I’m watching SuperNanny again. I know this might be ridiculous, but it does help me. It helps me to see what children and parents feel not about really the focus of the show—which is mostly how do you get your kid to sit on a naughty chair—but how do children and parents feel when tempers flare.
I watched one show where the mother admits her mind goes blank when her kids have meltdowns. She cooks a separate dish for one child who is a picky eater, then gives him the dish she knows he won’t like.
Yeah, I get that. Your head gets scrambled in the midst of all of those emotions. You just really can’t remember shit anymore. You are trying to ignore emotionally intense content that you can’t really process and may not even be relevant and you are trying to focus on other details that aren’t so emotional—like what food to give your child—and your working memory absolutely falls apart.
And I thought of my mother, how even as an authority figure in the household, the fact that your children exist as separate entities from you and not neat little toys to play with who do what you want can make you feel really vulnerable and powerless. They open you up to the inner critic also, the one who tells you if you were any kind of a mother, your children would listen to you, and you have failed at the most important job you have. What if you can’t understand their feelings, don’t know how to soothe them, can’t even recognize what sets them off? What if there are some things that maybe you do recognize in them that remind you of your own horrors and you don’t want to think about them at all? It helped me to understand what she was going through as a parent—not that it excuses anything—but I just understood it better. She was so overwhelmed.
As a child, you have no one else. You have to get your needs across to your parent. All of that rage and anger—a lot of that is just please help me. I’m falling apart. I can’t keep it together anymore. Please help me.
I watched a different episode—again about a tantrumy, angry, controlling little child—and I thought, watching him, he’s reaching for control because he doesn’t feel safe. He isn’t being physically harmed or neglected. The family is keeping it together well enough that he is fed and bathed and clothed, but it doesn’t feel to him that there is a parent in charge who understands what he needs and is competent to give it to him. He might have parents who know what is best, but they aren’t communicating that they know that. They are communicating that he knows best, and that’s scary when you’re a toddler. As a little one, you need someone who can take care of you and who believes they can take care of you. You need someone who has 20 or 30 or even 40 years of experience on you and has used to that time on earth to learn something. The flip side of that, of course, is the parent who insists they know what is best and doesn’t, and who doesn’t see you or understand you, and is so misattuned they feed you when you need a change. That’s not better. You need someone who knows better and believes they know better.
I thought about my mother and her relationship with her mother—my grandmother. I know my grandmother was a narcissist, that my mother grew up not feeling she could be herself. I thought about how my mother would react to a child when she herself feels it’s not going to be okay for her to actually exist or be a presence. I thought about some of the theories about parenting a child with an attachment disorder—that you try to be a presence, because the child has trouble maintaining that sense of you in their own minds.
I also thought how a lot of that screaming and rage and reaching for control is about wanting to be able to feel that the parent is there—not as an extension of the child, but as a separate person who can connect to the child. The joy of life is in connection. If your parent tends to disappear to stay safe because that’s what she learned to do to protect herself as a child, then what you really feel enraged about is the loss of the parent as a separate person you can connect to. You are raging at your parent to get her back, but what happens is she disappears.
That’s just my thought for the day. I know I am thinking about it because of my realization about C—that I feel better knowing she’s real, she’s exist, she has a life outside of me. It’s not actually anything to do with wanting her attention or her love or her adoration. No one prepared me for that. I don’t know what I was prepared for, but it wasn’t that—something infinitely more selfish and narcissistic. That’s for sure.