Today is my mother-in-law’s 90th birthday. Joyce passed away two years ago. I still miss her no-nonsense, real way of looking at life. We didn’t always see eye to eye but now that she is gone I realize what a great influence she had on my life.
I woke up one morning this week thinking about one particular incident. It’s very clear in my memory because I wrote this unpublished article about it in 2003 when my daughter was five.
I listened to the words come out of her mouth and I couldn’t believe a mother could say those things to her own child: “Go away … you’re bugging me … get lost … leave me alone.” When I became a mother I promised to do everything I could to develop my daughter’s self-esteem. You wouldn’t hear me saying those words to my daughter – no way! So why was I listening to my mother-in-law repeat those very words that she had just heard me – yes me – saying to my five-year-old daughter? What a shock it was to hear those words repeated back to me.
My daughter had been particularly “five” the day before. We were on holiday at the family cottage and had gone to visit friends. I believe she had three, maybe four, complete meltdown tantrums. That’s a lot for one day. I was still upset with her the next day and thought I deserved a little time to myself to sit on the porch and read. So acting like a hurt five-year-old myself, I told her to “leave me alone”. When she didn’t, I got really indignant and told her to “stop bugging me”, escalating to “go away”, and culminating in the very mature “get lost”. It seemed justified at the time. It didn’t seem okay hearing it repeated later. It seemed mean and heartless. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I completely agreed with my mother-in-law when she said my daughter was acting like a dejected and neglected little girl trying to get her mother’s attention. Ouch! Bad parent moment – you bet!
Several weeks later we decided to ride our bikes to a local restaurant for dinner. We sat outside on the patio and had a really enjoyable dinner, which was not always the case with our active five-year-old. We were calm and relaxed – the very picture of a happy family. While our daughter was taking our credit card inside the restaurant to pay, a lady at the next table remarked what great parents we were and what an independent daughter we had. Good parent moment – oh yeah!
Sometimes I have good and bad parent moments in the same day – in the same hour! One day my daughter and I were enjoying ourselves on a bus ride to the mall when a man on the bus commented that he could see how much I loved my child by how happy she was. I felt great after hearing that. Had he heard me fifteen minutes later yelling at my then not-so-happy child to hurry up and get off the mall rides, he probably would have shaken his head and thought that some people just shouldn’t have children!
That incident reminded me of an article I read explaining that we are the same caring, intelligent, loving person during our good moments that we are during our bad moments. So, when I start beating myself up because of a bad parent moment, I try and remember my good parent moments – the days when I said the right thing and dealt with the tantrum without melting down myself. And then there is always damage control. Once my mother-in-law brought me back to reality, I apologized to my daughter for telling her to get lost.
Someone recently laughed at me as I was trying to apply a new parenting technique that I had read about saying, “You’re funny, you are trying to be such a good mother.” He’s right. I am trying to be a good mother. I may not always succeed but I try to remember that everyone has bad parent moments and good parent moments. Hopefully, by the time Kathryn leaves home my good moments will have outnumbered my bad moments.
Thank you Joyce for speaking your truth, even if I didn’t always want to hear it. Thank you for holding the mirror up so I could see my actions from a different perspective. I am grateful you were part of my life.