Friday, December 11, 2009

Confessions: Bad Mother Moments

Oy...this post will be hard to write.

This morning marked my son's first Christmas concert at his school, the Santa Lucia celebration or "Julfest".

In Sweden, today marks the celebration of Santa Lucia, some Italian Saint. The kids dress up in traditional Swedish garb: white floor length tunics or Santa Claus costumes ("Tomten" in Sweden). Many of the girls (and some boys too) wear garlands around their heads with four lit candles, marking the four weeks of advent. Modern days have battery-powered candles so little heads don't catch fire. The children sing traditional Swedish Christmas songs while proud parents look on in a candlelit room. Swedish Christmas buns and gingerbread are served following the concert.

There was one not-so-proud parent in the audience today and likely an obvious one. That embarassed, angry and defeated parent was me. And I am admitting it. Perhaps the first step towards change and healing?

You see the last little concert put on by the school involved a breakdown on the part of my little guy. The parents assembled in the classroom while the kids waited outside in the hallway to make their grand entrance. When they finally entered, he was a puddle of tears and quickly ran over to his Mom and Dad for comfort. Eventually he did join them in singing. Well I deduced that our son couldn't understand why his parents were at his school while he was forced to wait to join them. He didn't quite get it.

I had convinced myself that this concert would be different. I have been prepping him for the eventuality of the separation for over a week. "Mummy and Daddy will come to school with you and you will wait with the kids in the hall while Mummy and Daddy wait for you in the classroom." Cripes, I even practiced the Swedish words for this speech. We talked about him dressing up as Santa, how he would sing loudly with the other kids and how Daddy would take pictures. I took him through the day's events with great care, all in hopes of avoiding this meltdown. I thought it was fool-proof. I was the fool.

We got there on time (a miracle really, considering my husband's chronic tardiness). I made a show (again) of explaining where the two of us were going and we would see him soon. While we waited (me impatiently), I even peeked outside to make sure a puddle of tears hadn't begun to form. And then I sat and waited some more.

The piano started and the children began to file in while singing the Santa Lucia song. And when I didn't see our son in the place he should have been, I knew where he would be: At the back of the pack, holding on to the teacher's hand and much to my dissapointment, in tears.

The only child in such a state.

He came over sobbing and I hugged him. He sat on my lap.

I stewed. My face turned to stone and the anger was palpable. I am certain the other parents and teachers in the room could sense it. I worked so hard to prepare him. How could this happen? His father and I are outgoing. What's wrong with our son?
Even after several attempts to push him into the circle with the other children, I was left wanting. Wanting for him to be the child who sang the loudest, screamed with glee, made the cutest little gestures, the center of attention. Instead I endured over six songs with a silent, shaken child...and I stewed. When he tried to get me to look at the classroom Christmas tree, I ignored him, telling him I was listening to the other children sing.

His father sensed my frustration and quickly motioned for our son to join him.

Our families back home are waiting anxiously for photos and video that will never come. I will have to tell my mother our son didn't perform. And there you have it, encapsulated in that last line: my mother.

I love my mother. But as a child growing up, I did whatever I could to gain her acceptance and love. I was the loudest, the brightest, the most animated, the teacher's pet. That's what I had to do. And if I failed to please her in one of these ways, the consequences were her disapproval, anger, resentment and bitterness.

And today, during that Christmas concert, I became my mother.

I cried all the way home while my husband told me what I needed to hear, the harsh truth: "You just want him to be the best. You are competitive. You want photographic/videographic evidence to prove to everyone what a great son he is and by consequence, what a great mother you are. It has to stop now. We don't know why he didn't want to participate. Maybe he has stage fright. You can't force him. He is not a performing monkey."

The remainder of the event, post sing-a-long, showed my son engaged with his friends, enjoying and participating in play. I just want him to belong, I keep telling myself.

But even that isn't good enough/wasn't good enough for me. I needed him to be the best. To be what I expected him to be. To live up to my standards. To be the "perfect child". He's only 3. What am I doing? What have I done?
I'm praying my husband's words were the intervention I needed. I need to break the chain here and perhaps by being aware and confessing my failure today as a mother, I might be headed in the right direction.

But please pray for me. I do not want my son to grow up constantly longing and searching for his mother's approval and love. I do not want to make him feel like a failure. I want him to know his mother loves him unconditionally and that she will not judge him, but accept and encourage his individuality.

Help. Mon, if you're reading this, I'm asking you especially.


Mon said...

