Sunday, March 4, 2012

No One Told Me Parenting Was Going To Be Like Therapy

Who knew trying to be a better mom would
require me to work so much on myself?
Sometimes I'm a great mom. Other times I feel like a lousy one, Having twins has been the most amazing blessing and at the same time it is the hardest, most exhausting thing I have ever done. But not in the way you might think.

Sure, there's the lack of sleep. Any parent will mention that. And yes, with twins, sleep disturbances take on new proportions. But that's a post for another time. Yes, with more than one child there's the never ending battle over sharing and everyone trying to get mom's attention. But that too, is another post.

What I have found to be the absolute most exhausting thing about having children is all of the self-examination that is required. I have done a lot of therapy over the years. I have studied various methods, I have had my own therapy sessions, I have counseled others, but I have never learned as much about myself as I have just trying to be a good mother. 

Anyone who tells you that your childhood traumas don't resurface, or whose buttons don't get pushed, or who doesn't find themselves repeating old patterns is either fooling themselves or is, on some level, not paying attention to themselves or their children. In addition, nothing will push the boundaries of what you and your partner can weather as much as having multiples.

One of my favorite photos
of me and my dad (circa 1970)
One of the first things I noticed, when I became a mom, was my intense need to connect to our kids. I would interrupt conversations to attend to them, I would respond to every sound or word they uttered. Not to spoil them, but because it ripped my heart out to think that they could ever, for one second, feel ignored. Then, one day my father was visiting and I watched as the two kids played in front of him, happily trying to get his attention while he, unaware, typed away on his computer. 

All of a sudden all of my childhood memories of trying to get my father's attention came flooding back. All those memories of feeling not good enough or not important enough for him to pay attention to me were fresh and raw. I realized that unconsciously I was trying to protect our kids from ever feeling what I had felt. Every time they need me I struggle with finding the balance between connecting with them in order to make them feel heard and understood, and disengaging from them in order to give them a sense of autonomy and confidence in themselves.

Over the years, my father and I have worked through a lot of the old wounds. He is a wonderful father and yet, I still have "issues" with not being heard, not being understood or connected to. Sometimes I think those wounds must have left scar tissue that, when irritated, flares up and feels like a brand new pain. I dread the idea that one day my kids will be in therapy discussing something I unwittingly did that hurt them. Perhaps it's inevitable. But I do believe that feeling "felt" is a primal need. 

I think I do a pretty damned good job at connecting to my kids and it's a constant effort to stay in that head space.

Chaos is another trigger for me. Not such a great trigger to have when you have twins as chaos more or less goes with the territory! My husband is one of 7 children and is, on many levels, at ease with the storm that swirls around him, both at home and at work. I love him for this because he is often the rock I cling to. 

One of the best books for helping you
understand how your own childhood
affects your parenting.
My early childhood had a certain level of instability as my family traveled for a number of years throughout Europe letting hitchhikers determine our destination. In addition, I was an only child with parents who worked and was used to being on my own, in solitude and quiet. My need now for order, routine and a certain level of peace is enormous. It gives me a sense of calm, safety and permanence. 

These deep-seated needs coupled with having twin infants was a difficult combination. My husband's desire for spontaneity often butts up against my need to stick to the plan. This difference in our personalities is one of the major reasons we were attracted to each other in the beginning and never was an issue until our children arrived; once the kids came these different styles became hard to reconcile. We realized that it was imperative to understand where these issues came from and how to release them if we were going to parent effectively and if we were going to keep our marriage strong. Other than finding a great therapist, I recommend reading Dr. Dan Siegel and Mary Hartzell's book, Parenting From the Inside Outif you sense that your past is affecting your present.

It is said that your body stores old trauma and, when something happens that triggers that memory, your brain cannot distinguish between then and now. It reacts as if the danger is current. Your survival techniques kick in, your childlike reactions flare up and you go into fight or flight mode. I am re-learning how to react to things and trying to mother myself as well as my children. Occasionally I miss the mark and behave like a child myself

But other times I am so in touch with myself and my children that I feel like I am moving as if in a dream; nothing disturbs me, nothing fazes me. My children can be throwing overlapping tantrums and I am able to be the parent they need in that moment. When I am in that mode of mindful parenting, I am no longer a child needing to control a chaotic situation, I am a mother holding space for my daughter who needs to know that her big feelings are OK to have. I am no longer a child feeling that she is not worthy of being listened to, I am a mother tuning in to my son and understanding that he is unable to focus on what I am saying because he is overtired. I am a mother doing the best she can, and my children continue to be my greatest teachers.

Thanks for reading!
The Twin Coach
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