Sunday, January 20, 2013

Child-Colored Lenses

There is this surreal moment when you become a parent when you instantly empathize with your own parents. A flash of insightening (insight + lightening, I'm so clever!) hits you out of nowhere and you suddenly realize, "So, THAT'S why my mom never let me drink a jug of chocolate milk before bed," or "wow, THAT'S how my mom was feeling when I threw my body on the floor like a human grenade and demanded ice cream until I turned blue," and "no WONDER my mom sent me to my room all the time!" When you join the parent club, you magically receive the gift of understanding the plight of parents everywhere, spanning both time and geographic space.

But now that I have a four year old, I'm not just empathizing with my own mom, I'm suddenly empathizing with my son. Because, even though I'm quickly approaching the wisened age of 30 (I just had to go to my happy place, practice meditational breathing, and remind myself that I am only 28 just to recover from the onset of heart palpatations I received from typing that dreaded number), I still remember what it was like to be a kid.

I have two very distinct memories of being completely frustrated with my mom. The first was when I was about five years old. My mom had let my brother and I pick out a bag of candy as a treat for later that evening. We picked a bag of Skittles. When we got home from the grocery store, I really REALLY wanted to eat the Skittles. My mom took them away, put them above the fridge, and told me I had to wait until after dinner. I was furious. I didn't understand why I couldn't have them NOW. Even after my mom tried to use her annoying grown-up logic, I still didn't get what the big deal was. I just knew I HAD to have them. I felt so helpless. Helpless in that I really wanted the candy and didn't know how to refocus my energy (I wanted what I wanted, damn it!) and helpless in that I could not change my mom's mind. That feeling sucked. I sulked and screamed, and whinned, and tantrumed away. She never gave in and I made a loud vow that when I was a mom, I would let my kids eat candy whenever they wanted!

The second memory was when I was about 10 or so. My mom would not let my best friend spend the night on a school night. I remember how desperately I wanted my friend to stay over. I also remember the anger and helplessness I felt as my friend walked out our front door. I had begged and begged and begged for my mom to let her stay. Yet, despite all my wanting, I was powerless to change my mom's mind.

I'm reminded of those horrible feelings of uncontrollable desire, anger, and helplessness when my son throws a tantrum. Usually, it's over something silly and, at first, my grown-up self cannot fathom why Jacob cares so much about drinking his soup with a straw versus the spoon I want him to use. Then I have to travel back through time and try to understand the situation as a kid. Then I'm reminded that he doesn't exactly know why he wants something, he just knows he wants it. And at the age of four, no amount of adult logic can remove his desire.

I'm pretty sure the tantrums are a result of not knowing or understanding how to cope with automatic emotional responses. So, I'm trying to take the tantrums in stride. I try to see Jacob in the context of his childish brain rather than the way my adult self sees him. I don't always succeed. Honestly, when I'm exhausted after a long day of work, I sometimes don't even try. I just promise to do better next time.

BUT I've noticed that when I AM able to see Jacob with the eyes of a child and the wisdom of an adult, he is much sweeter than I give him credit for. Even mid-tantrum.

1 comment:

  1. I empathize with my parents less and with myself more now that I have kids. I know that sounds snarky/weird, but I'm serious. My older son is so much like I was as a kid, and when I respond to him with empathy it both makes me realize that there is nothing wrong with me -- because there's nothing wrong with him -- and that my parents should have treated me with a lot more compassion than they did.