Making a Change: It Starts Here

My Reason For Change

My Reason For Change

As a writer I know the power of words. Words can move, heal, hurt, destroy. Change the world. Think about Martin Luther King Jr’s speech “I have been to the mountain top”. Or the words in the bible. As a writer I should know to mind my words but, like any person of a certain profession, I don’t always follow my own beliefs.

A while ago I read a poem called powerful words on Chris McMullen’s blog and I said something in the comments about the words I use to my children being the wrong ones and how damaging that was and how I can’t take them back.

It’s something I’ve been worrying about more and more lately. Then, today, I read this article on Facebook called Ten Ways to Guide Children Without Punishment and I felt like I’d been whipped. It starts with these words,

“The reason a child will act unkindly or cause damage is always innocent. Sometimes she is playful and free spirited, and other times, when aggressive or angry she is unhappy or confused. The more disturbing the behaviour, the more the child is in pain and in need of your love and understanding”

Oh my it’s so true. I get most angry with my son when he’s at his happiest because that’s when he’s at his most destructive/deaf/irritating. Lately I’ve started hearing some of the terrible things I say to my children when I’m in a rage: things that were probably said to me, that I believe about myself deep down, that I’m teaching them to believe, and so the cycle continues.

“You’re lazy,” “You’re mean”, “You’re being selfish”, “You’re unkind”, “You’re trying to hurt me”.

These things are not true of children, certainly not two wonderful children under five. I excuse myself (or else I couldn’t live with myself a moment longer) by saying I’m exhausted, they don’t remember it, that I’m teaching them not to be bullies, and a load of other rubbish that just isn’t true.

My amazing kids!

My amazing kids!

To complete the trio of articles that have a) made me feel like ending my own life I hate myself so much and b) have forced me to see the need for change, is this one I found on Twitter called Why We Told Our Kids to Stop Saying “Sorry”. It discuss why the author has stopped her children apologising. She said to her child, after his umpteenth sorry, that, “Your sorries don’t mean anything when your behavior shows me that you aren’t sorry at all.”

I say sorry. All The Time. I’m sorry for living, I’m sorry for being a monster, I’m sorry it’s raining. Either it’s something I can’t control or it’s something I could change if I tried hard enough. Sorry doesn’t cut it. There’s a meme on Facebook about comparing a crumpled piece of paper to a bullied child: you can smooth the paper but the creases never go. You can say sorry but you can’t unsay the hurtful words.

As I write this I feel sick to my stomach. I feel like I have hurt my children beyond repair, beyond redemption. But the more I beat myself up about being a monster, saying the hurtful things I heard in my childhood, the more I give myself permission to continue because, hey, I’m a monster already.

I am not a monster. And, no matter how exhausted, overwhelmed, unhappy I am with being a parent, it is not my children’s fault. So, today, I have to make a commitment to stop. In my post yesterday I mentioned the book Happiness as a Second Language. The author, Valerie Alexander, stopped by to encourage me to read the book some more. So last night I did. I read all the way to Chapter Nine, although I need to read it again to take it in properly. The two chapters that really resonated were Chapter Eight – Adjectives and Chapter Nine – The Negative Form. Because these are the two I know I need to learn. Adjectives: the describing words I use on myself and my children, and learning not to be a negative person.

Because another thing I’ve learned from childhood is that sympathy = attention, that being broken means people try to fix you, help you, love you. That being happy means people resent you, ignore you, take you for granted. So I’ve learned to be miserable, so people ask “what’s wrong?” Except of course they stop asking after a while, or get bored of hearing the same ol same ol. So you up the ante. You think of taking your own life because then “That will show them I’m really miserable.” No, that just shows that you were too pathetic to help yourself.

Chatting to my sports massage friend yesterday she says it frustrates her when people refuse to help themselves get better. That’s me. I’ve had an injured knee for eighteen months but will I do the exercises to get better? No. I make excuses that they hurt, or I’m tired, or I don’t believe they’re working. Instead of growing up and just getting on with it. The only person that suffers from that is me (and my dog and my family.)

I want to learn how to be happy

I want to learn how to be happy

So I don’t want to be a negative person anymore. I don’t want to steal other people’s happiness to make myself feel better. An “Indirect Negator” in Valerie’s words, someone “whose own unhappiness is so palpable that it risks becoming contagious.” Equally I don’t want to be around people like that (and I know a few).

The next thing I am going to do is choose five adjectives I want to describe me: five things I want people to think when they think about me, and live those values. This is an exercise I think I can do because I obsess about what people think about me all the time. That probably needs fixing too, but at least I can use it to my advantage.

Being a wordy sort of person I came up with alliterative adjectives so they’re easier to remember. There are many traits I’d like to be: successful, funny, strong, gracious, social, but I have to be realistic about what is in my control and what fits with my personality. So the five I have chosen are:

  • Calm
  • Confident
  • Caring
  • Compassionate
  • Clever

Calm: Since becoming a parent I am never calm. I rush around saying “we’re late” or I’m yelling or sniping at the kids, or I’m trying to do one hundred things at once. Yet, way back when, I used to work for a man who said “You’re always calm.” I said, “I’m a swan, I’m paddling furiously underneath.” But what mattered was that, on the exterior, I was calm. As a parent that’s the important bit. Honesty is great, but I am too honest about my feelings with the kids. They will feel calmer and happier if Mummy is calm. So, back to being a swan. This great article on Aha! Parenting will help.

Confident: My lack of self-confidence is something I wear like a badge. I second and third guess myself on everything. I dither, I ask for opinions. I change my mind, or let my mind be changed. I cry. I negotiate with the kids. I let other people’s parenting affect how I feel about mine. And yet the one thing I want for my children is self-confidence. To the point where I want to put them in a private school to learn it, because I know they can’t learn it from me. And yet the private school I visited was not right for my children.

I did use to have the courage of my convictions, when I worked for a living. I knew my stuff and I would argue my case (not always calmly!) and stand my ground. Against clients, against directors. No wonder I never got promoted. Now, though, as a writer and a parent, all I read are articles telling me how I’m doing it wrong, how I should do it better, and I believe every contradictory word. (Read this post by Ava Neyer for an hilarious summary of how contradictory parenting advice can be). So, I’ll start with the mask and hopefully confidence will come.

Learning Kindness from my Kids

Learning Kindness from my Kids

Caring: This would have been a given, once. I considered myself an empathetic person, someone who cared about others. I seem to have lost that at the vital moment. Now I’ve become a monster. I say to the kids all the time “I don’t care” when they’re whinging about something. Arrgghh. Enough said. I will care. I will listen. I will kiss the grazed knees and listen to the fights and try not to get involved but still be present and caring.

Compassionate: Similar to above, but more about seeing other people’s points of view. I can be very judgemental and it has only got worse since becoming a parent. Part of my defence mechanism against feeling like a terrible parent is seeking out instances of other people’s terrible parenting to make myself feel better. I have probably made other people feel bad in the process. I want to learn to be more compassionate to other people (especially my family).

Clever: This used to be the one thing I knew I was, back when it was easy, when it was about exams and studying and stuff. The longer I’ve lived the more I’ve realised I know nothing. But the brain is still in there, beneath the lack of sleep and the low self-esteem and the self-doubt. I know stuff about writing, but through modesty, humility or fear, I can’t present myself as an authority here on the blog or to others. Yet I probably know more than I realise. Ditto for marketing, history, literature and some other stuff. I don’t want to bore the pants off people but remembering I have a brain and using it sometimes might help the other stuff.

Anyway, sorry for the long, self-indulgent post. When I finished writing it at 6am this morning I nearly hit delete. But then, for me, much of the beauty of the blogsphere is learning from others, seeing others experiencing pain and surviving it. Regular followers know my demons. By declaring to you all that I’m going to do this, I have made it a real thing. I will try and some days I will fail. But by trying to live the values of Calmness, Confidence, Caring, Compassion and being Clever, I hope to make a difference before it’s too late.

16 thoughts on “Making a Change: It Starts Here

  1. Glad you didn’t delete it. Great post. Sometimes we just got to let it all flow. Like you said that’s the beauty of a blog. I wish I could have calmness, confidence, caring, compassion and cleverness all the time but then again who does? Right? None of us is perfect, I think we give ourselves a hard time. Lovely pictures of the kiddies, all dressed up.

  2. Aw mate, I’m sorry things are tough and I sympathise because I feel this way sometimes, too. But reading that list… I’d say you are all of those things, right now. You may not notice it, but you are. Those are not attributes you can switch off over night. They’re still there. If you’re anything like me, you find it easy to see just the bad stuff when you’re striving for perfection. It’s so easy to take the stuff you do well for granted. To forget it exists. It’s so easy to feel as if you are falling when you don’t have absolute control. Kids take the control out of everything. That’s one of the hardest things about parenthood, I find. That I have no control, that I’m as vulnerable to them as they are to me. It’s so easy to take the good things about yourself for granted when you feel like that.

    And the how to books? Well, I don’t know if this helps but in the end, I chucked them out. Parenting is really really hard and I found that many of them contradicted one another and just left me in even more of a dither than I’d been before. For what it’s worth, here are the two pieces of advice I was given that I’ve found a huge help.

