Parenting After Child Loss: The Day I Gave Up On MotherhoodWednesday, May 25, 2016
After losing Beatrix, listening to other parents complain about their children was impossible. In my head I would scream, "at least you have a child to be complaining about.... be grateful for what you have!"
Over the last five years this feeling has mellowed a bit. I can acknowledge that complaining about a baby crying all night, or a toddler throwing a temper tantrum, doesn't mean a parent is ungrateful. It's normal. As I let go of judging other parents for being normal, however, I didn't let go of judging myself.
The expectations I've maintained for myself have been astronomically high. If M (Rainbow Baby) cries.... instead of looking to an outside source for her dismay, I look inward: what did I do wrong?
Over the last few years I have repeatedly convinced myself that I was unworthy of my children. My older children don't call home daily because I ruined their childhood. My teenager is ready to run-away at a moments notice because I don't give him unfettered access to computer games.
I have lived in abject terror of my terrible parenting being discovered. Of losing my children.
Yesterday, I gave up on motherhood. It was 4 pm, and I had just had enough.
M has spent the last week whining about everything, and has developed a very nasty temper. Her brother is making the change from boy to man, and he challenges me at every turn.
All I wanted was some peace. So I gave up. I put my M in her pajamas, sat her on the sofa, and logged her onto Netflix. I logged onto the PC and added more time for video games.
For the first time yesterday, the house was quiet. It was peaceful.
There's a small part of me that feels like a failure whenever I turn a screen on. As a parent in general we see so much information about the dangers of screen time.
As a loss parent, I feel as if the totally normal action of taking a "time-out" is unacceptable. I'm supposed to be on my knees in gratitude 24/7, because I know what its like to lose a child. I know better than to be angry, frustrated, or just plain bored of being a mom. I'm not allowed to have any negative feelings towards my children.
I'm supposed to have a supernatural, saint-like connection to them
I think there are many post-loss parents who feel the same way. Like they aren't allowed to have a bad parenting day, because they've had the worst parenting day imaginable, and they know how "worse than a screaming toddler" feels.
Child loss occasionally holds you hostage this way: because of the historical way child-loss has been clinically treated (grief as a mental illness if it lasts longer than 6 weeks), and the way loss-moms are portrayed in the media (evidently we all want to kidnap your babies, go on mass violence rampages, or commit suicide), we don't have a lot of guidelines regarding what's "normal".
Is it ok that I'm angry at my toddler?
Is it ok that I want go out for a while, and be away from the kids?
Is it ok that they're driving me crazy and I don't really like them right now?
I think it is.
I don't think we're supposed to be groveling at the feet of grief forever.
I don't think being annoyed with your living child means anything more than you are a normal human being.
There's a lot to be said for how people change after a traumatic event. I believe people do grow from negative experiences, and I know that the growth can be positive in nature.
I know that loss can sometimes be a catalyst for beautiful things.
I also believe there is an enormous pressure to be "better" after you've suffered deeply. But sometimes we have terrible days. Even when awful things have happened.
Trauma doesn't make you noble, and it certainly doesn't make you perfect.
That day when I gave up on motherhood at 4pm?
That day was just one day in thousands I will live, caring for my children -- loving them to distraction, and just because my baby died doesn't mean I have the patience and wisdom to be "on" all the time. Losing her didn't make me superhuman, and it most assuredly didn't change my make-up to the extent that I'm living in a constant state of mindfulness.
And that's ok.
I'm allowed to give up on motherhood occasionally. It doesn't mean I'm ungrateful or I don't appreciate the gifts I've been given: it just means I'm human.
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