A mother I worked with once shared with me how guilty she felt about not been able to spend enough time with her new born and with her oldest child. She was also afraid she was beginning to resent her children. “I want to hold him, but I cannot… I don’t want him to start a bad habit of wanting to be held every time he cries… I need a break… I am a terrible mother. How could I say I need a break… how could I resent my children?… I shouldn’t even think that…” Through her teary eyes, I saw a mother who loves her children deeply, and at the same time overwhelmed in her attempt to get her parenting job done.
Is it any easier for me who cares for other people’s children? No, actually, it is not any easier.
“J.J. is crying. Hsiao-Ling fix it”. J.J’s two-year-old sister said to me with a frown. J.J. has been crying for ten minutes since I put him down for a nap. God knows, I really wanted to “fix” it. Hold him, rock him, give him a pacifier. Just do whatever I can to “fix” his cry so my heart could stop flinching. “It’s OK (who am I kidding, right?). J.J. is having a hard time going nite-nite. Let’s wait for another 5 minutes.” Five minutes has gone by, and J.J. was still crying. “Fix it, Hsiao-Ling, fix it!!” Now the sister is starting to cry. As I tip-toed to J.J.’s bedroom, he “magically” stopped crying. Whew!!
You would not believe the thoughts that went through my head during that didn’t-seem-to-end-5-minutes: I should go in there… no, I can’t… he just want some attention… if I go in there, I might spoil the baby… but just this one time… it’s ridiculous that I will spoil babies if I pick them up every time they cry… what if he doesn’t stop crying… I am going to ruin his life… is it time yet… I should know what to do…
Yes, I “should” have known, as a Professional Nanny, as someone who is trained in child development, and work with children most of my life, I should know better, right?
I am trapped in the “shoulds” and the “shouldn’ts”, can you tell? I am “shoulding” myself all over…
What I should know is what the experts say about caring for babies, and raising children: do this, don’t do that; follow these tips, but not those. Of course, some instructions work, and some don’t. Regardless how effective they are, as a parent (or a caregiver), this is probably always in the back of your mind, “Is this the right thing to do?/Am I doing the RIGHT thing?/Am I doing enough?” (Though, I am not a parent, but I experience this with my father every time when I speak with him on the phone).
What if, the overwhelming, the frustration, and the upset of being parents is caused by traditional notions of what it is to be a parent (Ah, the trap of shoulds, and shouldn’t)? And what if, it is those notions, beliefs, ideas and points of view, not children’s behaviors, shape – often negatively – our experience of being parents?
My friend’s daughter, S, just turned seventeen. When she was four, she wondered off while her mother, M, was in the Best Buy store. M was panic at first, then became frustrated. “How could she do this TO me? I just told her to stay next to me… why can’t she just listen?” By this time, M was upset, and mad. She thought, “I am going to teach her a lesson.” M slowly walked towards to the exit door as if she was going to leave. Just as M walked by a cashier counter, she saw S!! S thought her mother was walking out, she cried, “Mommy! Mommy!” As they both settled back in the car, M found herself telling S how scared and worried she was, and S should never do that again. M even drove to Walmart, and pointed out the “Missing Children” poster–doing all of it, to teach a four-year-old, and hoping she would understand what she had done. S did not say a word, just sobbing. Suddenly, M realized a distance was created between them. She stopped talking, looked into Sarah’s eyes, immediately, she knew S did not mean to misbehave. M asked S, “I really don’t know what to do right now. How could I be with you now that would make a difference?” (Mind you S was only four years old at the time) S looked at her Mommy, quietly said, “Unconditional love would make a difference now.”
The nature of the default roles and responsibilities of parents is often the driving force in relating to children, which is so automatic that we don’t know that we don’t know it limits us in relating to children as human beings. Trap, isn’t it?
The possible way (I say) out of the trap is to realize you are trapped, and that you are trapped in the trap that you are in. This realization could be the key to experience peace, freedom, and ease in the roles of being parents.