I was talking with a group of friends this week about fitting in. We were discussing how so many of us didn’t feel we belonged, or were bullied, or just weren’t comfortable in our own skin when we were growing up, and the kind of self-destructive behavior that ensued trying to numb that pain. The phrase that stuck in my mind was that ‘instead of adjusting our behavior to meet our goals, we adjusted our goals to meet our behavior’. I said that that summed up my first marriage (we all laughed but it’s totally true – probably for my ex as well). But it got me thinking about my kids.
I think a lot of us have walked through some kind of pain in our lives that was so bad we barely survived the experience. We can either use it as a springboard to better things, or let it define us until we are trapped in our victim roles. I’ve spent the last 13 years trying to get on the right side of that equation. It’s entailed shaking out the covers over all the past hurts, being honest about the part I played, and making the decision that I wasn’t going to let it define me anymore. So yeah, for five years of my life every day was a living hell as a group of kids decided for me whether I was going to be seen and included, ignored, or have insults hurled at me in front of all my peers. Fear and loneliness became my defining identity, and since I happen to experience fear as anger well…let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.
All that to say, I’ve learned coping tools since, which include letting God control the outcomes, not holding onto resentments, and not spending time or emotional energy with or on people who don’t deserve it. I highly recommend it to the alternative, and I’ve had a life beyond my wildest dreams with a lot of inner peace. At least I did. Because then kids come along and there’s this primal urge to protect them from the worst of what we’ve experienced (I say we because I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, even if Dreamy doesn’t get it because he’s disgustingly well-adjusted in most ways).
Here’s the logic for those of you who are in the Dreamy camp. A) I never felt like I fit in. B) I feel like it nearly ruined my life and I made bad choices so C) If my kid feels like that, they will have their lives nearly ruined and make bad choices so D) I will help them not feel like that.
Now I know, if you’re seeing this all laid out like that you will see how insane this thinking is, but it kind of happens at the subconscious level. I usually have to take a deep breath and step and remember that A) NOBODY had an easy childhood B) MOST people survive it C) I wouldn’t trade my life now for anything and part of what makes it great is what I went through to get it. And then, just to make life interesting is the fact that no matter how much I want to make things good for my kids, their lives are pretty much out of my control (other than what KIND of goldfish they eat, because so far they haven’t figured out how to get to the store without me). And to add insult to injury, they are people of their own accord, and will respond to life on their own terms.
Take the Biscuit. The day I found out she had to wear glasses, I went into full panic mode, and mentally had her in rehab in ten years recovering from the substance abuse she would turn to after being mercilessly bullied about the glasses. After I stopped that, I started planning the eye surgery we’d need to have because there was no way she’d ever wear the glasses. What I didn’t take into account is that she’s not me, and fear and victim aren’t apparently in her DNA because she moved into acceptance in about ten minutes, wears them every day and hasn’t complained ONCE. Then we found out she needed to wear a patch. Same deal. I think she’s a little disappointed that she doesn’t have to wear it to school. You see, Bisky approaches life with a kind of fearless enthusiasm that’s contagious and although she is a sweet and kind person, ‘people-pleaser’ is not how I or anyone in their right mind would describe her.
But because she’s a girl, there’s going to be other drama. Girls pair off, and then re-pair, and people get their feelings hurt and as Moms we stand by and are equally crushed whether our kid is the excluded or the excluder. I was ranting about this to a sweet friend recently (who never feeds my fire, which I love, and which humbles me later when the ire clears) and realized that parenting girls means practicing all my principles (of letting go of resentments, not trying to be in control and all that) to the millionth percent. But what are you gonna do…be pissed off at a bunch of preschoolers for acting like a bunch of preschoolers? When I find myself mad at a kid, I’m pretty sure I have to look back at me and get into acceptance. I have to accept that this is going to happen. Acceptance doesn’t mean I have to like it, just that I know I can’t change it.
It doesn’t mean I don’t try to help my kid make good choices, and instill resilience, and let her know that her value is not defined by what people think of her, and suggest she not wear the stripes with the polka dots, and the cheetah pattern, and the red boots all at the same time, but it means I do the best I can and trust that when things don’t go her way she’ll survive and that neither of us will die if we get hurt.
But it’s hard, right mommas?