Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stupid Mommy



My first MOMfessional post. MOMfessionals are posts by moms that tell it like it is, no holding back. Post your story on your blog then connect with Michelle at theycallmemummy.com and share it with her. What is a MOMfessional? Michelle says, "It might be dark and heavy, it may be uproariously funny. It just needs to be something that people don’t talk about or easily ‘fess up to." I know other moms out there have great stories to share, like my friends Allison and Lynne. Share your stories ladies!


It’s a common misconception that parents with more than one child know what they are doing. I have three children and many new moms seek my advice on their own parenting problems. I hand out reassuring platitudes that make these new mothers feel better, because I focus on the things they want to hear.

“You’ll be fine,” I say. “Follow your instincts,” I encourage them warmly, bringing to mind the lioness protecting her cubs, teaching them to survive in the wild world. 

I try not to reveal that most of the time I have no idea what I am doing. 

While all my children can send my problem-solving skills into overdrive, it’s my middle child who stretches my parenting skills to their limit. He is emotional, dramatic, articulate and verbally prolific. He is creative and devious and stubborn. He is the perfect genetic combination of the best and worst of my husband and I. 

For a long time, I couldn’t figure out why I was having so much trouble being the best Mom I could for this kid. I felt like every day I messed up. I was tired of yelling.

One evening it hit me: my approach was wrong. 

My goal had been to prevent crises. But that’s not how most industries manages things. Sure, there are policies to minimize crises, but the essential training we get in the workplace is really about crisis management. 

By trying to prevent crises, I wasn’t teaching my child to fish.  I wasn’t giving him a chance to experience his most difficult, overwhelming emotions and find his way out of his unhappy frustration. 

I’m an optimist by nature. My glass is half-full and I know the waiter is on the way over to fill it all the way up. So by combining my crisis management training with my insanely optimistic nature I decided I would allow my child to explore those unhappy places. 

One morning, he came downstairs in a grumpy, grouchy mood. He wanted ice cream for breakfast. Of course I replied that ice cream wouldn’t give him a good start to the day. 

In his inimitable fashion, he conducted a sit-in at 7am on a work day. He even improvised his own song, “Stupid Mommy,” about a (stupid) mommy who wouldn’t give him ice cream for breakfast. 

Am I really a Stupid Mommy? I decided that No! I am not a Stupid Mommy! I am a smart, savvy Mommy, and I can turn this potentially terrible morning into something wonderful. 

Like I said, I’m an optimist.

First, I complimented him on his singing voice. 

Second, I encouraged him to think of other things to sing about that he didn’t like.

He kept singing, and honestly he does have such a lovely voice. Really melodic. 

I made breakfast and encouraged him to add some other things to his song, like his favorite bad guys. Then I suggested good guys and things he liked. Soon his song was upbeat and positive, his mood reversed, and he ate the breakfast I had prepared (oatmeal with almonds and honey). 

My first victory. I felt vindicated. I felt powerful and proud. 

A few days later, it was time for bed. Surprise - he didn’t want to go. I got frustrated and yelled. I had forgotten my promise to him and myself. Oh yes, I thought. Didn't I have some plan to teach him how to find his way out of anger? I took deep breaths in the privacy of our tiny linen closet and when I emerged I found him in his room, coloring furiously.

“I’m making a book called Bad Mommy and it has one page, and it’s a picture of you!” he growled without taking his eyes off of the page. 

I was both hurt and amazed. My creative son found a way to express his overwhelming emotion through art and literature. Yes, I worried this was a harbinger of a future tell-all best-seller at my expense. But I sensed this was something I could re-direct.

I asked about his drawing. He pointed out my messy hair and my ugly dress. I asked him if he wanted to write the word “Mommy” under his picture and he angrily agreed. 

Somehow, we managed to work on his writing skills together during this temper flare. I suggested he draw pictures of what he wished he was doing instead. It drained the negativity out of his soul, and soon we were cuddled on the bed reading a story. 

Embracing his feelings, allowing their expression and expulsion seemed to unlock his cage and free him, and me, from our typically terrible confrontations. 

My plan was to assist him, but I’ve really helped myself. I now look for the positive, previously unappreciated aspects of his tumultuous, spontaneous and unrestrained nature. I’m better at accepting what he can offer.

I’m not a Stupid Mommy. I had merely forgetten to tap into my own often unconventional world view. I cast aside the rules and tried a completely new tactic.

One afternoon I found him naked, in our backyard, relieving himself between the snapdragons and rose bushes. He’s laughing and unconcerned with propriety or decency. It just feels good to go. 

I sense I have turned a corner when I encourage him to pull up his pants and play tag with me. Using the bathroom indoors is overrated, besides, he’s just helping keep the deer away from my flowers.