely advertisement for Mother’s Day comes on the radio with those angelic little children recounting the virtues of their own mothers with, ‘I love my mum because….’ – Kurt finishes it with, ‘she calls me a little git.’

‘Unconditional love’ says, that I have to love him no matter how badass he is towards me. And of course I will; wearily.

All I’m saying is that sometimes it’s brutal.

So, for just one day, I’m closing the door on good parenting, unconditional love and spreading the love on Mother’s Day. I am celebrating being a Mum, a good mother (given the respect I deserve), who will be back, fully committed to the role on Monday.

The Mother’s Day Grinch can be found in Pitt Street Mall on Mother’s Day. Her friend, ‘mother’s guilt’ has enforced that she will be watching the new Star Trek movie with aforementioned ‘ferals’ in the evening.

Mistaa Grinch by Alexa Fades Away courtesy of Flickr.com.

The Pain Of First Love

My boy may just be experiencing his ‘first love’, and if I’m honest, neither of us are really ready.

If I’d known that sending him to a new school would expose his innocence to the wiles of flirtatious teenage girls so obviously on a mission to twist the hearts of innocent young men, I might have reconsidered.

Of course I knew that it would happen one day but with his ADHD and its implications in terms of his maturity, I honestly believed that I still had a few more years of him being all ‘mine’.

You see, we didn’t really go through what Steve Biddulf said we would in ‘Raising Boys; he never did truly reach out towards the old man in search of a meaningful testosterone bond around the age of twelve and discard me, so I’ve become accustomed to him ‘involving’ me in every aspect of his life. And I rather like it.

He’s always been my boy; a Mummy’s boy.

But he is now in the process of de-Mumming me and I’m not quite ready to be replaced by some brazen fifteen year old with pert breasts; who probably doesn’t use the ‘no’ word as effectively as I do.

I know I shouldn’t really blame the school. For the first time in his school life, he seems genuinely happy. But with a ratio of girls to boys of 6:1, (once you exclude the guys who have made it quite clear that they prefer dancing to AFL), he never really stood a chance.

He assures me that he and this girl are just friends, yet he spends every waking moment writing and waiting for her texts, snap chats and Facebook messages.

He has even washed his hair twice this week, something I’ve been working towards for the past month. If he starts wearing deodorant, I may have to starve myself in protest……..or at least give up Oreos for a day.

He assures me that she’s out of his league, that he is boxing above his weight and doesn’t stand a chance, yet that hasn’t prevented him from falling for her charms hook, line and sinker. It hasn’t stopped him trying. Or hoping.

Even I get tense when she doesn’t text back IMMEDIATELY.

I worry about how he will handle a relationship. I worry about his impulsiveness, that he’ll say the wrong thing, or something highly inappropriate without realizing it. He’s still so amateur at reading social clues and finds the implications of texts so hard to decipher. I worry that it won’t work out with this girl and then he won’t want to go back to this new school like all the others.

I want to protect him from this ‘first love’ because the potential for hurt is so much greater for him.

But for the first time I can sense that he is not telling me everything, that he is excluding me. And it hurts me because I know that he may get hurt.

I have thought about a strategy for creating some distance between them. Maybe I could buy back his love by taking him to Maccas this weekend, maybe even allow him a Coke if I have to. But then I realized how immature that was. (Actually the old man pointed that out). And anyway, he may be too busy to come to Maccas with me.  If he’s with HER.

The old man warned me that this day would come, the day when I’d have to let go. But of course I chose not to listen. I’m simply not ready.

When he does let me in and describes their puerile nicknames for each other to me, I want to spit, not share in his happiness.

Even I recognize that that’s not normal. What happened to the idea of parental love being unconditional and all that gumpf the parenting books force-fed us with?

He’s mine. I created him, I’m the one who has dealt with his issues for all his fifteen years, I’m the one he has sought for reassurance in his moments of crisis, the one he has said ‘love you, Mum’ to, every night since he could speak; no matter how serious the tantrum that preceded it.

I get him. I understand how his ‘difference’ works. I know that he might get hurt and he isn’t ready. He doesn’t get it.

She doesn’t know him like I do. She doesn’t understand his sensitivity, his mood swings, his inability to read social clues and his compulsion for eating cereal all day.

I bet she’s never even considered the serious implications of mixing different textures of food on a plate.