Thursday, 22 November 2012

To the mother I passed on my way into work today

Dear Woman yelling at your daughter on the corner of Wentworth Rd & Banbury Rd today,

I just want you to know how close you came to being shaken and slapped in public in front of your children and everyone on their way to work/school today.

I get that it must have been deeply frustrating when your 5-6 yo daughter froze and threw a wobbly, crying in the street, making you late taking her and your son to school. I'm not sure what she'd forgotten or why she wanted to go home.

But standing in the street, yelling about how she was making you late and how you were going to cancel her playdates and not let her do anything nice this weekend in your OX2 'I went to Roehampton' accent didn't make you sound like a good, strong, in-charge mother.

It made you sound weak. It made you sound like a shrill, abusive c*** who finds her children a burden and who takes all her anger out on them. I'm not sure how close to the truth that was, but what was clear was that you thought answering a child's panic with your anger was the answer. You might have gotten her to move, but she'll never trust you.

Neither should anyone else.

I'm sure you reacted in a way that was familiar: maybe your mother; maybe your father. Maybe it was all you knew. Right now, I don't give a DAMN what YOUR issues are; the ones that make you treat your child like they're an extension of you and supposed to soothe YOUR feelings. YOU ARE THE ADULT. It's YOUR responsibility to BE emotionally aware, to choose how you respond and to contain the emotions that your daughter couldn't.

You've clearly been privileged. It's time you made good use of it and dealt with your shit, so your children don't have to - nor do the rest of the people who will be part of your children's lives, feeling the effects and trying to fix the damage you are unwittingly (one hopes) doing.

Because, quite frankly, it's parenting of the type you displayed this morning that is the core of an unhappy society: today, you taught your daughter that your time was more important than she was - that it was so important, in fact, that you would withdraw your love and her life - playdates, a weekend of fun, the ability to rest in the knowledge that you love her no matter what. 

It's mothers like the one I imagine you are - shrill; vomiting emotionally on everyone around you; seeing your children as an extension of yourself, there to prop up your self-esteem; brittle, taking up all the emotional space, no matter how 'dominant' you appear to be in the family; distant, suffocating or alternating between the two - incapable of allowing healthy separation; self-absorbed; stingy with your love - making your children earn it - that I see reflected in so many faces of my friends and my clients. You're the mother I see dragging her resistant, struggling son by the hand to serve at mass so YOU have bragging rights and can feel like a 'good Catholic mother'. You're the mother I've seen walk to her seat in countless ordinations, setting my teeth on edge and making me think, in just one glance, one interaction with those around you, 'Wow. Well, THAT explains a lot - I understand so very much now,' as my heart breaks for your son. You're the mother I feared I might become.

Am I projecting? You bet your Roehampton-educated ass I am.

I really hope it was a bad morning - that your daughter had been insufferably difficult (still your job to find out why), that it's been a bad week and you were at the end of your tether, that it was just that crap moment we all have. But something in your tone and the particular threats; in the note of hysteria in your daughter's crying; in your son's resigned posture on his bike told me that was probably not the case, though I suspect the truth is somewhere between my projection and the most positive possibility. It usually is.

So here's a thought. Next time, find out why your daughter - or son - is so upset. Spend the few minutes listening - trust me, they'll be fewer than the minutes you spend threatening her with the withdrawal of your love - and either going back to the house without rancour or suggesting an alternative solution. Not only will you be calmer, but your children will learn that you will be there and love them no matter what, and that stressful feelings aren't scary, because they can be resolved.

Next time, be a Mum, not a mother. 

Trust me, the payoff will be greater than you can even begin to imagine.

The therapist who doesn't ever want to see your children in her consulting room

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