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The Parenting Guilt Scale

Last night I had to do that thing that all parents have to do at some point (at least I hope all parents do, if you’ve never done this I don’t want to know) and I had to basically tell my kids they couldn’t do the thing they wanted to do because I had too much to do.

I’ve got a new volunteer position and it involves editing an outdated website. There’s a new one in trial mode, but until it’s launched I’m editing a web page originally created in Frontpage. I had forgotten how terrible Frontpage was with dumping so much crap in headers and what not. It’s taking me awhile to find where things are hidden both in the directories and in the HTML itself. One page I had to edit last night had nonbreaking space entities ( ) creating space for columns and y’all? I DIED. Seeing that literally killed me.

ANYWAY…I just started this new job like a week ago and I’m trying to play catch up which is going a little slower than it should as I learn directory structures and delete thousands of unnecessary nonbreaking spaces and I REALLY needed a couple hours to just clear the inbox for the job so I could have a better chance of staying caught up. BUT – there was a big Challenger Commemoration ceremony at the kid’s school. Their school is named after the mission, after all. And they were so excited and I tried to get Donnie to take them but he wasn’t going to be able to so I basically had to beg them to skip.

And they did and they weren’t even too terrible about it.

I did get caught up, the email for that job now has an empty inbox. But this morning I see all of the photos and videos from last night and I feel bad. Not terrible, because I was raised by a single Dad who worked on his Masters for awhile so we weren’t always able to do things we wanted to do, and I turned out fine. But I do feel a little guilty. I firmly believe it’s important to have a life outside parenting, I know my kids need to see me doing things for ME, or for other people, not just for THEM. This is one of those times, they know how much I wanted this job (I HAD TO BE ELECTED, GUYS. I HAD TO GIVE A SPEECH. IT WAS AWFUL.) so in the big picture I know that decision is not a huge deal and they weren’t even that upset about it, they really weren’t upset at all. They were disappointed for a few minutes and then I told them they could have cereal for dinner and they were fine.

On a guilt scale of 1-10 I’m only feeling about a 4 or 5, so not too terrible, but I do feel a little bad that everyone might be talking about that today and they won’t be.

Not as terrible as I felt on Sunday when I had to call my oldest child and say, “Hey! We can’t come see you for your birthday because my race got moved!” Now, on that day? I felt a giant 10. He doesn’t need me for much of anything and the ONE thing he wanted from me – a birthday visit – I had to move because of my race. We did see him on Wednesday but we had to miss school and work to do it and because of his crazy schedule we drove the 2 1/2 hours to see him, visited a while, ate lunch, and then had to basically come right back home since he had rehearsal that night. If we had come on Sunday we would have been able to spend more time with him. BUT NO! The snow had to reschedule my big race.

SO – yeah. It’s been a week of parenting guilt. I know it’s not a huge deal big picture, but my logical brain that “knows” that does not control my emotional brain that feels like a giant piece of poop about it all.

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The Most Epic Of All Of My “Truth Hurts” Moments In Parenting (So far?)

Brace yourselves. This is a doozy.

SO! Remember how I was patting myself on the back for staying calm when I’m angry with Wes, even when he’s losing his temper in epic fashion? Because THAT is the first rule of teaching your child anger management. REMAIN CALM. DO NOT YELL. And it’s REALLY hard, I discussed how it was SO HARD it was all I could focus on instead of any diffusing techniques. BUT I DID IT. AND I WAS SO PROUD. I STAYED CALM.

Well, Nikki’s only real current discipline issues is this sassy attitude she dishes out periodically. (I almost said “constantly” because some days that’s how it feels.) It is REALLY hard to stomach. It sounds TERRIBLE and it takes something so benign (like letting me know she’s in her room when I’m hollering for her) and turns it into something needing to warranting a punishment. Like…imagine the attitude someone would have to attach to their words if they yelling, “Jeezus Christ, woman! I’m in my effin’ room! Leave me the eff alone!” Take that attitude and tone you just imagined but change the script to the benign, “I’m in my room.” The attitude fills in the blanks from the first example and it makes my (and Donnie’s, it’s not just me, I promise) blood boil. BOIL. I do that think everyone’s parent has done at some time where I say, “No. No you did NOT just throw me that attitude. NO MA’AM.”

