The first words I heard when I told a friend I was expecting were:
“Congratulations! I hope you’re ready because nothing in the world can prepare you for motherhood.”
Today, I have three things to say about that:
1. The sentence doesn’t really make sense.
2. This person meant well.
3. Ironically, there is truth there.
Nonetheless, I was ready to challenge that when I found out I was having a little boy.
I attended the lectures and seminars, I signed up for the newsletters, and I read all the books. My favorite of them all were the books. I looked as far back as I could into my own childhood and tried to remember all of the things that made me happy back then. I promised I’d recreate those moments with my own child and try to see the world through his eyes.
Six years later, we’ve made some wonderful strides. As a dynamic duo; we travel together, attend sporting events, and prepare our favorite meals together.
Some days, it feels as if you’ve mastered this thing called motherhood. Then there are the days where the “Mom Guilt” comes strong and feelings of doubt arise. For some, it could be work related or with household demands. In this case it’s playtime. Yes, I said it—playtime.
Playtime is how my child views quality time. It’s how he feels valued and loved.
Why the guilt? I love my child and time we spend together but I dislike playing.
I have not mastered the art of doing it wholeheartedly and have beat myself up over it for years. Tonight, after a stressful encounter I realized that my issue with playtime runs a bit deeper. In fact this isn’t just about playtime. It’s about cultivating an understanding with those we love even if it means facing unpleasant truths about ourselves. It’s about a give and take relationship. It’s about compromise.
The lesson learned: A relationship with your child takes work just like any other relationship. And since communication is key in relationships, I wrote a letter to my son.
This evening I told you for the 3rd time that I could not play with you.
As your mother:
I treat you with kindness and respect.
I see you as an equal human being with feelings and often validate your opinions.
I praise your efforts genuinely and descriptively as the books have taught me to do.
I listen to you before reacting as the books have taught me to do.
I pause for a moment to react out of love and not anger as the books have taught me to do.
The books did not prepare me for how to cope emotionally when you fell apart and said:
“Then I wish I could just stop being a child!”
A vivid memory of my five year old self saying that very same phrase flashed in my mind.
I couldn’t help but feel a rush of sadness, anger, and guilt sweep over me.
In fled the questions from my bruised ego:
What about my education and efforts to be a better parent?
What about all the sacrifices I have made to raise you on my own?
And don’t you see all that I do give you?
I took a pause before speaking as the books have taught me to do.
And it was during that pause that I discovered that all of these thoughts were my own insecurities. Old insecurities from childhood long ago that resurfaced.
It was as if my own five year old inner child were lashing out at the adult me.
Not quite sure what to say, I closed my eyes for a second before responding to you.
What I wanted to say:
“You are so ungrateful!”
“Do you know how hard it is being a parent!?”
“Do you know what would happen to me if I spoke to my mother that way?”
My inner child spoke to me:
“Why won’t my mom play with me?”
“She was always so busy with other things”
“I wish mom thought I was fun enough to play with”
Then, feeling vulnerable I opened my eyes and my heart.
I spoke to you:
“What you said to me just now, made me feel unappreciated and hurt.”
I went a step further:
“When I was a little girl, I sometimes felt unappreciated and hurt”
My son spoke to me:
“I just want to be an adult because adults don’t need to play anymore. I feel lonely when you say you can’t play with me. I wish you could play with me more”
We looked at each other and exchanged a wordless apology for hurting one another.
After a long hug our bond grew a little stronger.
It’s not that I don’t want to spend time building things and playing cash register. These things just take work because they don’t always come naturally to me.
Growing up, I was taught that children don’t need their parents to play with them. I remember that everything else was a greater priority than playtime with me. There were always dishes, errands, phone calls, and lists that needed checking. I was told to be grateful for having food and shelter and that everything else was an added bonus. I realize now that is was a need for me. The need for connection and bonding. I know this because decades later, I have vivid memories of the few times I did receive undivided attention.
When you ask for my undivided attention, it takes a lot for me to remain focused and present. The honest truth is that my mind wanders and I start to make imaginary lists of all the things I need to get done. As we stack blocks or race your toy cars, I find myself having to pull my attention back to you with great effort. Then I feel guilty for not staying focused on our time and secretly punish myself for it. Quality time is important to you and our relationship is very important to me. I am practicing patience, presence, and kindness toward you and myself.
I want you to know that I am aware of my shortcomings. I am also aware of your needs. Today I realized that our relationship is still a work in progress. Today, I did away with guilt. Healthy relationships require awareness and practice. You are teaching me how to give you gifts I did not receive but can cultivate over time. With time and patience our relationship continues to evolve.
I am grateful for that.
I am grateful for you.
Featured Photo Courtesy: Kelly Arias
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