I received an email scolding from my father for skipping Love Thursday this week, but in my defense, I was sort of busy wallowing. Yesterday was just one of those one-thing-after-another kinds of days, and I was not feeling the love, I admit it.
Which brings me to a little epiphany I had last night. But first, an update after y’all were so concerned that I was going to scar my child for life with the silent treatment: And I preface this with just a couple of things. First, I love comments, and I read and consider them all, and I love that folks get so invested and passionate in the things we talk about here. Truly. Second, I wonder sometimes if people realize that we all have our biases and fears and internal whatevers that sway our perception.
Like, you do realize that when you’re begging me not to inflict this random torture on my child that the situation you go on to describe is nothing like what I’ve just postulated, right? Maybe?
My own mother left an impassioned plea for me not to use the silent treatment because (in part) she so desperately wishes she had never used it on me. Except that… she never did. She has her own memories of the silent treatment—unpleasant ones, obviously—but I think they were enough to keep her from ever utilizing that particular method on her own kids.
So. I had informed Chickadee that I didn’t think I could speak to her until she learned to speak more respectfully to the rest of us. She went off to school; I went about my day. She came home and we each went about our business, and save for a couple of times she tried to ask me questions over dinner, it really wasn’t even obvious that I wasn’t talking to her. Apparently it was bothersome, though, because before bed she all but tackled me and refused to let go until I spoke to her. What I said then was, “Start talking or let go of me. I’m not the one who has something that needs saying.” And then she talked, starting with an apology and going on from there.
Less than 12 hours of silence, well-explained and half of it spent apart from one another, and it came to its logical conclusion without any scarring of which I’m aware.
Of course, the next day brought a whole ‘nother incident which doesn’t even bear repeating, but suffice it to say that yesterday was not one of those I Am An Awesome Parent days, but more one of those Being A Parent Sucks And My Children Are Psychopaths kind of days, and on those days, I have a hard time finding the love.
But: On to the epiphany.
Part of what happened yesterday is that Otto and Chickadee had a little showdown, and I found myself wanting to play referee as they sniped at each other, and finally I all but stamped my foot and demanded they knock it off. “YOU need to be the ADULT here and cut her some slack, because she is the CHILD,” I said, pointing at Otto, “And YOU,” turning my jabbing finger to my daughter, “need to STOP OPTING OUT OF FIXING WHAT YOU BREAK.”
I stood there glaring at two of the people I love best in the world, and an interesting thing happened. Otto spoke calmly to Chickadee about the choices he’s made. He told her that he chose us, that he chose HER, and he knew what he was getting, and he took it on because he loves us. And he knows she probably feels sometimes like he ruined our family and made her life more complicated and that it’s all his fault…
… and she stood there nodding and agreeing while my heart fractured and my eyes watered, because it’s been almost three years and HOW, HOW CAN SHE STILL THINK THAT…
… and he told her, just as calmly, that it’s okay for her to think that, and he can take it, but he still loves her and we’re still going to make this family work, no matter what she thinks.
Chickadee put her head down and nodded. Otto nodded. And there was a bit of sniffling and then some hugging, and it was over before I had time to process what, exactly, had just happened.
Later that evening, a friend who is also remarried called me in a panic, because one of her children had completely melted down, seemingly out of the blue, and finally, what came out is that her new husband (who is really not very new anymore) is WRONG and BAD and should GO AWAY and NEVER COME BACK because he is the source of everything unhappy, ever. My friend was, understandably, distraught. The whole thing was shocking and worrisome and horrible.
But as we talked I realized the common gem of truth in both of our situations, and although it’s a bit late for Love Thursday, here it is: Our children have very little control over the trajectories of their lives, at this point, and that’s scary, but the ability to express their discomfort, and even verbalize all of their “bad” and “wrong” feelings, particularly about that one person they both love and still a little bit resent, is a sign of victory. It’s a sign that they know they’re safe. They know they can spew bile and lend voice to even the meanest and most selfish undercurrents, and they will still be loved. My child can enthusiastically agree that my husband has ruined her life—and know that he will not hold it against her. My friend’s child can insist that she did a horrible thing in remarrying—and know that she will allow for that venting but that life will not change based upon the charge.