Last night she did just that and I was tired and I yelled at her. “Nikki! You can NOT throw me that kind of attitude. Do you HEAR how you sound? If you do NOT hear the attitude in the words you’re saying then we have big problems young lady. You speak to me with RESPECT. You wouldn’t talk to your teacher with that attitude!”

She cried. She apologized and we went about our night. When I was laying down with her later she said:

I hope this doesn’t make you angry…but…you know how you work so hard at being calm for Wesley? And that makes you a REALLY good Mom! I’m glad you do that! But you know how he gets so mean and angry and you stay calm? I feel like I don’t do anything near as bad but you raise your voice and yell at me all the time.

Ouch. Just let that sit there for a moment.

In that moment I was torn between running away because she was right and I was OFFICIALLY the worst Mom in the world – OR – celebrating that I raised a child who comprehends the world and her experience in such a way to notice the injustice and be brave enough to point it out. I WAS FEELING BOTH THINGS AT ONCE.

But mostly the first one.

I told her she was right and I would work on that. I explained why I did it, “I’m trying to teach Wes about anger management so I have to manage my own anger well and you don’t need that lesson.” And I promised her I would work on it.

JEEZUS, Y’all? She sure knew how to hit me RIGHT WHERE IT HURTS.

But also? That’s pretty damn amazing. It’s an amazing thing to notice, to recognize as unfair, and to confront. I’m truthfully glad she did because this can only make me a better Mom AND a better person. I’m going to continue to focus on the positive aspects of it and not the issue of how I’d been focusing my energy so much on not yelling at Wesley and never even tried to apply the same technique to his sister.

Parent, yo. It’s TOUGH. But also kind of amazing.

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Hindsight.

This week’s lesson in parenting: It is very hard to help a child cope with their extreme emotions when you are feeling your own extreme emotions. It works that with grief and depression and anxiety and most…importantly: anger.

I’ve mentioned the problems Wes has with his anger and with tantrums in the past. We went through a bad couple of years where I felt like there was no end in sight. We got some outside help, he got a little older, I learned a lot and things and it seemed to be better overall.

Except for a few incidents. Last night was one of them. And it was terrible.

Part of me thinks maybe it’s time to get some outside help again. But if you’ll recall our insurance debacle from before and then the insurance completely uprooted us and the clinic that was covered closed down. We have found another doctor that is now covered, we went to her for Nikki’s anxiety, but she would NOT be a good fit for Wesley. But – ever since that other clinic closed down – there have been random doctors from that clinic popping up in other offices and still taking our insurance so I think I’ll try find someone else.

BUT MAN. There is also a part of me that kinda blames myself. I reexamine last night’s downward spiral and see many moments where I could have handled it differently. In retrospect, I see I didn’t do what the previous counselor suggested because I was too busy coping with my own anger. I was doing my best not to lose Which is VERY HARD TO DO when he is being so disobedient and mean. It always starts so benign. He’s just being disobedient and contrary and rude as hell. So, I tell him to do something: He has to quit playing screens, go to his room, stop watching TV, put up his Pokemon…SOMETHING. And he refuses.

A lot of time – like last night – me sending him to his room is the first step to a horrible tantrum ending in aggression. He never seems to want to obey that one and I go back and forth: Should I quit sending him to his room since that’s the one that seems to always start the spirals out of control? But here’s the thing: If I stop doing that thing that makes him angry, he never learns to deal with the anger. As we talked last night after the bad stuff was over I pointed out, “If you had just gone to your room that first time when I said it, none of the rest would have happened.”

But he refuses. And refuses. And I make threats and then I have to follow through and HE STILL REFUSES. I threatened to throw away his stuff (which I’ve done before) and he said, “I don’t care. You bought it all so it would hurt you not me.” And he refused again and I tried to physically carry him to his room but he’s big and that’s hard and he was really angry and it just escalated fast and I had to focus all of my energy on staying calm (it’s really hard to do when your kid is trying to hurt you both emotionally and physically) and stopped even trying to figure out how to cope with his meltdown. I couldn’t even respond to him anymore because I was just trying not to lose my own shit. And then Nikki got involved because she worries and doesn’t like it when Wes gets angry with me and then he just got even angrier and it just was terrible.

