Sunday, February 03, 2008

I'm Good Enough

Yesterday we were running seriously low on groceries. Usually, I make the grocery list, and my rockin' husband gets the groceries so I can avoid the torture of taking my two toddlers to the grocery store. It's tax season though, so I knew if I waited for Jeff to have time to do the shopping, we would all have wasted away from hunger (which is maybe not such a bad idea in my case). So, I loaded my three darlings into the van and headed off for Walmart. I made my first mistake at the very beginning of the trip. I went to the fruit aisle first. Charlie saw me put bananas in the cart, his favorite of all foods. He immediately started shouting, "CHAR CHAR BANANAS! EAT NANAS!!" Crap. So, I detoured to the free samples in the bakery and sadly they were offering cream cheese pumpkin things. Which the toddlers loved, but also were very messy. It got me through three more aisles, but then Sam thought maybe we were at a restaurant and he should have more food RIGHT NOW. Sam and Charlie are equal opportunity brothers, so when Sam started crying, Charlie got started too. I just let them scream for the next three aisles, but Evan was getting steadily more embarrased, especially as he was pushing the stroller, and he began to say (louder and louder) "We need to go home NOW. These babies are AWFUL!" By now people are staring, and I know they are looking at me as the classic terrible Walmart mother. At least I was not yelling at any of my children, and I was relatively calm. By the time we got to the checkout lanes, Sam had nacho cheese in his hair (don't ask) and Charlie was adeptly climbing out of the stroller restraints, Evan was almost in tears, and I was thinking of shipping the children off to a foreign country. If anyone tried to return them, I was imagining creative ways to pretend I had never met them before. Fighting back tears, I picked up Oprah magazine as a treat for myself. I had never read this magazine, but I am so glad that I did.

When I got home, I fed the kids lunch, put away the groceries, and then allowed myself 10 calm down minutes to read. I was feeling pretty bad by this point after wishing my kids off on strangers, but it has been such a long week. I have had the kids by myself every day this week. The first article I opened to was entitled "What's wrong with being angry?" by Mark Epstein. I came upon the following paragraph: "Studies of [mother and infant] relationships have exploded the myth of the 100 percent responsive mother. Research suggests that the best parents are fully attuned to their children only about 30 percent of the time, leaving lots of space for the child to make their own mistakes...this has laid the foundation for this shift to Winnicott's concept of the "good enough mother". "Parents cannot possibly be at one with their children all the time" he suggested. "Babies are not benign beings emititng only love. They are rapacious creatures who love ruthlessly, and who, as ofen as not, bite the hand, or breast, that feeds them." The good enough mother is one who can tolerate her infant's rage as well as her own temporary hatred of her child; she is one who is not sucked into retaliating or abandoning, and who can put aside her own self-protective responses to devote herself adequatelyto her child's needs. This "good enough" response, while not denying her own hatred, teaches the child that anger is something that can be survived...the child whose mother survives her destructive onslaught learns to love her as an "external" person, as an "other", not merely as an extension of themselves. This child recognizes that the mother has survived the attack and feels something on the order of joy or gratitude or relief, a dawning recognition that mother is outside his or her sphere of omnipotent control. This is the foundation of caring for her as a separate person, what we call consideration or concern or empathy." The article goes on to describe how our adult romantic relationships reproduce the ways that our mothers delt with tension and conflict, and our relationship with our mothers.

I can't begin to tell you the immediate relief that I felt, the weight that fell away from my heart. I have always dealt with perfectionism, which has manifested itself in many ways in my life, one of them being anorexia nervosa. As I became a mother, much as I modeled my weight in my teens after the pictures of skeletally thin girls in magazines, I modeled my mothering after the inachievable images of perfection presented to us in the media and popular culture. Not once had I ever heard someone say that not only is it okay to be just a "good enough" mother, but it is actually BETTER to be a good enough mother. I am doing my kids a favor in not being perfect, and modeling to them picking myself up and trying again. By showing them that after anger, a relationship can grow and get better.

My parents had (have) a wonderful marriage and were a stunning example for me growing up. However, I can only remember one time as a child them ever arguing or disagreeing. At least in front of us. I remember vividly seeing my mother cry, and my dad looking helpless. I felt so completely unsafe when it happened, because it never did, and it wouldn't again in my childhood. Of course, this is better than the alternative, and I am so thankful to have had a peaceful and calm home to grow up in. However, I don't think I learned to deal with conflict, or that anger is okay. As an adult my relationships with men have of course included times of disagreement, but when it happened, I completely dissolved. I thought that conflict shouldn't be happening at all, that there should be peace always. I didn't (don't) know how to handle it when it does happen. My first reaction is that I have done something wrong, it is my fault, I have to fix it immediately. Not healthy, I know. I'm coming to realize that, and I am starting to deal with it better. What a huge relief though that by not being perfect, by allowing healthy conflict and management of such in our home I can give my kids a good start. And the best part of it is, I can be myself while I do it because I am good enough.

All that from a magazine. Sometimes God speaks to us in strange ways, huh?

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