It’s so hard, watching our kids find their way through life’s changes and disappointments, no matter what. It’s harder still to watch them use the men we love as their scapegoats. But this is as it should be, and fortunately we married good men who are up to the task. And if nothing else, I think our kids know it and are doing better than we sometimes think.
They are safe, and they know it. That’s huge. I don’t know about my friend, but I am going to cling to that right now. I think our kids are doing some hard, hard work. And they’re going to be okay.
(Happy, Dad? LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO!)
If you prefer something a little lighter for your Friday, you can go on over to Five Full Plates and read all about what I learned while I was sick. Spoiler: The only epiphany over there is that I’m a whiner, and really, we all knew that already.
It really is a good thing that you can make her feel safe enough that she can be a jerk and you’ll still love her! I don’t imagine she even really *wants* to feel those things towards Otto sometimes, yknow? Like, there’s stuff that went down when my parents split, and sometimes I still resent my dad a little for the stuff that he did, and I don’t necessarily want to feel that way … but sometimes I do! And “feelings aren’t right or wrong, feelings are just feelings”, yknow? Anyway, I think you’re a good mama, for what it’s worth. I feel like sometimes reading your blog actually helps prepare me for my future career (oh someday! when I’m *finally* done my degree(s)!) as a child and youth counselor or psychologist, as sort of a limited case study, because there’s really only so much you can learn from textbooks!
Mir, you’re handling this beautifully. I know it ain’t feeling beautiful right now, but you’re seeing it clearly and dealing…in a good way. And I think you’ve got it exactly right. And… have I told you lately.. that I LOVE OTTO!!! You lucked out, girl. :-) Hold that man close, sounds like he is so good for your family, for YOU.
Yes, I am happy now.
I have seen what you did and you done good.
Now give Otto a hug and keep up the good work.
:Sniff: you guys are such a beautiful family, and I just know that one day your children will have an epiphany just like yours plus an equal dose of “My mom [and Otto] went thru hell and back with me and they are still alive, they are superheroes!” Just keep being the great mama that you are and love on your man as well – and hopefully the being a parent sucks days will be kept to a minimum.
As the step-parent over here, I often wonder how my step-daughter really feels about me. Does she think I ruined her life? She tells me that she loves me, but sometimes I wonder if it is just because she thinks that she has to?
I think in some ways she wishes her parents were together because it is so hard going back and forth. Recently we have had many discussions about missing people and being sad but also happy at the same time.
Hey Chica – You are remarkable in your willingness to share so much with your readers. I am glad you are rewarded for it with such support and loyalty, even if they feel entitled to put an oar in where it doesn’t belong. Your blog really reminds me that we all have such messy lives, even if superficially we look like we’ve got it together; and that we need to treat eachother with tenderness because who knows what else the other person is dealing with. (Run on sentence?) A very helpful reminder to have regularly. Thanks!
Nicely done, Mir.
I think that is a testament to how wonderful you and Otto are at the parenting thing. Not all children feel safe enough to be honest. And not all parents would have an understanding outlook on such honesty.
And just as an aside, I am 35 years old and there is still a part of me that thinks my step-mother ruined my life, is bad and should just go away.
dang, do you guys ever lose it and go the bad parenting route? sheesh – I need a parenting bootcamp at your house! I’m struck though by this in one way – I am just entering the girl drama stage where everything is unfair, we make decisions just to torture her, and so on and so on (my middle guy feels this way I’m sure at times but his is more that direct anger – its not faiiiirrr but he doesn’t seem to think we plot this out which is sort of refreshing except it means we are just mean parents period, we can’t help it I guess). But I have to wonder if kids of remarried parents hone in on that “my what we’ve done to you” point – because I’m pretty sure my daughter has the same angst you hint at here and her dad and I are still married. I just wonder…is it our own mother guilt that we attribute some of it to a particular circumstance when that child would likely have these same feelings but just pinned on something else? (working mother guilt here – I’m sure whether I worked or not my kids would be bored at times, mad at times because I can’t give them 100% of my attention yet I attribute it to being a working mom – is that really accurate?)
