Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Mother's Lament on Resentment

"Mommy no sing!"
Readers, please note: The following is a very long, incredibly sappy, excruciatingly cry-babyish, narcissistic and melodramatic post. I'm sharing this slightly-embarrassing real-life story with you because it is such a great example of one of my personal tenets for Whole Spirit: Write Things Down, Get Them Into The Light. When we journal or write letters or just talk to somebody about the quiet issues in our lives, it has a way of clearing the path for resolution and completion around those issues. And so, I give you my saga of lament.

I wrote the following post one week ago, on February 1st, but did not publish it until now:

Tonight I realized that it's true: I really do resent my daughter.

Tonight, I lay next to her on her bed and quietly wept while she finally fell peacefully asleep.

I wept, because I can't do any of the things for her that, for me, make me the unique individual and parent that I am. The things that I love, that my parents did for me, that help define me to myself. Because.... she won't let me. I'd really hoped this would be a phase that would come and go, have it's day and wear off like so many toddler fads. And yet it started months ago. It started when she could barely talk, we we'd be singing or clapping together, and she's say "No, Mom, s'me!" Now that she can speak in sentences, it comes out clear: "No, Mommy, it's my turn!" or, with increasing frequency, "No Mommy, stop. Stop singing. Mommy no sing. Stop!"

Stop singing.

As in, if I sing for her, or to a song on the radio, or (god-forbid) for myself, she will ceaselessly nag me until I quit.

I was raised a musician, in a musical family, the daughter of a jazz drummer with a resonant deep bass  voice and a strong alto who helped teach me to read music from an early age from the church hymnals on Sunday mornings. The three of us are natural musicians -- we would sing scales along with the vacuum cleaner, invent harmonies, beat together in rhythm on the coffee table. (My father's constant use of the table as an instrument lead to noticeable wear in the finish -- his drumming fingers removed it one beat at a time.) We didn't sing together much Von Trapp-style, but that wasn't our style; most of our mutual performances were jokes or sound experiments. We were more likely to sing along to B.B. King, Paul Simon or The Eagles as a family than to "Row Row Row Your Boat" -- although, as a toddler, Mom and I shared a fair number of rounds on that theme.

Music is such a part of me, of my family, that I got my BA in Music. I am not a musician by profession, but it is part of my daily -- even hourly -- existence. I sing all the time. I drum out beats. I play mouth trumpet. My range is greater than two octaves, and that's after it shrunk since I'm not training classically anymore. I don't have perfect pitch but it's close. I can sing just about anything, and I do -- All. The. Time.

So for my 2.5 year old daughter to insist -- INSIST -- that I not sing in her presence, is literally heartbreaking. She will not let me sing. When I insist, and I keep singing, her protests become louder and there is no end to them. She yells at me for as long as I sing...

...and then some. If I'm singing to a song on the radio, and the voice remotely reminds me of her, she tells me to stop singing. "But I'm not singing!" I'll say while the other voice is crooning, so she'll understand that it can't be me. (It is flattering the voices she mistakes for mine, but dammit, why can't I sing for her then?!)

But it's not just singing to the radio. Say she's sick, or missed a nap, and it's bedtime and she needs me. "Mommy, mommy, sit right here," she'll say, her way of telling me she wants to be near my or in my lap while I console her to sleep.

But that's the extent of it. She sits there, I sit there. Because I can't sing to her. Not only that, I can't hum to her. Not only that, I can't touch her. That's right, I can't even gently stroke her hair or offer her a light back rub. She doesn't want me to touch her! At all!

Touch is among the strongest bonds between children and parents. Babies are born into a world of touch; parents are as well, as often parents have an initiation of sorts while they get used to touching, and being touched by, another being in far more intimate ways than they can remember. My mother always stroked my hair in the softest, most loving, gentlest fashion. As a kid, sometimes I'd ask for a headlice check just so I could feel her carefully sifting through my hair, strand by strand, so loving in her looking.

Since she was born, I've tried to give my child that same soft, loving touch. Studies have proven that touch greatly increases infants' ability to thrive when all other measures of nurture are equal (food, shelter, etc.) I love to tough her head, to run my hand along her soft smooth arm, to tickle the bottoms of her feet. She loves to be tickled! And I've always been aware that as she ages, the level of touch will decrease. That's normal and natural in any family.

But what I resent is holding -- if you can call it that -- my hurting child, and not being able to do any of the things I am inspired to do to comfort her. In this instance, I can't sing, I can't hum, I can't even breathe in time -- and I can't touch her. All I can do, in many cases, is lay there unmoving and stare at the wall.

So the best parts of parenting -- the ones that come the most naturally, that make the endless crying and bouts of screaming and occasional projectile vomits and being on call at the drop of a hat a virtual non-issue -- are not available to me at our time of need, neither hers nor mine. Mothering is therefore a one-way street, in which she is nurtured, but I am not. I'm just the lump that has to be there, 24/7, all the time, and I can't even do anything to help. I'm not allowed to express my love in a way that's meaningful to me, well, unless I'm prepared to put up with more yelling and crying screaming to "Stop it, Mommy! Stop!"

And so, this mother finds herself resentful of her own daughter. It's literally been months and months, coming up on a year, and I'm left praying this curse will someday come to an end. 


Word for unedited word, I poured out my heart, but I didn't post it because I wanted to see what would happen after I wrote it down. I wanted to see how quickly it would change. (That, and I realize how horrifically sappy and conceited it is.)

...Sure enough, the universe shifted.

After getting all of that off my heart, I immediately felt better, and was less tense with my daughter. I was also suddenly able to be much more firm with her in a calm, loving way. She's spent a lot of time in the "naughty corner", not just for things she's done (i.e. throwing toys, like any 2 year old) but for trying to talk over me or telling me to stop talking, or stop working, or stop singing.

Circa 2011:
"Don't touch me, Mommy."
I haven't forced a return to my usual frequencies of singing on her, but neither has she complained when I have used my voice. Before I wrote this, I couldn't get a measure in edgewise. Now, she's singing songs with me, and I can use touch as a tool for reassurance and comfort again. The dynamic has completely changed.

Thanks to my wonderful Evil Prince for supporting me through this difficult realization. His advice and encouragement have advanced the transformation on this issue. Granted, it's only been a week, but I hope this new way of being with her is "stuck like a bug" -- namely, like the imaginary StuckBug we play with sometimes. I guess it's time we made up a song for him.


Juliette Brown said...

Beautiful, honest writing. Fearless. Thank you.

Theresa said...

I don't sing as well as you, but my kids also tell me to stop whenever I sing! Perhaps more now than when they were little.

Jake never wanted to sit on my lap and cuddle or hold my hand when we crossed the street, but now he is the one that mostly initiates hugs.

I've had the same issue when trying to share things that interest me with my kids. As soon as I start to tell them something, they declare that they are not interested. I have suddenly realized that they are nearly grown and I haven't yet shared all the art, music, and literature with them that I intended to.

But I think the approach makes a big difference. If I do something they want, they are more open to what I have to say. Bridgette will allow me to talk about historic figures if I am cooking with her, but not any other time. Jake will chat with me while I am driving him to sports practice, but not any other time. Charlie will shop with me and listen to me babble if I buy her something.

By the time we figure out all the parenting techniques that work, we won't have kids any more!!!