I tend to be rather critical of myself in pretty much all aspects: work, running, wife-ing, and mothering. I've always been my own worst enemy. At times, this quality is helpful as it pushes me to reflect and change and improve. But most times the critical voice inside my head is so damn annoying--like Janice's voice from Friends.
Sure you ran 11 miles, but you could've run a little faster. Did you hear that rude comment J said to K? You know he learned that from you, right? Don't bother applying for that job; you'll never get it. You're feeding your kids sandwiches again? When was the last time they ate something green? No, Skittles do NOT count. Your husband probably would be more happy with a more traditional, more feminine, and more stable woman.
For me, this voice is loudest during moments of chaos--when the schedule gets busy and things begin to slip out of my control, and so, I fight and claw to regain that control. I do things like choose my kids' outfits when they're perfectly capable of choosing their own clothes. I reject all help from my husband. I run farther and faster. I snap at my kids when they drop crumbs on the table. As you can imagine, I am a very unpleasant person to be around when I let that Janice voice win out, and it happens more than I care to admit because it's so easy to focus on our flaws. It's easy to make a list of all we don't have, all we haven't accomplished, all of our mistakes and failures. Our culture lives with critique on the tips of our tongues because we are afraid of failing or being forgotten or messing up our kids.
Yesterday, J came home from school, and as he was unpacking his backpack, he asked me if he could tell me a sad story.
"Sure, bud. What's the story?"
Parents are responsible for their kids. A kid's behaviors often reflect their home lives. The kid must've learned these behaviors at home.
I've heard these claims spoken by daycare providers, teachers, parents, and (gasp) these are beliefs I once held. ...Then I became a parent to two kids who experienced physical and psychological trauma during pivotal developmental years.
Suddenly, these statements no longer felt true. Even though my kids have been adopted for three and almost two years, they still struggle (and will always struggle) with trauma. Often they still feel threatened in situations that an outsider would not perceive as threatening. Sometimes they still eat as if food may not grace our dinner table again. Many times they still melt down when they receive even the tiniest of consequences. Are these behaviors a reflection of our home lives? I don't think so. Our home is far from perfect, but generally speaking, my husband and I work hard to maintain a consistent and loving home where curiosity is encouraged, mistakes can be learned from, a home where our kids can be kids with room to play and explore. We try to help our kids identify big feelings, and we give them tools to help them work through these. But, as is the habit of trauma, sometimes our kids' pasts seep through the cracks in their lives that we have desperately tried to repair.
Yesterday, my phone rang at 10:30 AM; it was my kids' principal. She replayed an outburst my son had in his classroom; he was unable to be redirected and had to spend the rest of the morning in the principal's office. I hung up the phone feeling overwhelmed and mortified about my son's behaviors. In fact, my first response was to email J's teacher to apologize for his behaviors. I spent the rest of the day beneath a dark cloud of shame.
|Not a real cloud of shame, but it's pretty damn close.|
My brain knows that J's outburst was likely from a perceived threat and not an act of defiance, but I couldn't convince my heart and gut to agree with my brain. I felt responsible for my son's behavior. I wasn't home enough, I yell too much, I don't hug him enough. I worried about what the teacher thought of our home life, what J's classmates would tell their parents about the scenario, and what those parents would think of us. I was in a downward spiral of shame when I finally texted one of my best friends who also is a foster-adoptive mama and is familiar with parenting kids from hard places. I asked her when I would stop feeling so ashamed for my kids' behaviors. My friend is wise and kind and calm. She talked to me about losing my reputation to reach others...she reminded me that my reputation is eternal, and directed me to a sermon she recently heard on Luke 15: Love Can Unbind Us from Pastor Myron Pierce.