The caregiving began to wear on me in unexpected ways. I had lost sleep before. In college I stayed up all night once a week to study. But this was different. There were no spring breaks or winter holidays. When I was home, I was on call 24/7. It was like being an intern in a hospital except that it went on forever. It wasn’t even the physical exhaustion that was so hard. It was the sense that I wasn’t meeting my children’s emotional needs even though I was trying my best. I simply did not know how. When my babies cried, it tore holes in my soul, and my own heartache was increasingly apparent. I was coming face to face with my own long-ago unmet needs for emotional warmth and physical comfort. Sometimes I felt like it was killing me. Although my commitment never faltered, something had to change.
I knew something was amiss here. I felt frazzled all the time. It couldn’t be this hard for all new mothers, could it? Otherwise there would be no mothers left, let alone children. I began to scramble for answers. I wanted to be more than a parent. I wanted to be a good parent and so did Bob. We did not want our children to suffer through the same well-intentioned but often misguided parenting that we experienced. Something had to change, and we as the parents were the ones who had to make that happen.
I never had an epiphany such as the one Bob had in the underground parking lot. The notion that I had to get help came to me gradually. Perhaps there was a pivotal moment, but I am not certain where or when it occurred. I simply wasn’t coping, and I was faced with a collage of really horrible moments. There was the time I was driving Aaron to school. We were running late, and when I started to let him out, I forgot to set the car in park. I was already out of the moving car. Aaron yelled for me to get back in, but it was moving too fast. Aaron was in the back, and Matt was strapped in a seat belt in the front. I watched in terror as the car rushed headlong down the street. But sometimes when we are stupid, God bails us out. The car was headed directly for a small tree in a neighbor’s yard. I knew it was big enough to stop the car, but not too big to smash the front end. The car hit the tree squarely in the middle of its front bumper. The boys were shaken and scared but unhurt. My bare feet were bleeding from where I had run down the pebbled street after the car. (Yes, I had left the house without my shoes and had been driving barefoot.)
Another moment also involved Aaron when he was about six. I was yelling. No…I was actually screaming at him about something. I have long ago forgotten what. He stood in the hallway by his bedroom with a look of indecision and terror on his face. Should he run to his mother for protection from the screaming monster? Should he run away from the screaming monster who was his mother? His look pained me to the core. Oh, my God! What am I doing? I knew that we couldn’t go on this way. I had to get help.
Getting help turned out to be a lengthy process, one that goes on to this day. If I wanted to become both kinder and more effective as a parent, I found that I had to re-think many of my responses to my children. I began to look unflinchingly at my relationships with my own mother and father.
Like Bob, I desperately wanted to become a better parent. I began a process of personal change that helped me greatly in achieving that desire. I started to be able to tolerate the mess that four boys could make in an instant. I became less protective of the bric-a-brac that my family had accumulated for generations. I learned that bodily functions and their accompanying secretions were not abhorrent, but actually quite a normal part of life for all of us. I found ways to contain my anger and realized that I did not have to react to the myriad small things that children did just because they were children. Most important, I learned how to give and receive physical comfort in ways that unfortunately had not been a part of my own upbringing.
Bob and I embarked on an often painful journey of self-discovery, but luckily we had already made the commitment that there was no turning back. We knew that times would be rough, and they were. But we knew in our hearts that we would stay the course and make it work. For parents without this determination, it can be so much harder.
Next time we’ll talk about what makes it all easier—the lubricant of connection. So much I had to learn!
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Last reviewed: 31 Jul 2013