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Unconditional Parenting and galloping anxiety...

Ok, Cass, this one is for you (but everyone else is more than welcome to read and comment too, of course)...

For many years I've been learning how to parent differently to how my parents parented. I started out doing great, the first year and a bit of Erik's life was full of respect and consideration to his needs and patience as he learned about the world around him. I dare say, looking back, that I was actually doing the whole Unconditional Parenting (on the face of it, but I'll get to that later)... I wasn't a natural "praiser" and have really only struggled with praising since having Bryn - it's soooooo easy to praise him and tell him he's wonderful for every little thing he does, I can't explain why it pops out of me more readily with him than with the other too except that perhaps I'm not a first time parent, or a depressed parent this time...

However, when Erik was around 15 months, and I was newly pregnant with Luey and feeling very tired and at a low ebb most of the time, and of course, Erik's personality was emerging more and more, including the "volume" of his enthusiasm for life (which I found profoundly overwhelming for some reason), it turned out I wasn't Unconditional in my parenting at all... In fact, I was VERY conditional. I resented him when I was tired and he was being excitable, as he was prone to do. As my pregnancy with Luey progressed I become more and more depressed due to various circumstances and my own hormonal make up... I slowly became quite an authoritarian parent who wanted to punish Erik for "making" me feel bad; bad because I was tired, bad because I was anxious, bad because I was at times very mean to him and then I resented HIM for me being mean.

After Luey was born, I was postnatally depressed and a negligent parent when it came to Erik. I ignored him in order to preserve enough energy to deal with Luey's reflux symptoms. I was a practical parent with Luey, I did what was needed. When Luey was about 5 months old I started to get counselling for my PND and slowly I opened up to Luey emotionally. I opened up to Erik a bit more, too, but mostly to Luey. I didn't praise or punish Luey as he was still a baby and an "innocent" in my eyes.

By the time Luey was about 20 months though, things started to change. I started to resent Luey when he thwarted me. I was having a lot of issues with Erik by this stage, and really being rather abusive toward him. I smacked him. I yelled at him. I said really horrible things to him that I don't particularly care to repeat here.

Just after Erik turned five and Luey turned three we moved again to an area where I had more support myself, and we also conceived Bryn which was something I had longed for for a very long time. Slowly I started to cope better with the boys, but was still a very authoritarian parent. The authoritarianism stemmed from fear. Fear of losing control. Fear of what other people thought of us as a family and me as a person. Fear that my boys would grow into delinquents.

Then Bryn was born, and it was as if joy came back into my life. Soon after Bryn was born, Dave got his redundancy and became a SAHD for 8 months. With two parents at home I found myself a whole lot less anxious. Soon after Dave went back to work, it became evident I was slipping back into authoritarian parenting practices, even implementing a "thinking chair" for the big boys, mostly Erik, which was basically a euphemism for the "naughty chair" if I'm completely honest with myself.

Not surprisingly, Erik soon asked to go to school. I suffered a lot of guilt over this because I could see the cause and effect between my parenting style and Erik wanting to get the hell out of this house. At the same time a little voice in my head was telling me that perhaps it really would be a good thing for all of us to get a bit of space. It might mean having enough space to actually begin to feel someone other than anixety and resentment around my big boys.

So, they both started school this year, and it has made a huge difference in our relationshp. I still occassionally lost my cool completely and was too rough with the boys, shoving them out of my way and once or twice smacking them, but still a massive improvement.

In the past couple of months, I feel like I'm waking up from a very bad dream. I've actually managed to consciously stop myself from the worse of my parenting. So now, I'm feeling confident enough to tackle the subtleties - which they're subtleties to me because compared to what I was doing, this feels like refining... It's all relative, isn't it...

So, after reading your blog last night, Cass, and the link to the other blog, I've tried this morning to be conscious of praising and punishing...

It didn't take long to realise how much this is a part of how I parent my big boys. Bryn I don't do this with - that I'm aware of yet, anyway.

I needed to do a quick tidy up here, because I have a friend coming over. My plan was for me to do the dishes and the kitchen, for Dave to do the toilet and bathroom and for the boys to tidy the loungeroom of toys. Straight away Luey asked what would happen if he didn't tidy up. I said nothing would happen. So, he proceeded to sit on the couch and chatter while the rest of us cleaned up. I felt so much resentment toward him, every sound he made irretated me and at one point I said, "If you're not going to help clean up, then at least don't distract the rest of us from what we're doing". My tone was very strained. Then I was thinking, I hadn't asked Dave to help, I'd told him to help, and basically if he didn't help, I'd want to make him "pay" for not helping me so I'd probably rant at him about how I have to clean up after everyone in this house, blad, blah, blah...

As I was doing the dishes, I was thinking about all of this. How I don't love anyone unconditionally really, I love people when they're nice to me and helpful to me, but when they thwart me or upset me I really just want them to feel my pain. This is, of course, what happened to me as I grew up.

So, here I was thinking how I need to let go. This is the ultimate "taking personal responsibility" - that thing I so very much enamoured with. If I want something done, I need to do it. I can ask for help, but I can't make people help me, or make them pay for not meeting my needs.

But anyway, as I was reflecting on this, I could feel my anxiety and tension rising and rising to a point where I was stifling a scream and the need to lash out at someone or something. This is quite scary. I don't know what to do with that energy. I don't know why I have that energy build up. The anxiety is like a churning ball of fire in my stomach, and all my muscles .

I've told the boys a half a dozen times this morning that I'm feeling tense and angry and I'm trying really hard not to get act out my anger. I've just told the boys to go away from me, because I feel like I'm about to explode, and if I go away, like into my room their jumping around the living room sword fighting is going to enrage me further. Even now, they're in their room jumping around and laughing and I want to punch a hole in the wall. What's more, I feel like sending them away from me is a punishment. It's certainly not unconditional. I don't know what to do about this anxiety...

Comments

katef said…
reading your post I am having little light bulb moments... obviously I am not dealing with all the same issues but wow that last bit about tidying up... I have HUGE issues with that and how I deal with the girls. All I have managed to figure out so far are that these are MY issues but I still find myself falling back into the same 'lash out because you didn't help' mentality and I hate it.

Really can't wait to hear mroe from your commentors on this!
Rachael said…
Hey Sif, love and like are different. I think it is entirely possible for you to love the boys and Dave unconditionally, and still not like the things they do or don't do. For you to take so much time thinking about them and worrying about and for them, shows how much you truly love them. Rach xx
casso said…
Hi Sif

Wow, you are having a lot of things go on aorun dyou at them oment! It was so interesting to read your parenting' journey' so far - thanks so much for writing it. And first up let me say just how self aware you are to write down so many aspects of your parenting and your resposne to the kids, it really takes an enormous amount of honesty to take on board that level of truth. :o)

Firstly, let me just talk about your practical experience from this morning (Harry is sleeping and I want to write something helpful before she wakes up!). I know how hard it must be for you to 'let go' and probably a high stress environment such as that one (time constraints, jobs to get done, everyone around you, feeling penned in and pressured) was bound to leave you feeling exhausted emotionally. So don't beat yourself up about that just yet ok? :o)

The first thing is to set realsitic expectations on both you and the boys. For everyone's sakes! So in this situation how could we make it less stressful for you and still get the desired outcome? Well you could have done some cleaning the night before when the boys were asleep. That way when they woke up today you could have left just a few last minute things that need to be done (like breakfast dishes, sweeping) and you and Dave could have done those. Perhaps even letting Bryn do some 'sweeping' could have shown the other boys that it can be fun (but that's a bit of a long shot and I don't really expect them to be sucked in by that one!).

The other side of it is to not get yourself stressed over the state of the house, evenwith visitors coming over. I have struggled with this one a LOT! I am very houseproud and before Harry I would have every surface gleaming before anyone came over. Now...well, now people are lucky if there's coffee in the house and I can find it. ;o) But to tell you the truth, most people who come to see you just need to be prepared for how the house will be. Set a limit to your cleaning, so say - ok, I will have a sit down with them in this one room. I'll make this room really clean and the rest can just be left.

But as for your anger towards the boys (and in this I'm including Dave for the first part) - well, as hard as it is to hear, that really is an issue that you have to work through on your own. And I'm guessing it's not that hard to hear because you are highly attuned to your own actions (very, very rare!). But feeling that angry is not to do with parenting or parenting techniques, and everything to do with your own emotional state. Parenting techniques are completely secondary to that, so it makes complete sense that an authoritarian approach would be borne out of your feelings of helplessness, impotent frustration and anger at your situation with the boys early on in their lives. So to 'fix' your parenting you need to feel like you're in a space where you are capable of dealing with the anger that style of parenting produces in you. *hugs*

I definitely think feeling that you're alone in your role must be making the situation worse for you. Having to ask Dave and the boys to do things and not being able to just relax and think "Ok, Dave knows we have company soon, if I end up playing pillow fights with the boys on their bed for twnety minutes I know he'll be out there with Bryn doing the dishes". I must admit that is a really lovely aspect and freedom that James and I have, so I feel for you if you find that lacking in your own home.

I better leave this here because otherwise it wil end up becoming another epic tome, which I don't want to do. But I am quite impressed that I scored a special mention in your blog!! :o)

Lots of love to you
Cass
Stitch Sista said…
Gosh Sif I feel so much the same a lot of the time.

Like if everyone is behaving/sleeping/co-operating well wowee life is grand...but if not...well...watch out!!

I hate that about myself and it's something I'm definitely mindful of. If you find some strategies to help you 'let go' a little then let me know...

Will talk to you about this more sometime...
Sif said…
Thanks guys :)

Cass, yes, the plan was to clean up last night, unfortunately there was no time after the boys went to bed, as Bryn was still up when I went to bed at 1am, and wanting to feed most of the evening - but that's a whole other story.

I only found out this friend was visiting at 9pm last night, and unfortunately this particular friend (well, acquaintence really) is not someone I'm comfortable having a messy house around - long story... I was only cleaning the parts of the house she would see, but we have an open plan house, so that included the hall, lounge dining, kitchen, and of course the bathroom and toilet (two rooms)... Dave is very helpful with cleaning, but not very effecient, and so needed my direction because he was set to tidy up Bryn's toy corner (a job the boys could do) when I needed the toilet and bathroom seen to - the biggest job was the kitchen, which I finished before he finished his two rooms, LOL, just the way things go.

As it turned out, said friend didn't make it today.

I did end up losing it, but not *at* anyone - the boys were in their room playing. Dave thought it was because we'd rushed around for nothing, but actually I was happy the living areas were clean and tidy and I wasn't going to have to entertain anyone, so it wasn't that...

The anger is underlying resentment on my part. As I told Dave, I'm not getting "my way" and so I want to tantrum like a two year old. Of course this isn't acceptable, so then I'm left with built up frustration.

As you said, the anger isn't in the parenting, it's my stuff... It's my frustration that other people don't see, do or think like I do. I realise that sounds very immature, but see I like to problem solve and act, or choose not to act but then accept the responsibility for my actions. I'm fine with other people not doing this as long as their problems don't impact on me. When other people's problems impact on me and they don't act to solve their problem I feel trapped and really very angry and resentful. This seeps through in my daily life. Then I resent all the other little frustrations that would otherwise wash over off me...

In writing this I feel a bit like Veruca Salt... I want it (my way), and I want it NOW!!!
Juniper said…
Huge hugs Sif! I wish I had something constructive and helpful to say! I just want you to know you have my empathy and understanding!
Hi Sif,

Reading your post I could identify with many of the emotions that you have gone through on this day.

I get the same way and I struggle with it. I know for me it is an issue of control. If I feel out of control, it then changes to resentful and everything just spirals from there. It is something that I am also battling with.

I agree with the part of Cass' reply when she talked about how self aware you are. I think that is the main reason that I love reading your blog. I identify with many things that you write, but I also admire that you can put it out there and nut it out.

Do you find though that being so self aware you are also harder on yourself? because what you are doing is not what you wish to be doing? (ie, when Luey sat and didn't help, which enraged you but it was also something that you would want to encourage him to do as far as UP goes?)

I know this is something i struggle with, if you don't feel this way though then please ignore those questions completely ;) .
Sif said…
Yes, Jen, I definitely feel that I'm probably a bit hard on myself. My mother is a perfectionist (so is my brother in an underacheiving sort of way), and my mum just was awarded the Academic Excellence award for 2007 at her University, when she graduated from a certificate course she'd done last year. When it was announced she just sat there thinking, "No, that's wrong, they meant so and so". She was so sure they were wrong she didn't even think to look up and confirm it was her. The award is generated by computer, based on the aggregate highest score for the year, so she thought it couldn't be her because althugh she'd gotten all High Distinctions throughout the year, she'd been penalised for handing things in late, and she felt she hadn't done things aw well as she "could have"...

I always said I wasn't like my mum in this way, but I guess when it comes to parenting I have very high standards for myself, and I see other people being what I want to be an so I think, there's no reason I can't do this - even though I can't see what else is going on for them, yk?

Without wanting to sound up myself, I have OFTEN wished I DIDN'T know better, so I could just do whatever I felt was right (which is a very screwed up sense of right based on having been abused throughout my childhood)...

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