Thoughts & Reflections
Isn’t it wonderful that we’ll experience challenges? Birth is a challenge. Whether you got here with very little fuss and commotion, or with lots of medical and surgical expertise, at home or elsewhere, it’s a lot! It’s a lot for the baby, it’s a lot for the person giving birth.
It’s a necessary experience in order to get here. We’re hard-wired to want children to avoid pain and discomfort, but some challenges are necessary, some are good, all can be opportunities for growth.
The challenge of getting born. The challenge of learning to walk. The challenge of the occasional fall. When we prevent challenges unnecessarily, or when we create unnecessary challenges, we’re doing a disservice. When we carry instead of learning to walk, walking is delayed. When we don’t allow safe opportunities to climb and to fall, motor planning isn’t developed, children get themselves into unsafe situations, expecting to be caught when no one is there to catch. We need the little stumbles to develop balance and equilibrium. We need to get food on our cheek so we can get it in our mouth. We need to fall so we can get back up (and then find the right person for a hug or a brush off or encouragement or realize, huh, I’m actually okay!).
Our upstairs brain says “yes, of course!” and our lizard brain says “protect from all pain I will go grizzly bear on anyone or anything that might harm my child!” Everything is a thing. Everything can be fixed. Everything is the monster under the bed.
That’s a heavy burden.
This is compounded when the challenge is not stacking blocks so they don’t fall or putting your pants on, but instead a friendship that’s not particularly friendly or not making the soccer team, or not getting the job you really want or the end to a marriage. Even our upstairs brain says, “well, wait just one minute…” when it comes to an “unfair” grade, or not getting the lead role clearly your child was more prepared for, or — this one is extra tough — your child not being upset at not placing in the science fair.
How do we keep company through challenge, through pain?
We tend to sabotage ourselves in a few ways.
We internalize. We grieve for a child. We take the blame ourselves. This is “mom guilt,” for a common phrase. I love my job and that naturally means I love my child less. It’s the monster in the closet that gets bigger and bigger. This is especially tough because children are so empathetic, they pick up on our discomfort and then they have a hard time which makes us feel guilty or affirmed in our negative feelings and the cycle perpetuates. Or, we’re so focused on the pain, we can’t see, they’re absolutely fine! They didn’t make the soccer team, and we miss the relief. We miss the tenacity they show in making sure they make the team next time, and the drive they put into running, and drills, and technique. We miss that they’re managing our feelings, rather than us keeping them company on their own. Oof. That’s a real gut-punch there.
We externalize. Where can I place the blame? Who did this to my child? Staying with the sports team analogy, we advocate for our child past the point of their embarrassment, we create an uncomfortable situation for everyone. It is every guardian’s mandate to advocate for their child, to believe in them before there is even something to believe in, to love them senselessly; this is not a criticism or negation of that. We blame others for not seeing our child with all the perfection we see them, as a universe of perfection and possibility, they might prefer to make daisy crowns rather than run laps but that’s just part of their charm; yes half the questions on the exam were wrong but she thought they were right, so isn’t that more a reflection of your teaching than of her learning/work/effort so I think you deserve the bad grade not her and I’ll be going to the district superintendent with this; I’ll make my own science fair and you’ll win all the prizes to that end no more activities in which you might not come in first. We miss the opportunity to focus on the effort and the process and the habits rather than the outcomes. We cannot decide the outcome, there will be aspects beyond our control. What can we control? Did we do our best? Sometimes there’s no blame to place, and that is crippling if I’m used to finding the boogeyman.
We fix. Or at least try to. We’re not looking for who is at fault, but rather what we can do differently. It’s okay, we can try again next time! Maybe baseball or judo would be a better fit here’s my phone so you can look them up on the drive home. I’m bad at math too let’s do flashcards I’ve made us a study guide. You can take a gap year and get a job rather than going off to college straight out of high school. Never let up on your dream job maybe this is an opportunity to grow did you ask to speak with the hiring manager to learn what would have made you a better candidate? What did you learn? What could you do better next time? Are you being honest with yourself about how much you studied/practiced/played? The person who won obviously has skills you can emulate, surround yourself with people like them and you’ll never fail. It’s subtle, but here the subconscious message we’re sending is that the blame and fault lie with the child, in their effort or their abilities or in who they are.
We would absolutely never intend to send these messages. The common thread here is that we’re making what happens to the child about us, the adults. We joke about adults living vicariously through their children, but this is that, isn’t it? Their pain is our pain, their fight is our fight, their flaws are our flaws. Bringing awareness to daily life is so hard, and when we add children everything is exponentially harder, especially bringing awareness. When it comes to our most beloved, we’re never using our upstairs brain, it’s all emotions all the time, it’s all grizzly bear.
So what can we do? We can keep company. How do you feel? Do you feel like you did your best work? Is that person being a friend? What would be helpful to you? Yep, that sure sucks, I’m here to listen and to support you.
We can have our feelings with a friend or a partner, out of a child’s earshot. A true friend will tell us when we’re being unreasonable, won’t fan the flames of our rage. A true friend will empathize and listen, just the same way we’re empathizing and listening to a child.
The truth is, there’s not always something to do. A tearful drop off isn’t necessarily an indication that something is wrong that needs to be fixed. It might be a child picking up on our own feelings of not wanting to embrace the day, it might be that they’re sad about leaving you but happy about where they’re going and we miss their joy since they’re trying to be sad for us, it might be just a tired day, and where I can go get myself a latte on those tired days a child doesn’t have that kind of agency, it might be their second day or second week or even second month and this is all still new and uncomfortable. A baby might be born in a few minutes and a few pushes or it might take several followed by a major surgery, each path is different and we can’t do a lot to cross the bridge quicker or easier or with fewer discomforts. Some of the ways we respond make the process harder, or longer, or more arduous, and the most challenging part is, it’s all with the very best of intentions. Our intentions are never under question or at fault. Our intentions are to protect, to care, to love. It’s like when I throw a frisbee to a friend and it hits a stranger in the face — the fact that I didn’t MEAN to doesn’t take away this person’s pain.
The challenges of interacting with other humans could be enough to send us all into hermitage, couldn’t they? We’ve all had at least one moment where we feared getting it wrong, and felt that visceral response of fight or flight. We kick ourselves for what we should have said, for when we reacted rather than responding, for when the grizzly bear hulks-out and we can’t get Mr. Hyde back in his Pandora-like box. It’s the quote from Mary Anne Radmacher:
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, whispering, “I will try again tomorrow.”
To love a child is courageous, and we are up for it.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder