Children are a burden; a responsibility. But also our greatest teachers. I am so grateful for everything my son Wexler has taught me. I would not be the person I am today without him.
It was not until I faced the challenge, instead of resisting it, that I was able to be the parent I wanted to be.
This was not always the popular road, but I have learned to cherish my own values as opposed to relying on those of others.
I did not know shit about being a parent. My 12 year old son has a life of his own. There are a couple things I have learned. The more honest I am to myself and take full responsibility for myself, the stronger and more present I get as a parent. And the stronger I get, the more willing I am to give more severe consequences.
I have such great sadness about the parenting thing.
I regularly hesitate to post my real feelings because I know that they might not be popular. Because the shame I feel might be familiar, but also unacceptable to say out loud. But I also know the hesitation feels like all of my adventures—crossing a seemingly impassible river, cycling alone in the dark, getting lost, the list goes on and on. So here goes....
I have all kinds of guilt about my role as a parent. I am a nomad, gypsy free spirit. I made a very irresponsible choice when I decided to become a parent because I did not know what responsibility meant. Specifically responsibility to myself. I did not know enough about myself at the time to be able to know this. I did not know how to ask for help. I did not know who to ask for help from —I just knew the little world around me and this was not a group that could support me. Nothing about the experience felt right.
If I was truthful, then it had nothing to do with society and the things about the modern world. I used to think it was. Now I realize it had to do with me. I did not have the patience or truthfully the interest in being a mom. I think it was most difficult because my child was so fussy and energetic and needy. And help was not coming from friends or family. I needed to reach out to something else. But what?
For me, having a child was a trigger. The biggest was loneliness and shame. I do not think I have ever felt so lonely. Maybe because I was so overwhelmed and did not have anyone to share my experience with. I could barely sit in my own presence. I thought it would be fun to color and play games and sing with my child. But none of this was any fun when it came down to it. I had an only child who always wanted to play. “Will you play with me?” came out of his little mouth many times a day. I was not the parent who had fun playing anything. The constant neediness was just more than I could handle. My sweet husband had a hard time hearing that it was hard for me. Others said, this is what it is to be a parent. Suck it up. Deal with it. I did. I totally sucked it up. I did all the things you are supposed to do. But I was not present. I was just carrying out the actions. My mind was always on something else. I found it absolutely intolerable to be present to my child. And there was so much shame in this.
I survived by eating a lot of very dark chocolate and cooking. Being in the kitchen was my therapy. It was my safe place where I could be “a mom” in the domestic realm but also preoccupy myself with my cooking business. I went to his activities. I made sure he was fed well and did his homework. I enrolled him in activities and went to them. I read him stories. I took him hiking and camping. So in that way, I was very present for him. But there was this deep, intolerable loneliness and shame.
I simply did not realize that when I decided to have a child I was basically deciding to have a responsibility. I was not prepared for a 100% responsibility. I thought I could live my life and incorporate the kids in somehow. I was good at making time in the kitchen and going to yoga and working out. But I was not good at surrounding myself with supportive people or being willing to express the truth when it might not be popular. Especially the truth to myself.
What would I do if I could do it all again knowing what I know now?
I can only say what would have worked for me and I am such an odd bird. I have only recently begun to institute real consequences and it has been life-changing.
It was a bit more difficult because my son is one of those bright children with an excessive amount of energy. He has always been very persistent and unrelentless in his fight to get what he wants. He beats everyone down around him until he gets it.
I wish I had understood the power of consequences earlier. Unfortunately this is not popular I have noticed and would not have been acceptable. And I did not really have anyone to model it for me. It seems that we live in a world where the children rule the roost. Where we are constantly appeasing and reacting to our kids. Wexler was such a whiner and complainer and so persistent to get what he wanted, that it was easier to relent. It was easier to just give in. It was easier to give a ‘treat.” By the way, why did we call something literally toxic a ‘treat.’ It seems to me that we could call bananas a treat, limit them to two times a year, and they would become the favorite. Likewise, only allow candy, make vegetables the “treat,” and suddenly candy is no longer the desirable thing.
But that is not the world we live in. And there is so much influence from the other kids and fitting in that this becomes near impossible. And if you pull your kid out and isolate them and only show what you want, then they will have a difficult time fitting into the world.
So I think consequence is the only choice.
Wexler and I went backpacking for a week out in the mountains. It was rewarding but definitely hard—15 miles hiking each day in pretty rigorous conditions. We brought hot chocolate for the end of each day. A sort of reward. I told him that if he asked more than once for something (anything) then we would not have the hot chocolate. He asked more than once for something. I gave a warning. He did it again. I gave another warning. I did not want to give the consequence. I knew it would be devastating. He did it again. Bam. No hot chocolate. That was not popular. He went into the tent and said he did not want dinner. It was our final night. It was supposed to be special. It was ruined. I felt horrible. I wanted to take it back. To say, okay, we can have the hot chocolate. But I was strong and persistent. I collected a lot of firewood. I sat for an hour breaking it up into very small pieces. My son came out of the tent. He wanted dinner. We made dinner. The mood relaxed. We made a fire. A big one because I had broken up so much wood. The lightening and thunder was coming very close to the mountains that we were sleeping in. Wexler talked to the Sky God and made a deal with him. He said that he would give part of his food to the fire for the Sky God. Wexler started to do a dance to keep the fire going. It was such a beautiful dance. He was really in the element of the fire and rain. It worked. It did not rain until after we went to sleep. It turned out to be a memorable evening. And he learned that I was going to hold my ground. He learned that I was strong. He learned that I was there with him and for him.
The thing is that this teaches the child that there is a consequence for their actions. I think the consequence has to be big enough that it has an impact on the parents too. But parents are not willing to take the impact. Christmas is cancelled. The ski trip is cancelled. The sleepover with your friend is cancelled. The grief that the child has is so big that parents cannot handle it. I know. I have tried it. It is fuckin hard. But the child gets over it. And they respect you a hell of a lot more. And it is a lesson in grief. For parent and child.
Being a parent is one of the hardest things I have ever tried to do. There are no simple answers. I can just share my experiences—the successes and the failures.
As all of you who follow me know, I love to challenge myself. Wexler is my greatest challenge and for that reason, my greatest love. I miss him every day when I am not with him and I wish he could be a bigger part of my untraditional life. But I cherish the moments we are together.