Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Where's the Map?

I feel like I am really failing at this mothering thing lately. For the past 3 1/2 years we have been sort of coasting along without a real plan and suddenly it is catching up with us. I have no idea what my goals are for raising my children, and I certainly haven't figured out how to parent consistently and well without goals. Really, I am not being hard on myself. I am basically lost at sea on this one.

Why is it so hard? Part of the reason is that I have an incredibly sensitive and emotionally overwhelmed first child. Calvin has the biggest, most compassionate heart of any kid I know. I hate answering his questions about bad things that happen in the world because I know it will leave him sad for the rest of the day. And any bad interaction we have affects him for a long time afterward. He doesn't just feel bad because he has disobeyed but he internalizes it. He suddenly is a bad person because he had to be disciplined. It crushes him and sends him into a storm of emotion that can takes hours to subside. Loving him well takes a lot of emotional energy, and I am finding it hard to come up with that these days. Yelling, spanking, threats of consequences, and shows of disappointment and frustration all lead to bad outcomes with him. But I find myself resorting to these when I lose the patience required to deal with each little incident.

I am not a patient person by nature, nor am I incredibly in touch with my emotions. Calvin's mind and heart are territory I am not familiar with. I don't want to squelch his compassion or sensitivity. I do want to help him learn to control his emotions and to deal with disappointment. We need to go back to the beginning and redefine how we interact, but I am not sure how to do it. In the meantime, poor Hobbes is getting less attention and direction than a two-year-old needs, and he is lashing out in frustration, mostly mimicking my yucky attitude.

I look around at how intentionally other mothers seem to be parenting their children, and I wonder where I have been. We don't have any consistent enforcement of good behavior or a well-thought-out way to deal with bad behavior. We don't have a good routine. I have no goals for what I need to be teaching my children or what responsibilities they need to start taking on. I can't even seem to teach Calvin to swim or Hobbes to use the potty, for crying out loud. I know I once wrote a post about mommy guilt and what a bad thing it is, but I don't think this is it. I honestly think I am lacking in some mothering gene that most other moms I know have. I am just not good at making this a priority or at being intentional about my parenting, and God is trying to get my attention.

What about the other parents our there reading my blog? How do you find time to make goals and decide on parenting priorities? How do you do more than just coast through all of your days hoping not to pull your hair out or permanently damage your child's emotional state? Or am I just surrounded by exceptional moms?

I am lost and in desperate need of a map. Help.


MHL said...

Well, first of all, stop beating yourself up. You clearly love your children and you want the best for them. This may not seem like much to you, but in the word today that's more than a lot of kids get out of their parents. Trust me, I'm a prosecutor and I run across kids every day that would give anything for a loving parent, reagardless of their organizational skills or their ability to teach swimming.

Secondly, accept the fact that your kids have minds of their own and develop at their own pace. Certainly the role of parents is vital, but kids are going to learn and do things differently, regardless of what we might wish for them.

Third, don't be afraid to try new things and techniques with your children. Obviously, we need to be consistent with discipline, but some things work better with different kids. Don't be stubborn and afraid to change methods if they're not working. Also, don't be afraid to try different methods with each child. My two couldn't be more different from each other. One sounds very similar to your Calvin. Very sensitive and the least bit of fussing from my wife or I puts him in a funk for hours. The other one is stubborn as a mule. My wife and I disagree on which side of the family she go that from. :) The same discipline methods don't work on both of them.

Look, I know it's dangerous to assume you know much about someone from reading their blog, but I've been mostly lurking here a while, so here goes. You seem like a very caring mother who loves her kids and wants the best for them. You are trying your best and you worry a lot about you and them. And you seem to think many others are a lot better at this parenting stuff than you are. In short, you sound like most parents I know.

Stop worrying. Pray. Love your kids. They and you will be fine.

Kerry said...

I think we were in about the same place when we realized, "oops - we've got to get a plan here!".

MHL - has hit a lot of what I wanted to say ON THE HEAD. But I will add that, yes, a map will help - but all the maps won't look the same.

Hubby and I had a pretty good map and we traded it in for one someone else said we "had" to have. Now we realize that map is just NOT right for our family and we are slowly readjusting to the right map for us. (The Love and Logic stuff I mentioned before.)

While I agree with mhl, that if something REALLY isn't working with your kids, you do need to change - I think most Americans don't give enough time for discipline plans to work. We don't get quick results and we decide it's not working.

I'm praying for you!

Catherine said...

I don't think you are missing a parenting gene, nor do I think you are less exceptional than the other mom's around you. My guess would be more along the lines of a few things:

1. You ARE a fantastic mom. Seeing the populations my husband works with has really been helpful to me. No chance will you be a bad mom. You will give your kids consistent love, however that looks for you, and whatever deficits you leave, the love will make up for it. Perfect, no. But that was never the goal. Being a perfect mom would damage them more than anything.

2. Personality, maybe? I was struck by my response to your post which was - maybe we should trade first borns. Obviously not, but I live my life almost entirely internally. I am very very closely associated with my thoughts and feelings, and all my expectations for being a mother involved navigating these things with my kids. This IS a strenght area for me, and it is something that make me good at being a mom - but only one piece. As it turns out, my son lives his life almost entirely externally - and I am totally and completely unequipped to meet him there or provide for him there or even have the first clue what might be interesting or motivating to him.

But at the end of the day, I don't think it will matter much for either of us. Our kids will "tumble up" as Dickens says, one way or the other. If they can do so within a loving family, almost all other faults can be overlooked.

But what do I know? Just a few thoughts.

wheelsonthebus said...

