I realised last month that I was jealous of my four year old daughter.
Not her clothes – she wears My Little Pony pyjamas most days and whilst they are comfty my look is more vintage, y’know?
Not her running skills- she is fast, but I’d crush her in a race for sure. (Not that we do winning as such, our new motto is “If you had fun you WON!”) But I’d definitely come first.
Not her hair – she is growing it long, but is very anti-brush, so it mostly hangs in a big dreadlock. Clump-chic.
This is what I’m jealous of:
I am jealous of the way she is fully able to be 100% herself. I am jealous of the way she expresses her massive emotions with her whole body and voice and every drop of energy. I am jealous of the freedom in which she occupies her place in the world.
It’s a huge word, jealousy.
It doesn’t mark our relationship in a big way. Not like how I was jealous of my best friend when I was 14 for getting to go out with the boy we had both fancied for two years. We used to have competitions about how much we fancied him; “I love him so much I would steal one of his sweaty socks and sleep with it on my pillow” and I’d say “Well I would eat his bogies!” and now she is his GIRLFRIEND? I was consumed with this whole body ache. I’d wake up jealous and go to sleep jealous and inbetween times think about his bogies jealously.
It’s not like that with my daughter.
We are deeply connected, we shower each other in kisses, we laugh until we cry, we play hard.
But every so often, when I am analysing the moment that I exploded into a shout after asking her to stop doing something 7 gazillion times, I discover that the blast came out of this deep place rooted in my childhood.
Here’s a list of the sorts of things that, once or twice a month, will give rise to a deep bubble of anger in my belly:
- The zip on my dress being undone 8 times a day
- Bouncing on Grandma’s bed
- Bouncing on our bed whilst I’m trying to get Juno to nap
- Insisting on changing her outfit for the 7th time before 9am as we’re about to leave
- Refusing to move out of her seat after the aeroplane has landed
- Emptying a whole jar of my homemade sunscreen into the sink
- Crunching on a load of vitamin Cs when she usually helps herself to one
- Needing to take all her clothes off to go to the toilet, in a public loo
Now nearly all of these are wholly natural, fully understandable urges – irresistible things kids are almost created to want to do. I love urges, I love creating space for them to happen. Furthermore, a lot of these things are a child’s RIGHT. It is her right to change her clothes, to take them off, to stay sitting when I want her to stay. And you know how I love children’s rights.
So I am pretty generally okay at just sitting back and not getting cross and creating space and getting joy out of their joy when all these things happen. Not a drop of annoyance in sight – just pleasure in connection, or curiosity about the way she has chosen to connect. Like, with my zip.
But sometimes I’m not. Every so often my rational mind that loves urges and rights just leaves me hanging and my stomach fells with the big balloon of fury. And a lot of the time I can breathe and deal with it and then sometimes I just. get. mad.
And I am beginning to realise that this is the four year old Lucy, inside, saying HEY WHAAAAT?! THATS SO NOT FAIR I NEVER GOT TO MAKE A POTION OUT OF SUNCREAM OR JUMP ON THE BEDS OR BE MY FULL EXUBERANT SELF…
(I was a bit precocious as a kid. Well read. I probably would have said exuberant.)
Teresa Brett, author of Parenting for Social Change, calls these “parenting triggers”. We can also get triggered when we are faced with a child’s experiences that remind us of something that happened to us as a kid. For example, when I see another kid being cruel to Ramona? My little inner 4 years wants to bust out yelling NO! YOU ARE THE POO AROUND HERE THANKS VERY MUCH! A BIG SMELLY POO HEAD! My inner 4 year old is totally unreasonable.
Last year Robin Grille came to New Zealand and he did a fantastic talk about emotional memory. (I write about emotional memory in our children, and as parents, here.) He advised us to look in with one eye, and out with another. Because unless we deal with emotional baggage from our own childhood we won’t be able to support our children with their own emotions.
At the heart of people not being able to cope with a child’s loud noises, their huge will and determination, their sheer physicality, there is a little wounded child, feeling a bit jealous and wishing their own childhood could have been so free and so fun.
