It was getting to the point where I would simply not sit down with K at mealtimes, lest his oatmeal-covered hands grab me in that "I'm two and I want to touch you and cause you great anxiety!" way. And witnessing his hands grazing every part of his clothing, the table, our couch, etc. was actually really stressing me out. Not cool for anyone.
I was taking these deep breaths (audible), and closing my eyes, attempting to remain somewhat calm and nearly succeeding a fraction of the time. The other times I would become pretty rageful. Yep, that's me. Getting mad at a two year old for doing what two year olds do. Ack.
So I took it to a professional.
I mentioned that I was having these intensely strong feelings regarding mess and the disrespect of (my) belongings. I would always be telling K to be careful and gentle and to not mess stuff up. Don't rip pages. Don't step on that. Don't pull that. Don't. Don't. Don't.
That's a lot of rules for a two year old. And frankly, because I know my kid, I was anticipating his every move and pre-emptively trying to curb the behavior. The natural, normal behavior. Big Sigh.
My therapist suggested that when I felt the feelings to just take a breath (and no, not the huge dramatic ones I had been taking...).
This didn't really work.
What's more, is that I was actually feeling really upset with myself, knowing that we do not have ANY furniture that can't be replaced, we don't have extremely nice, museum-quality things to break, and it was just oatmeal..not permanent marker or raw beet juice. What was my problem? Did I think I was going to have a perfectly clean kid? What gave me that idea? (All that white couch advertising)
So now I'm angry with K and angrier with me for being angry at K (yikes!). This is not going well.
After several weeks of sort of touching on this and then not wanting to get into it in therapy, I had a session where I started out saying I know I need to deal with it. So we probed. I got into those memories of my childhood where I didn't feel my space was respected. I didn't have a clean room as a child. I didn't feel seen. I didn't really feel like my family knew the real me. That may not actually be the case, I'll remind you, but it may have just been how I felt. Or maybe they did see me and didn't know what to do with me. That's a distinct possibility.
I imagine that when a child doesn't feel seen, heard, known, etc. that that child does a sort of self-parenting. Wherein they become introspective (literally: characterized by introspection, the act or process of looking into oneself.) I think I actually took over the seeing, hearing, and knowing of me from my parents. Well, with one gone and another raising three other children and navigating a world without her spouse, I get it. But back then, I didn't get it, so I did a lot of self-soothing. After traumatic events, kids often have a higher self step in for the self-preservation moments. That higher self worked overtime to help me cope with both child sexual abuse and loss of a parent. I was doing a lot of self-care and coping.
And I realized that I've been doing it for over 30 years, and doing it the same way the whole time. I'm territorial. With people, food, space, attention, etc. I want my fair share. All. the. time.
So ever since I have started parenting myself, I have done this protective stuff...even when the threat of these things went all the way away. I have never starved. I have never been forgotten (like in that deep soul way, that kids fear). I have a whole house and several rooms for JUST my stuff. So what gives? Why am I still parenting myself this way? Why do I still fear these needs not being met? The simplest answer is because I just never looked at it very deeply before. It's worked for so long, why rock the boat? I mean, I know myself *really* well and that has really served me.
When I travel, (those that have had the pleasure/nightmare of this experience can well attest) I am all about controlling the things I am protective about. I want to make sure that we are eating enough. That we are sleeping enough. That we aren't working too hard, getting lost, standing out, being forgotten, making people angry, losing our well-deserved seat in the shade, etc. In a primal way I have lost my shit when any of these things were threatened. Like a small, scared child.
There's a new kid in town that needs parenting.
Oh. You mean, a child (that I made, by the way...he's not a surprise!) who simply needs care (since he hasn't been old enough yet to do the self-care thing...). Right. That makes sense. It then dawns on me that when I see my actual kid make a mess, I am witnessing a child ignore the care I (this benevolent parent) am trying to provide. Keeping things clean meant I wouldn't lose my precious belongings to lack of care. Not wasting food meant that I would be able to eat my fill. My child doesn't think about wasting because HE THINKS THERE IS PLENTY.
He isn't afraid of things breaking, because he doesn't know "not having." Tears well up as I write this, because somewhere inside of me I can touch on the part that thinks if I take care of it (my dad? my body? my brain?) I'll get to keep it (perfect/alive/healthy/innocent) forever. So I better teach that crazy lesson to my kid. And my kid better listen. There it is again. It's like a sibling is looking at my kid and saying, "Hey you! If you think you can come in here, make a mess, disrespect this parent, waste shit, and take over, you have another thing coming!" My inner child is basically having sibling rivalry with my actual child. So this is what having two looks like. But the thing is I'm no longer a child.
Bless my inner kid. She has fought hard for a long time. She is my anxiety, my control, my rationale, my risk-aversion. She has played it safe, she has helped me survive my own possibly fatal or very harmful (some stats say that suicide after child sexual abuse is much higher in teens) life. She has kept me away from situations that are statistically common among people like me. That little warrior has even constructed a world for me where I feel somewhat normal and at times, I even forget I ever had anything bad happen to me. She has done all of that. She has helped me not feel too resentful. She has helped me have a sense of humor and she has been my resiliency. Or at least, she has partnered with my higher self to maintain resiliency. She's done good. Damn good.
Here's the kicker:
Wh-what?!? Another child, out to displace my inner child in the
Another shock to my system.
I am a full-fledged adult, with skills, therapeutic professionals, a bank account, and a loving community of other adults. I do not need to keep parenting myself in this outdated way. I don't need to compete with my child. I don't need to force him to learn about waste, mess, respect, etc. I just need to help him get needs met so he doesn't have to parent himself because I'm too self-involved to help. I don't mean that I can't care for myself...or that caring for myself is bad (self-involved is simply that...), it's just that I need to update the software. Self-care looks different now for me as an adult. I need adult time. I need creative time. I need to feel useful. So I need to do those things. I don't have to worry about food and space. And now I can help K learn about being seen, heard, fed, understood, etc.
This whole realization blew. my. mind. I sort of don't know how to do much else, other than care for these basic needs and this inner child has been running the show for a long time. She hasn't let me pursue big dreams because of the threat that I may become broke and have no food all of a sudden. Or, if I do pursue my dreams, she may be worried that no one will understand me/her/us. Or that if I do become successful, I will stand out TOO much, and possibly get hurt.
But now I feel that letting go urge comin' on...I need to lay that inner kid, that amazing child warrior, to rest. She needs to be fired from keeping my needs met (cause the adult me can do that now). She needs to become softer, more playful, happier. She needs her
I don't want to parent my kid from my trauma or the desire to avoid trauma. I see how that ends up. Not well. I want to be on my kid's journey, sensing that there IS enough. Strangely, he has no problem with my big dreams. He's not afraid of me becoming successful. He doesn't care one iota at this point. He just wants a parent to see him, play with him, know him. That's my job. I get to do that. I'm able to do that. And maybe if he doesn't have to be his own warrior, he can have time and space to be who he really is, and to fulfill his purpose. That's my hope anyway.