    Number 1.
    You will shout at your kids. This is OK. I was incredibly lucky with my parents they were kind, supportive and loving, Yoda-wise, and from the child’s perspective anyway, good at raising kids, but even they shouted at me sometimes. All humans have rows from time to time. We learn how to avoid confrontation by making people around us angry, so yeh, if your kids don’t make you cross, they’ll miss that important lesson. If it helps, the way I kid myself I’m less of a bad parent is to tweak the phrasing. So if McMini does something really stupid, instead of saying “you moron,” I’ll say, “that was a dumb thing to do”. The theory is that phrasing it that way focusses on the dumbness of the action, not them. At least that way I can beat myself up a bit less about potential damage to their self esteem.

    Number 2
    Love is all you need. Yes, sometimes they drive you crazy and you get angry but, they have boundaries and they are loved and they know it and, according to pretty much everyone I’ve asked, that’s the most important thing right there.
    .
    Blimey, I’m sorry, this is probably making no sense. But my thoughts and sympathies are with you. Good luck and god bless. And hang in there. This, too, shall pass.

    Cheers

    MTM

    • Thank you, the online support means a lot and it all makes perfect sense. I like your parenting advice! I do try not to label the kids, it’s probably the one piece of parenting advice I took on board when I first had them, but it takes a lot of concentration to watch what I’m saying rather than what I want to say!

      • So very, very true! Although I’ve found that each time I remember and don’t have to beat myself up so badly, afterwards, it gets easier; carrot and stick on myself phnark! I try not to give too much advice because you may not want it but I just wanted you to know that you’re not alone! I think we all feel this way.

        Cheers

        MTM

      • Yes, I do get defensive with too much advice but yours is always couched as advice rather than preaching! 🙂

        I read an article on staying calm that said “practice, practice, practice.” I’ve always been rubbish at it – if I’m not good at something straight away I usually give up! (A trait my daughter has inherited, more’s the pity). You can’t give up on parenting unfortunately.

      • I’m like that too! There are only two things I’m unable to give up on parenting and writing! Glad to hear any advice I give has come out as advice and not a lecture.

  3. I think you give yourself little credit. To me you are amazing. The mere fact you know all this, that you’re so self aware, makes you a great mum. The fact that you aren’t so confident is also a good thing be side it means you keep wanting to be better.
    Snappy? We all are. It’s a given and it helps kids learn about bad moods, people’s boundaries, how far to push and where to stop. I see kids that have those parents who are so laid back they are practically asleep and they are over invasive in their demands, actions, noise etc. and to me that’s because they never get a raises voice or a bad telling off.
    Great post! X

  4. *hugs*

    We’ve all felt like that, and it’s so much harder to change when it is part of your own history.

    But knowing the problem is the first step in changing it. If you ever need to chat, you have my email!

  5. This is a great post on the challenges of parenting, with many good ideas. 🙂 We have to realize that we’re not perfect, that you can always find something that you could be doing better. We shouldn’t use this as an excuse, that is we should strive to improve as we learn ways to do so, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up too much when we see our mistakes. As with life, we’ll make mistakes, we should try to learn from them, try not to repeat the same mistakes, and try to avoid them (but we will make some). But the struggles of parenting are hopefully balanced by many rewards; don’t lose sight of all the smiles, giggles, hugs, precious moments, and the many things that you are doing right. 🙂

  6. Amanda, I was so thrilled to read this post! What wonderful adjectives you’ve chosen to focus on — all within you and well within your reach. Reading this, and the last post, I think one thing you may still lack is Satisfaction (from the nouns chapter). You are not giving yourself enough credit for what you’re doing right, or taking the time to acknowledge the changes you’re making (the motion).

    Make a list of Rewards you want (it could be a small gift for yourself, a hot bath, a night off from writing — guilt free!) and as you achieve the things you’re setting out to (like getting through a whole day without snapping at the kids), REWARD YOURSELF! You might try to discount what you’ve done (“Well, I didn’t snap at them, but I didn’t read them bedtime stories either”), but don’t. Reward small steps, then set bigger goals and reward those. Do the same for the kids. Show your appreciation for anything they do that makes you laugh, or makes life a little easier. This will make them want more of that relationship, and will make all of you happier.

    Best of luck and please, please keep me posted.

    • I do acknowledge when I’ve done something right (like remembering the umbrellas when it’s raining, or backing down from a rant.) I’m very praise orientated, so praising myself is a reward! I even “released” this morning, when I missed the deadline to order my daughter’s school meals by ten minutes. I’m not thrilled at having to make packed lunches all next week, but it’s only five days and I’m not going to beat myself up over it!

      Thank you for your support. I have nominated you to receive some (virtual) cake! 🙂 https://writermummy.wordpress.com/2014/01/24/super-sweet-blogging-award/

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