Eventually he broke, he always does, and he starts getting angry with himself and we haven’t had an episode like last night in a long time and I forgot how exhausting it is for everyone. He cried. A lot. I cried. Nikki cried. We talked a lot about how apologies are great but they don’t erase what happened. “I will always forgive you Wesley, but I can’t forget the things you said or did.” He cried so hard and this is always oddly reassuring because when you see your child demonstrate such terrible anger (which I hadn’t seen from him in awhile) you feel oddly better when you see remorse later. It’s like the small token of reassurance that the demon that came out for that brief moment doesn’t have full control of their personality.

It’s just hard. In so many different ways. It’s hard because I was very angry and while I didn’t lose my temper, I also didn’t do anything to diffuse his because I was so focused on not losing mine. I know for SURE I did not handle it exactly how his last doctor would have recommended I handle it. Now, I also know I didn’t make it worse. Years ago I would yell and scream in response to his terrible tantrums and I don’t do that anymore. I know that is wrong. But getting it “right” is very difficult in the moment. “Seeing Red” is very applicable, I was just so angry all I could focus on was staying calm and not ANY of the diffusing or even redirecting techniques we had talked about before.

So…part of me says, “Call for some help!” But the other part of me says, “Yeah – but – you didn’t apply the techniques the last doctor taught you, so why don’t you still use those first before you see more help.” I do feel like when I’m focused one some of the diffusing techniques and when I focus on directing him to cope with his anger instead of focusing on coping with my own, I can keep him off the wrong path. And last night I couldn’t do any of that because I was trying to make sure that I stayed on the right path.

Parenting is hard, yo. Especially when you’re trying to learn the same lessons you’re trying to teach your kid. It’s hard to be a teacher and a student at the same time.

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Training Brain.

Last week I posted a self-deprecating/humorously ashamed post on Facebook about how terrible I felt for forgetting Wes’s basketball practice on Thursday. I did feel terrible but I posted about it with a note of humor so that I could lighten my guilt. Many people chimed in about things they had forgotten, even the coach reassured us! ALL WAS WELL.

And then I forgot again this week.

I KNOW! I SHOULD HAVE PUT IT ON THE CALENDAR.

Let me tell you why I didn’t. Because I never put sports practices on the calendar, only games. Because practice schedules don’t change! Every Thursday! I’ve never had a problem remembering practices. And while last week I forgot, every night this week I thought, “Tonight is not Thursday so we don’t have practice!” Since it was on my mind so clearly every night before Thursday, I never thought I would forget when Thursday arrived.

The catch was this: I had a gathering-I-couldn’t-miss Thursday night, so Donnie was going to have to handle practice. No big deal, he does that fine, but then I found out Thursday day he was going to work late and my mind went into: FIND A BABYSITTER SO I WON’T MISS MY MEETING mode.

I found a babysitter, went to my meeting, and was completely fine until last night when Wesley quietly and sweetly said, “We forgot practice last night Mom, BUT IT IS OKAY! DON’T WORRY!”

My kids know my guilt issues too well. My daughter sent me this message via instagram.
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And of course Donnie was like, “Put it on the calendar,” because he’s not as in tune with my issues of guilt.

Can you guess what happened next? YES YOU CAN BECAUSE WE ARE SO MUCH ALIKE.

ME: “I just feel the need to point out all of the things I did this week that I did RIGHT like put garbage and recycling out and do laundry and pack lunches and sweep and vacuum and change the kitty litter and Christmas shop and move tons of stuff downstairs since the renovation starts in a week and met with the contractor and dealt with the insurance company for my car and set up childcare for the holidays and went to a meeting and took the kids to the library and bought groceries and…”

I stopped there because I realized Donnie had left the room to go to the bathroom. He may not know my guilt issues well, but he knows when to make an exit.

