How Much Negativity is Normal?

First thing this morning, I roll out of bed after that jerk alarm clock so rudely woke me up, stumble into my daughter’s room to wake her for school, and before I’ve even had a sip of coffee I am confronted with this:

The previous evening we had had our (unfortunately) usual conflict over homework and bathing. Evidently it had hit her pretty hard, to generate such a sad response.

First, if I might be so callous as to point out the positive aspects of her letter:

1. She wrote something without being ordered, cajoled, threatened or bribed! Writing being one of the things we had argued about yesterday evening.

2. The lines of communication between the unloved daughter and the monster Mama seem to be pretty open, so that’s a good thing.

3. She has apparently learned my secret weapon (the guilt trip) well enough that she was able to turn it back on me. A+ and four gold stars for that one!

4. Her cleverness seems to know no bounds – notice how she puts a witty, guilt-inducing spin on the standard closing of “Love, So&So.” Pure genius!

Now to the negative. I know that I, for one, felt this exact way from about age 5 until age just a couple of minutes ago, and I fully expect the feeling to recur any minute. Is this my personal neurosis that my poor daughter has either genetically inherited or otherwise picked up from my toxic emotional environment?

Or does everyone go through this as a normal stage of growing up?

On the one hand, I think it is natural for every parent to want to cultivate and maintain the health and happiness of their child. What better satisfaction is there than to see pure joy upon that sweet little face?

On the other hand, without some trials in life, we would be fluffy, weak and pathetic creatures. To allow a child to feel a serious, profound connection to reality, even though sometimes that involves discomfort, is to allow a child to grow as a genuine person and, eventually, to become a capable, functioning adult.

I think especially in the Attachment Parenting world, we are prone to err on the side of eliminating all possibility of frustration, sadness and discomfort in the name of physical, emotional and mental health.

So is this letter an unpleasant but expected sight on the parenting journey, or is it, as she intended it and as I intended for my parents, a no-holds-barred condemnation of the quality of that journey?

All I know right now is, she ventures further away all the time as she grows and explores the world, and that’s natural. I hope that every time she returns to my embrace, she feels the warmth and affection that I’ve always had for her, and always will.

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6 responses to “How Much Negativity is Normal?

  1. I struggle with this daily. The logical side of me says that my children must experience a wide range of emotions to adapt to the world we live in, but the mama bear wants them only to experience joy. It’s hard šŸ˜¦

    • It really is! I sheltered my first from frustration far too much when she was little. At the time I wouldn’t have listened to someone tell me that frustration was valuable, but now I realize that there are times as parents we have to just let kids kind of thrash around with something difficult until they make their own way. Tough stuff to balance.

  2. I think you might have answered your own questions in your discussion Elena. It is only right and normal to have expectations of our children, we expect more and want more of them and from them. This might be at loggerheads with their own definitions of what is good for them – which we may or may not disagree with our children. I know that in our case, we struggle constantly with cultural differences in almost all aspects of parenting.
    Funny enough, I was probably a sad negative child growing up but have since realised that we are responsible and make our own happiness, in contrast, as a parent, I often feel that we are the cause of angst in our typically happy child! šŸ™‚
    Such is life – you can only do your best as a parent and hope it all works out.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Li-ling! I think the scariest part is wondering, what if my best isn’t enough for a particular child? I always come back to the theory that if we lived the way nature intended, that is, in a tribal setting rather than in a Mommy-in-the-Box nuclear family setting, that each child would have daily access to multiple parental figures and they would naturally gravitate towards the one(s) the could give them what they needed. I think it is unhealthy to expect that one or two adult personalities can provide total support to whatever personality their child/ren happen to be born with.

  3. I remember feeling like your daughter does in that letter. But those memories are quickly replaced by the early morning snuggles that only my mother and I shared. As an adult I can look back and remind myself of how much love I was given. I can appreciate the ‘tough’ times and recognize the places where hurt hasn’t healed completely. As a parent I acknowledge that I can’t be that never ending source of joy and happiness for my child. Homework struggles, wardrobe struggles and the horrible horrible early morning time management struggles are all things that give my daughter her chance to fight for her needs and wants. Her moments to grow into the person she will become as a full grown adult. I just remind her (hourly if needed) that I love her. Now that my daughter is a teenager I can take a quiet moment to apologize for my impatience and work towards a more peaceful encounter but ultimately I do what I do because I want what’s best for her.

  4. “Homework struggles, wardrobe struggles and the horrible horrible early morning time management struggles are all things that give my daughter her chance to fight for her needs and wants.” This is so true, that fight to control their own lives, which we can’t really let them win sometimes, unfortunately. I love to see them handle their own business successfully, and nothing has quite the same relief-inducing properties as that moment when they turn 18 and officially nothing is my fault anymore! šŸ˜€ I just hate to see them translate a lost fight into “you don’t love me!” Because it actually means the opposite – if I didn’t love you, I’d let you win all your fights to do all kinds of dangerous, stupid things. But I do love you, so I guide and/or shove you in the right direction when necessary (even though it sucks for BOTH of us!) so that you don’t get hit by a bus or let your teeth rot out or get scurvy or whatever.

    *Sigh*

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