Taboo Carnival. Our topic this Fall is I LOVE YOU BUT I DON’T ALWAYS LIKE YOU!
This post was written for inclusion in the quarterly Taboo Carnival hosted by Momma Jorje and Hybrid Rasta Mama. This month our participants reflect on the concept of loving versus liking our children and their behaviors. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.
Ever want to sing a lullaby like this to soothe your kids to sleep?
Baby, baby, naughty baby,
Hush, you squalling thing, I say.
Peace this moment, peace, or maybe
Bonaparte will pass this way.
Baby, baby, he's a giant,
Tall and black as Rouen steeple,
And he breakfasts, dines, rely on't,
Every day on naughty people.
Baby, baby, if he hears you
As he gallops past the house,
Limb from limb at once he'll tear you,
Just as pussy tears a mouse.
And he'll beat you, beat you, beat you,
And he'll beat you into pap,
And he'll eat you, eat you, eat you,
Every morsel snap, snap, snap.
— From The Annotated Mother Goose
Just after Alrik's birth, I read a weighty book called Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species, by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, an anthropologist who goes through the experience of motherhood as witnessed across the world and various cultures, across history and a variety of time periods, and even across species. (Some species are much more what we would term "maternal" than are humans — and some are shockingly not. At least you've never tried to eat your babies, right?)
It was an interesting book to have chosen during my postpartum period, because the text is often dark and disturbing — an unflinching look at how mothers don't always live up to what we've decided (as modern Western humans) is their "nature."
That is, we as mothers are not always — stop me if you disagree — self-sacrificial, nurturing, long-suffering, pure, and single-minded in the care of our young. We are much, much more nuanced than that — and we have to include the dark parts of ourselves (or, simply, the human parts — and animal parts!) when discussing what motherhood truly looks like.
|San Bushmen: mother & child|
While we might aspire to have the perfect maternal nature (we might; we might not), we have to acknowledge this salient truth: What babies need and what mothers need or want can be in conflict. Mothers don't always live up to the ideals of "maternal nature."
Here are my takeaway lessons from the book as it relates to my mothering:
Babies expect attachment parenting.This isn't debatable. Biologically and historically, human babies have been programmed to expect long periods of attachment to nurturing caregivers. Human infants are weak, with big heads and helpless bodies; they have voracious appetites and little in the way of communicating distress besides screaming. They do best when kept close to caregivers, particularly and regularly a lactating one.
It's not always feasible or desirable to practice attachment parenting at every second.It just isn't. There are times when I need (or want, or selfishly choose) to go to the bathroom to relieve a bursting bladder despite the fact that my baby would rather I stay put and continue to nurse. There are times when my back or my hips ache too much for babywearing, and I pop out the stroller or hand the baby over to dad. There are moments when my kid's screaming makes me want to scream in return, and so I either do, or I leave the room. And that's not even factoring in the challenges of parenting if you or your kids need extra assistance for health or other reasons. We do only what we can, with what strength and support we have.
Our culture is not set up for attachment parenting.The !Kung have a whole tribe of people expecting and encouraging attachment practices. They even have the advantage of not wearing a lot of clothes and therefore not having to seek out specialized nursing wear! We have a lot set up against us from the start, with little outside support in terms of co-parents and alloparents and a lot of cultural weight against breastfeeding and cosleeping and babywearing and gentle discipline.
So when we fail to be the perfect mother? Well, yeah. Who could be?
And that's ok. Being the mother you are is ok.
Most of us are not teetering on the edge of doing gross harm or negligence to our babies (as some babies have unfortunately experienced); most of us deeply love our children and want to do right by them — but are regularly frazzled and lonely and tested and trying our best to hold it together and give our kids a good childhood despite the obstacles. That kind of mothering — even with your feelings of guilt, regret, annoyance, and, yes, ambivalence — does not mark any of us as some sort of unfeeling monster. It marks you as human.
When Mikko was a baby, he was what is termed "high-needs." Or, as we knew it, "screams-a-lot." We couldn't put him down. He breastfed constantly. He cried about anything and everything.
We loved him, but it was exhausting.
There were moments when I thought we'd ruined our lives by bringing this baby into our house.
Fast forward to Alrik, a much calmer infant. And yet, I saw how he affected the dynamic between us and our older child. I saw how he brought renewed stress to our family life. I had the same thoughts again: Had we ruined everything by adding this new baby?
And as our children grow, there are moments when Mikko makes me so mad I feel entirely irrational. How can he be so frustrating? How can I want to kiss him and kill him in the same day?
There are times when gentle discipline seems so out of reach that I simply have to walk away. (Stomp away, more like.)
I wish I could be perfect. I wish I could be this fully idealized Mother.
Eh … maybe not. She sounds kind of snooty and boring.
Reading books like Mother Nature, which give me a glimpse into how much worse motherhood can be (as well as, collectively, how much better), don't give me an excuse to behave badly or ignore my children's needs — but they do give me a bit of grace as I reach toward more respectful parenting, and yet forgive myself for the ways I daily fall short.
We're not raising ideal children, after all — we're humans raising humans, some of whom one day will also raise children. The best we can do is keep giving what model we can of respectful parenting — and being honest with the ways our own wants and needs interfere, and the choices we need to make. We model circling back again and again to loving our children, even at those times we might not like them.
And if you need to blow off some steam? Sing that lullaby to them!
|Yeah, I'll keep 'em.|
Here's hoping they keep me, hey?
- Love vs Like: How to Deal With Not Liking Your Kid — Amy at Presence Parenting explores an approach to loving what we dislike the most about our kids.
- Maternal ambivalence … and why it's ok — Lauren at Hobo Mama discusses how we can't live up to the "maternal ideal" as much as we — and our babies — might want us to.
- Miracles into Monsters and Back Again — Amy W at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work processes the pain and hidden beauty of a gentle mother's greatest weakness - when little miracles act like little monsters!
- When Mothers Love But Don’t Like Their Children — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama muses on the deeper meaning behind loving but not liking one's child. She argues that a mother never stops loving or liking her child. In fact, the dislike is rooted in the behavior and not the person.
- Learning to Like and Love — JeninCanada at Fat and Not Afraid divulges the long journey it's been to learn to love, then like, her son.
- How Do You Like Yourself? — Destany at They Are All of Me writes about teaching her children likability.
- You Can Love Someone and Not Like What They Do — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children reminds herself, just as she reminds her children, that unconditional love is not dependent on liking what a person does.
- I hated my three year old — Shannon at Pineapples & Artichokes talks about how much trouble she had dealing with her 3 year old.
- I love her, but... GRR — Jorje of Momma Jorje vents a bit about annoying behavior, but loves her children... even when they drive her nuts!