I still woke up feeling pretty terrible about it. It is on the calendar now. I keep telling myself that this is Training Brain. Pregnancy Brain works the same way. When your body is doing something exhausting like growing a human or training for a 100K, your brain gets deprived the necessary oxygen since other parts of your body need it more urgently. I’ve run 77 miles in the past 7 days and I still have 33 miles and 2 days to go before I get a rest day. I AM TIRED, yo. So the blood is going to help my legs and my body cope with all of these miles and it’s doing a decent job with my brain, but on Thursday when the “Donnie Has To Work Late” alarm was sounded and I panicked about missing my meeting, the basketball practice just disappeared amidst the chaos and the exhaustion.

But we do have a lot going on. I work full time. Donnie has been working 60-80 hour weeks. It’s Christmas. I have to move almost every item upstairs to downstairs before 12/28 when the renovations upstairs begin. It’s a lot of balls to juggle even without the 100K training so I’m trying not to be too hard on myself. I’m trying to care for myself and be as kind to myself as I would to any of my friends who called and said, “I missed practice!” I would tell them with love how wonderful they are and that the one missed practice is nothing and just life and that they shouldn’t feel bad. So, I’m trying to tell myself that. I’m trying to be as supportive to myself as I would be to my friends.

The funny thing is that now that we’re on holiday break, there won’t be practice for a few weeks. So, anyone want to place bets on whether I’ll take Wes on Thursday anyway? That would be me. Forget the two weeks we actually have practice but show up the night we don’t.

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Progress

Wesley’s behavior is still something I stress out about on a regular basis even though we are far from the Spitting In The Face days. He still periodically has terrible tantrums that involve hitting and insulting me, but they’re rare and we have a lot more productive conversations about anger and unnecessary escalation of mostly benign situations.

Unnecessary escalation is a BIG one lately. The one severe tantrum he’s had recently started with a basic 5 minute trip to his room as “punishment” and his resistance to THAT one command snowballed into an entire night of screen removal and lots of yelling. (From him. I’ve done my best to just stop yelling completely with him, especially when he’s mid-tantrum.)

So…you can imagine my joy when he and his sister started fighting over a video game this weekend and I sent them both to their bedrooms for 5 minutes and THEY BOTH JUST WENT. Going to the bedroom is not like “time out” – I don’t care if they play or read or do whatever they want in their room. Their rooms are just the “get away from the video game” move because I refuse to allow fighting or anger over something like Minecraft. Nyoka knows 5 minutes in the room to chill and cool off and then you can come back to building your town, but Wes always freaks out and HATES the 5 minutes away punishment. So that quick obeying of the command this weekend was like hearing angels singing from the heavens. The unnecessary escalation is what makes me the most frustrated regarding Wesley’s behavior because it always ends in horrible battles but begins with just him refusing to do one small thing I’m asking him to do.

SO! PROGRESS!

And then, last night, Wes got up from his dinner plate to get something to drink and Sweetie tried to get to his feed. I caught her and yelled, “Sweetie! Down!” and he turned around and screamed at her, “Dumb dog! Leave my food alone!” I immediately said (calmly), “Wesley…that’s unnecessary…” and he immediately started crying. “I should not have taken my anger out on her. I’m sorry!”

PROGRESS!

Once he calms down he always has these moments of reflection where he sees his anger was hurtful, but it’s never that quickly and that sincere. Moments like that actually help me relax overall because when this behavior started showing itself around age 4, there was NEVER and post-anger reflection and so – of course – I started worrying I was raising a sociopath.

It’s just nice to see those moments because I work REALLY hard with him and I actually spend a lot of energy dealing with his tantrums. I have to fight my OWN anger and frustration to remain calm, even when he’s at his worst and hitting me. It’s really hard to stay on point in those moments and I find myself often just EXHAUSTED so those little glimpses of understanding surprising me helps remind me to stay on track. He’s a good kid who just feels his anger and his frustration a little harder than the rest of us and he needs help focusing that energy productively.

I’ve also learned he is 100% worse off when his sleep is deprived and we’re hitting a growth spurt full of sleep-interrupting leg pains so lately his behavior has been on the “bad” side more often than good. But when he’s good? He’s OH SO GOOD. And so sweet. I just gave him a bath for his legs at 3am and as he was crawling back into bed he hollered downstairs at me, “MOM! I LOVE YOU!” just unsolicited affection. He’s the only one of the 3 to ever do that – give me the unsolicited or unscheduled affection. So while his anger is uncontrollable – sometimes so is his love.