I totally realize kids of parents who split have a little more angst typically – my parents divorced after I graduated from high school and it was painful even at that age – but I just have to wonder do we try to find a reason or explanation for just normal angst when our kids might have these same feelings and issues no matter what the home situation is (I mean unless we really did make them kings and queens and spent all our time and energy and our endless supplies of money making them happy as they feel they so deserve?)
anyways – one day your kids will thank both of you for being such great parents – they are truly lucky (unlike my bunch haha)
One day, I want to be like Otto (and you). :(
I love reading your blog, because I feel like what you go through tracks my own life so closely, as a mom of an 11 and 13 yo in a second marriage, with the kids’ father living somewhere distant. This post especially so, as my older daughter and my husband struggle through similar things. I especially find it difficult to know when I need to be involved, and when I don’t. My husband says I never do, my daughter thinks I always do … that makes it easier (snarfle).
No advice, just commiseration. Love your blog.
Once, when I was bemoaning my oldest child’s awful behavior the night before, her teacher, very wise at age 26, said, “She does it at home because she knows she’s safe there. She knows that she can yell and scream and misbehave, and you’re still going to love her, even if you don’t like the behavior.”
I can’t tell you how much that one realization helped my attitude towards her outburst, which I still don’t like. But at least now i understand them better.
And I always make sure, after such incidents and the repercusions, to tell her that I love her even when I don’t like what she’s done. She rolls her eyes, but I know she’s hearing me.
Is it too late for you to adopt me? Because truthfully, and without going into any of the gory details, my parents could learn a thing or two from you about divorce and kids’ questions and insecurities. And yeah, it was a long time ago and I think I came out of it okay. But it was in SPITE of them, and not BECAUSE of them. So if you do adopt me, I promise to wash the dishes and make my bed every day.
The Chickadee/Otto showdown you described is my life exactly. Except it’s been 10 years for me, and I’m Otto.
It’s taken me a long time to accept the fact that I love them dearly but don’t always like them, and that it’s OK. My oldest SD has started really taking things out on me, and I have to remind myself that if she didn’t feel safe with me, she’d stay distant and polite, instead of — well, instead of acting like a totally normal teenager.
Well, crap, you already made me cry this morning. What a beautiful post. I’m NOT in a 2nd marriage (see, I know my life is different. lol) but my daughter still rages and acts terrible sometimes and treats me like I’m the center of all her problems. Despite having a remarkably stable home life, there are still plenty of things about growing up that feel out of control and scary. I try to reassure myself that she rages at me because she feels safe and knows I will always love her. I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels this way about their kid.
I am mumbling yet one more prayer of gratitude* that my loverly, marvelous, super-special-snowflake (just like everyone else) Children are, nearly totally and completely, GROWN!! And I am, almost, still sane. Granted, I also feel REALLY OLD (which I kinda am, but not really, I just married waaaaaaay early) but I will forgive that.
*which is saying something as I’m a spiritually-tone-deaf cheerful atheist. Ah well, the FSM won’t mind.
You guys are awesome.
Growing up is so hard. I’ve had a lump in my throat for a week and half watching my middle schooler weather some really tough times. Girls are so cruel…
My mother always said that if your children make to age 18 and they are not, nor have been, in jail, you’re a success as a parent. So far, so good! :)
Having been in Chickadee’s shoes with a step-dad who was, unbeknownst to me, up to the task, I am in awe. You struck a chord with me with your story that I’d not ever paid attention to, even with hours of therapy. God love Otto for being a mini-god. I didn’t realize that I felt safe. I didn’t realize a lot of things. I am going to write my dad a letter and tell him how much I appreciated him sticking it out.
Thank you. You helped me more. I’d send a check but I don’t write GA! ;-)
And you question your parenting abilities?? I am in deep admiration for you and Otto. Someday Chickie will see it all so clearly.
One of the best things about the internet is finding this blog. I have learned so much from you. Thanks.