The bloody patriarchy
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this recently, particularly in the way mothers carry it. Because as women, we have been trying to thrive in an oppressive patriarchal culture, and must, to some extent, carry around baggage handed down through our lineage.
My friend sent me an article recently by Bethany Webster, Healing the Mother Wound, that articulated so perfectly some of my feelings. It discusses the role that living for generations upon generations within a patriarchal society can have on women, their daughters, and their daughter’s daughters, in a never ending game of pass-the-pain.
The hangover of women having to fulfil certain roles and expectations for so many years can leave us feeling like we are not quite good enough, that there is something wrong with us, that we must be a certain way to be loved, or plagued by guilt for wanting more than we have.
It gave me a how and a why for some of the deep emotions I have felt as a mother.
How I can be one minute sitting at the table doing crafts with my two girls, full of peace and joy, and the next minute battling a deep feeling of offense at how they want to push the ink pads directly on the paper, rather than using the stamps? WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO WASTE INK THIS WAY? IT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE COOL DINOSAUR SHAPES JUST BIG WET BLOBBY SQUARES. I have to sit, breathing with myself for a while, telling myself it doesn’t matter about the ink pads, they were only from the charity shop.
“In our society, there is no safe place for a mother to vent her rage. And so often it comes out unconsciously to one’s children. A daughter is a very potent target for a mother’s rage because the daughter has not yet had to give up her personhood for motherhood. The young daughter may remind the mother of her un-lived potential. And if the daughter feels worthy enough to reject some of the patriarchal mandates that the mother has had to swallow, then she can easily trigger that underground rage for the mother.”
Is it possible that when I see my daughters being so liberated and wild, so completely able to be themselves, a small part of me remembers that phase in my teenage years, when I acted like an idiot, a classic bimbo, because I thought that’s how I, a pretty blond teenage girl needed to be in the world? My sister sat me down one day and said “Lucy you are intelligent. Stop pretending to be an idiot.” I did snap out of it, but I still sometimes recede into that place, perhaps to make people feel comfortable, or to like me, because somewhere along the line I’ve picked up that women need to be somewhat small. And this, eventually, is rage making.
My sister and I with our mum
I’m not happy with this rage. It isn’t fair on my daughters, for them to bear the brunt of thousands of years of gender inequality! Doesn’t that just take the mick? We’ve had the suffragette movement, women’s lib, and yet our daughter’s suffer because of a mother’s deep unhealed wounds.
The most important thing we can do as parents is acknowledge and validate our own pain, either from society, or childhood. It is a gift to become aware of how deep, untended to stuff can impact our relationship with our children.
A safe place to vent
The week I read about the Mother’s Wound I got involved in a small, very private women’s circle. A place to be honest, to acknowledge pain and rant and rave if necessary. I think it is a crucial step to dealing with these strange, unwelcome, unconscious feelings I have, a safe place to vent my rage.
Writing this has made me think of other ways to deal with emotional pain from childhood that I’ve found helpful – I thought I’d share these:
- Finding a place to talk is so key – do you have a group you can form? Or an online place?
- It sounds a little, er, quirky, but can you write a letter to you as a child? Address the pain you still carry.
- Talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you are worthy of love, you are a good parent, you are kind. I recently had a very sad week, 3 things happened to me to make me question my work as a writer and general onliney person. I ended up going for a big rambly walk in the dark and began an inner monologue with someone I felt needed to trust themselves more. I began saying it over and over, like a mantra, and then realised I was talking to myself; “Trust yourself. You are a good person. Trust yourself.” It was really healing.
- Change your brain. I know, it is like a proper insult. But it is science! Our brain acts like a muscle. With practice we can form new neural pathways. Keep doing something and you will get better. When you feel the bubble of rage, take a step back, count to ten, breath deeply, acknowledge and validate your feelings, and then address your children with love in your heart. Eventually this will become your default. You can totally do this. You can change your shoutiness.
That best friend I had? When I was 14? She is still my best friend, two decades later. If I can get over the kind of jealousy that saw me madly eating bogies in my dreams, I am SURE I can address this subtle mother kind.
For my daughters’s sake, and my daughter’s daughters sake, I want to heal my mother wound, and show my inner 4 year old some love.
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