I'll add to the others only to say that we tend to think the other mothers have it together a lot more than they actually do.

SF Mom of One said...

As far as parenting goals: You made a wonderful list of goals in your post on warning labels. And don't mistake routine for a plan. I think you can planfully abandon routine in favor of helping your children toward their independence, strength and bravery.

Parenting two very young children is NOT easy. Duh, you say? I am just saying it again so you will not be too hard on yourself. Today's cultural norms, tending to isolate families, only makes it worse. Leaves you with a tremendour burden. I don't know how your support system is, but might be one thing to look at. You may need more breaks from this huge job. (I havent read enough of your blog to know about this, sorry.)

But I do agree with you that yelling, threatening and spanking are not the best ways to cope with Calvin. I have done the same things with my girl X, out of frustration. It is hard to figure out alternatives, particularly over a long, hot summer.

Have you read the Sears and Sears book on discipline? It's been a long time since I have, but I remember finding practical, thoughtful advice there--and not some big system I was supposed to implement.

Oh and try browsing my friends over at They wrote the book on mommy guilt, literally. Just in case that *is* part of the picture here. :) (Noting you said it wasn't.)

Tipper said...

I too have felt like the dodo Mom compared to others. But just by reading your blog-I can tell without a doubt that you love and adore your children and thats what counts the most!! You've gotten some great tips from the other commenters-I would only add that it helps me to think of it in stages-for the troubled spots-this too shall pass. And to take it one day, one hour at a time. As parents-sometimes it can be overwhelming to think of the big picture. You've alredy got the important stuff down pat-LOVE!

Rachel said...

oh friend. i think you are around moms who i wouldn't call exceptional, but dishonest. i have found that parenting is a mapless road my friend. various authors and haughty parents might appear to have figured out the perfect "plan," but in my opinion, they're either hiding the chaos that exists behind closed doors or in the deepest caverns of their soul.

it's not that i think we're supposed to live and be ok w/complete chaos. but doug and i keep realizing that parenting is a minute-by-minute process... whereby some "strategies" we are consistent with but oftentimes need to be held loosely, tweaked, or even thrown out a a certain situation arises. we have "revamping" conversations fairly regularly... sometimes no strategy is changed and we realize we just need to be consistent. sometimes we decide together to try something new. and sometimes we even leave the conversation completely clueless and defeated with no plan.

and wouldn't you guess that those are oftentimes the places in our parenting that the Lord tends to show up the most obviously to our human eyes?? and THAT'S we think the point is. getting to the end of our rope is the best place to be. when we give up the strategy and everything else we were placing our hope in... it is there that the Lord tends to show up and give us an active love and patience for our children we didn't know we have.

and then it all goes out the window 5 minutes later when we sin against our kids and fail them again. but you know what, it's okay! parenting is not (i'm TOTALLY preaching this to myself as well! i need to remember this today) a task to conquer. and whatever the goal is, it's not to raise accomplished children.

we're more and more convinced that the main purpose of parenting is a place of discipleship for US. and being at the end of our rope is closest to reality anyway... when i think i have it figured out, i fall on face. any moment of "aha!" is purely a gift from the Lord and maybe will only last a short time.

the main thing we pray for our kids (when we get to that!) is that the would grow up into people who love God and love their neighbor. there are certainly little things we can do to nurture those 2 relationships. but really it's up to the Lord to make that "goal" come true, ya know?

so maybe the conclusion of my essay is that parenting is about waiting on the Lord, realizing our limits, and learning to love in the process... both our kids and the One who gave them to us.

one day a few months ago, j was painting so i joined in and painted the word "ENJOY" on a piece of paper. that's both my biggest gift and my biggest challenge in parenting... just to enjoy my boys. i have it posted in the kitchen and it's been so helpful to stop my analyzing and just fall down and enjoy.
love you, sorry this is so long! it should probably be edited but i'm joining my hubbie on the couch instead! g'night.

Devra and Aviva said...

If we offer you a map, you get to choose the route and direction because you know best what kind of travelor you are, and how those in your family will make the trip.

We're not here to hawk a book sale, our book is in most public libraries. We hope you will go check it out, figuratively or literally and it provides you some options for whatever trip you want to plan, EXCEPT a guilt trip! Do not take the map and go on that trip! LOL
If you are going to BlogHer, look for us, we'll be offering on the spot Mommy Guilt absolution!

Jennifer F. said...


I could have written this post.

Just last week my MIL came down to basically take charge because I had not yet potty trained my oldest who is almost four. Even though she stayed for a week, I had a terribly difficult time taking over from there. I felt pathetic. It was just so overwhelming to me. I'd get advice from other moms but all I learned from that is that other moms can deal with life better than I can. :)

Just last week one of my friends was rattling off all the milestones her kids had hit, proud that they were checking everything off of their family checklist. I realized that I have no such checklist and have no idea if I'm on the right track with my own kids. I just don't think in that way.

Sometimes it's so frustrating because I think that my particular personality lends me to get overwhelmed easier than other mothers, so I think that sometimes I come across as lazy when it's really that I can't deal with the same amount of things that other moms can deal with.

...All that is to say, I totally know where you're coming from. The one thing that's helped me is that I've been reading history lately, studying the lives of the saints, and it's impressed upon me just how fleeting our lives really are. It's reminded me to try to stay focused on the big picture, and to ask myself if these things will really matter when it's all said and done.

Since I can't deal with a whole bunch of things at once, I try to maintain a laser focus on the two things that really matter: 1) making sure my kids know how much I love them, even if my actions are often imperfect; and 2) making sure that they see that my husband and I put God first in our lives. I figure that the rest is just details. :)

Thanks for your honesty!