Love this post – even if you did make me tear up at work. (And you know that the flipside is also true right…that you’re doing better than you think, too? Happy Love Friday!)
Also, just so you know, sometimes kids say those sorts of things about the men who actually fathered them…or, you know, the WOMEN who BIRTHED them.
Not that I know anything about that.
Oh, look! Something shiny!
(Plus? You rock. Almost as much as Otto.)
After an entire month of having strep, then pneumonia, and finally the flu I can totally sympathize with the way children morph into perfectly dreadful hellions the minute mom is out of commission. I think your way of dealing with it involved much less chance of future therapy sessions than mine, since mine was to scream until my voice gave out and then cry like a baby while threatening that if they didn’t let me take a nap I was going to end up in the hospital and it would be ALL THEIR FAULT. Ahem. Not one of my finer parenting moments. The moment I got back on my feet everything went back to normal, and the kids who couldn’t act like humans for 5 minutes are suddenly the sweetest things in the world. They just need Momma to be ok is all, and when she’s not all hell breaks loose. I’m sure your family will be back to normal (whatever that is) shortly. Get well, that’s an order!
Oh, Mir, you are my hero. (And so are Otto and Chickadee and Monkey.) You let your kids feel what they feel and teach them how to handle it in a mature fashion. And Otto takes responsibility for his feelings and actions and the impact, both good and bad, they may have had on your children. (May I be the first to sign up for the Clone Otto Project.)
Unlike my ex, who invalidates my children’s feelings at every turn. He married someone who told my children (now grown) when they were younger, “I never wanted a relationship with you. I only wanted a relationship with your father.” Doubly puzzling and hurtful, as she owns and operates the daycare my younger daughter attended, which is how she met my then-husband, so she already HAD a relationship with them.
This past Christmas, my ex informed my older daughter (the more sensitive and respectful one who has never told her step-mother to go to h-e-double-l hockey sticks and therefore never earned fear and what passes for respect with that woman) that she had to forget whatever had happened or been said to her in the past and treat her stepmother with respect (the kind of which she could have earned if none of it had ever happened).
Is there any more egregious treatement than to tell someone, “I don’t care what she’s said or done to you, your feelings have no import here, you have to act as if it’s been all sweetness and light.” I mean, it’s lovely for the person who’s been rude, disrespectful and inconsiderate (a virtual Get Out of Jail Free card) but what about my kids? This woman has been horrible to them.
The only person who has come out of this unscathed is me, because I am free at last, etc., etc..
But. Argh. Just ARGH!!!
On the other hand, Otto will be a well-loved fixture in your children’s lives because both he and you are responsible adults who care more about your children’s mental health and the integrity of your family than your own egos. As I said, heroes.
Ooh, TC, I was going to say what you said; just so Otto knows that even were Chickadee his own biological spawn, horrid things might still be said to him (or you) at this stage of her life.
Now to move on to which feelings are OK to talk out, and which ones (say, how hideous the neighbor’s new baby is, or somesuch) are better kept to oneself! ;-)
By the way, you ARE a goddess, we all aspire to mommy like you do. You knew that, right?
You & Otto are rock stars. Nuff said.
Thank you also for some serious insight into my 3YO’s mind. I understand that she acts out at home because she feels safe here. I’ve been injured (herniated disc pushing on sciatica) for most of her life and she recently seemed to have had the epiphany that I wasn’t always like this. It was right around that time she got really clingy. Now, it could be a coincidence, she is only three. Some of the cling may be growing pains, but I think she’s realized that Mama can be better, and it’s freaking her out. (Lots of death questions too these days. I think she realized Mama isn’t infallible & it’s scaring her to death.) Thank you for that insight, I have a new approach planned for some of her behavior. Fingers crossed!
Wow. So this is what I have to look forward to when we ‘sign the papers.’ (He prefers to think of it this way instead of the stress of the ceremony.)
Thank you for leading the way. I learn so much from you. Makes me think I can do this.
For a long time my daughter felt I had ruined her life because I divorced her father and DIDN’T remarry. There is no “right” way! Except: Better some “silent treatment” than too much screaming.