NOOOOOOO! I just wrote a VERY long answer, I was disconnected from the 'net and it got lost!! arrrrrrrghhhh! Haven't the strength to get that out again. I'll be back.....

Mon said...

The quick version was - I agree with Ted.

SwedishJenn said...

DAMN THE INTERNET. If you feel like rewriting your very long answer, it would be very much appreciated :-). But I also appreciate and agree with your short version.

septembermom said...

I screw up all the time as a mom, and I've been doing it for almost 12 years. You really didn't screw up. You're human. I tend to want my kids to do things better than I did as a kid. I don't want them to have my same insecurities and nervousness. It turns out that often they do display those same tendencies. I think I voice my concerns too vehemently at times, and I wind up crying and feeling bad about it. We want all the best for our kids. It's tough to not want to make everything perfect for them. It's a constant battle for me. Sometimes I don't even realize that I'm doing it until later on. I'll continue to try and grow as a mom. It's a learning process.

Jenn, you're doing great with your son. Don't worry.

SwedishJenn said...

Thanks for the positive vibes septembermom and the sharing of your struggles. We somehow manage, whether through genetics or memory and sometimes whether we want to or not, to take the parenting "methods" of our parents into our relationships with our kids. Why do you think it's common to hear, "You sound just like your mother/You're becoming your mother/I will never be like my father"? Unless: We are mindful of the behaviours we wish to NOT repeat and recognize them when they rear their ugly heads. I would like to think that today I recognized a behaviour in myself that was undesirable. One that was inbred. One that I must and want to change to be a better mother. I wasn't clear in my post above but the crying actually began in the car before my husband said a word. I was holding it back throughout the school event. It didn't take long for me to recognize my horrible feelings and feel ashamed. I was so angry with myself. And yes, I too screw up, will screw up and have screwed up (evidence above). I will continue to screw up. But I want those screw-ups to be the smallest and most insignificant they can be. Am I dreaming?

cypress sun said...

Fear of becoming my mother is quite possibly one of the most frightening, resurfacing fears I have!

When my nephew was 3/4 he had a similar experience. He was/is such an entertainer, show was to begin, cameras were set...and Waaa - a big freak out... but...we love that video! He's 9 now, and the event was just a glimpse of his strong personality. And he now tells us, "I didn't want to sing that day. I wanted to dance!"

Anyway..I know what you mean about experiencing an emotion that you don't want to experience in response to your child's actions...
I've already been there w/my 19 month old. I've wanted to scold/spank...and in reality I don't want to do either, especially the spanking. But speaking my "stuff" to my DH it seems to help you. What a beautiful thing...someone who wants to help you on the journey to being a better person/mother.

SwedishJenn said...

@CypressSun: Thanks for sharing and thank you all for helping me on my journey to being a better person/mother. The blogging community is so supportive. xoxo

Mon said...

Hi sweetie.

The challenge of being a mindful mama is that we get annoyed with ourselves. This is good, it means we want better, for ourselves and our children. But mindfulness also means finding self-forgiveness. I don't believe in mistakes, but rather learning opportunities.

So, you learnt something. That we are all products of our childhoods. That we parent the way we were raised ourselves (whether the same or in reaction against it). That we parent from the experiences of being a child ourselves. That we do the best we know until we now otherwise. That how we parent is all a choice, not something set in stone or fated.

You learnt that you have certain vulnerabilites that affect your parenting, but that they are owned by you and not your son. You learnt that expectations can be harmful and that they cloud over acceptance of What Is.

That's what it seems you've discovered. And for that, this was a wonderful experience for all of you.

You might learn how to discover peace within yourself - that other people don't exist for us to please them or to meet their standards.
That you can love yourself, an imperfect Self.

Because that's where it begins right? When we love others for how much they please us, or do as we say, we show we don't love ourselves too easily.

Asking for a perfect child, is asking for a perfect you. Our children, and that includes us of course, a little souls who've come here to be who they are, not to be submitted into someone else's ideas. That's what i believe anyway.

And we all know that seeking perfection is not love.


SwedishJenn said...

Wow thanks Mon. There was a reason I put a call out to you specifically on this "issue". I was hoping to see the bigger picture. I will continue to come back to your response when I feel I'm giving into the not-so-dormant perfection=love instinct. As much as I didn't want to own this trait, this instinct, this feeling of "Only good boys get X", I do. It will be a struggle to embrace my child or empathize when he's throwing a tantrum or "misbehaving" or not exhibiting the behaviour I desire of him as opposed to disciplining him or pushing him away. He does not have to earn my love and acceptance. That should come for free.