Monday June 26, 2006
Dear Miss Miller
I am hoping that in a future book you will offer some advice to parents about how to cope with violent feelings towards their children and how to mitigate the effects if they make a mistake and do something abusive towards a child.
I have three little boys all under the age of 5 and I have had moments of great exhaustion and frustration while caring for them. And Yes I have felt my hand slip. But then what? Just the other day I got really frustrated with the boys and vented my frustrations on them…it was not physical but purely emotional…I was just an angry woman stomping about and working furiously to make a connection between their misbehavior and my rage. I knew as I was doing it that somehow their
crime (being exuberant, silly and not listening to me) somehow didn’t match up with my great anger but I couldn’t seem to stop the steam train of righteous indignation that seemed to push aside the sensitive and aware mother.
Later that night I had a conversation with them and asked them if adults were sometimes wrong and got too angry. This is the interesting part….my son who is the most unruly said ‘no’ and the other two who are more docile and careful said yes. In other words the one who has received the most discipline already at age 5 has the greatest belief in the impunity of adults. So I explained that yes I got too mad that morning and that I was tired and frustrated and I should not have
punished them so harshly. It would have been EXTREMELY useful at that moment to have some basic communication tools at my disposal. I am not afraid to appear fallible to my children and admit my faults. I have already learned that they respond beautifully to it and it increases their respect for me rather than diminishes it. But I have the feeling of setting off into unknown territory without a light.
I also in that moment sensed that I was showing my vulnerability and desperation to my children and that somewhere in there it is good to show some human suffering to your children so that when they experience it they don’t feel totally alone. Basically, on that day I was feeling depressed and hopeless and I couldn’t hide it from them. But how do you work through your emotional downturns in front of your children showing some candor and honesty but not letting it bubble up in the wrong ways.
If we parents are going to grow more aware and work hard in the moment to curb violent impulses towards our children it would be so helpful to have a framework for workable alternatives and solutions. Something less daunting than overall spiritual enlightenment which is what I sometimes feel like I need in order to avoid damaging my boys.
I remember a traumatic episode with my mother that affected me deeply…I was wearing a nightgown with no underwear and we had company. In the course of the evening I crossed my legs or something and inadvertently exposed myself…I was only 7 years old. The next day my mother came down hard on me and shamed me for the episode. Now knowing my mother as an adult I know that is not her true value system. She is more enlightened than that. And now as a mother I know that it occurred at a time when my father was overseas and she was overworked and lonely. In the midst of her exhaustion she reverted to her
catholic school girl self and demanded that I feel shame about my body.
What strikes me about this episode is how easily it could have been undone. If she had regained her perspective in a couple of days or even years and re-visited the episode with me it would have been hugely helpful. She could have said remember that time….well, I was tired then and I wasn’t thinking and I should have never made you feel so bad about something you did so innocently. Then POOF! I do believe it would have been gone. But instead the episode was forgotten and never talked about and I took the painful message and carried it deep into adulthood where it manifested as sexual discomfort and self loathing.
I find it so fascinating that such a painful episode could have been averted so easily…then again, my mother in that time and place would have never thought to talk in such candid ways with a child.
After we absorb your lessons about child abuse then there is a vacuum. A new language is needed in the adult dialogue with children…and parents need to be reassured that the world will not collapse into chaos if they lose their aura of perfect impunity and authority….that they can show weakness and retain the love and respect of their children…even grow and nourish the love and respect of their children. But this is such NEW TERRITORY. And for me at home with three little boys it does feel at times that the world is going to collapse into utter and complete creative chaos. As I write there are things scattered all over the house…my cheese grater is in the driveway being used as a toy. It is very, very loud in here.
The line between providing effective boundaries and harnessing the enormous creative energy of childhood and breaking the spirit of child can be so excruciatingly blurry that I can’t imagine any parent who doesn’t mess up and find themselves on the wrong side from time to time. I would love to see a book about creative solutions. I know I have some. I would like to hear from other parents about theirs. I am talking about the moments when you feel your authority fall away and you suddenly drop into the realm of truth and awareness with your children and it works beautifully. These are the magical moments of parenting that feel as though they are laying the groundwork for world peace.
I tried to write about this in an article that is currently online at Organica Magazine. I would very much like to learn about any endeavors, books or discussions that lean in this direction. I thank you deeply for you work and for its great honesty and fearlessness.
AM: It is not my goal to write books about how you can “mitigate your rage against your children” but rather to encourage you to look for the REASONS of this rage. And this kind of books, I have already written them. My impression is that you still protect and admire your mother and the way in which she brought you up and don’t allow yourself any criticism toward her perfectionism and her fears to make an error. No wonder that these emotions of suppressed rage are now directed against your children. I also think that your creativity was stifled from a very early time and it wants to eventually liberate itself – fortunately. But in order to not do it at the expense of your children, you will have to find the suffering of the small girl dependent on a very strict mother. You don’t need new books, which should tell you how to be with your children. You know it VERY WELL: You need only the permission to be yourself, that means to be authentic, even with your rage against people who deserve it. These are NOT your children.