12th April 2007
I was just lying next to my sweetly sleeping plump cheeked little daughter watching her sleep and wondering how it is that she can sometimes make me want to throw her over next doors fence. Like most mothers I am aware that sometimes motherhood gets very overwhelming. All mother’s sometimes feel like they could throttle their beloved child when things get too much but as I lay watching her I realised how easy it would be for me to slip into the patterns of abuse that were used to control me when I was an child. That was a sobering and frightening thought.
The thought stemmed from one of those frustrating times in our relationship when Lily is tired but won’t sleep and I need to get something done in the office (when will I learn this is futile with a crotchety baby?) and so she starts to screech and screech and whine and I get more and more crabby until, today, I threw a small rubber at her. Now, don’t get me wrong – if the rubber had hit her it would have only shocked her for a moment, it certainly wouldn’t have hurt her but it’s the fact that I could do it at all that shocked me. In the moment that I threw it, I wanted it to hit her – just to shock her out of the godawful screeching she was in the middle of. I wanted, just for a moment, to shut her the fuck up using any means at my disposal. As soon as I’d thrown it I knew that I’d crossed a line. No matter how small or indistinct that line is I had crossed it by lobbing something at my child.
I then wrestled with her in bed for about 40-minutes until she finally fell asleep after some crying in my arms while I held her. The crying was not related to what I had done but was due to the fact that she was very tired and not able to let go. It was while she slept that I thought about how much I loved her. I always feel such tremendous guilt when I shout at her or finally lose my temper because she’s doing something (usually screeching) that shreds my last nerve. Today started out that way and dealing with that constant noise is no way to start a day. However, what struck me was that maybe this is how abuse starts in families. First comes the shouting at the noisy child, then comes the smacking, shaking or – in my case – the lobbing of the rubber. After that it all gets very dark indeed and I don’t even want to think about the other atrocities that are dealt a child.
The reason I thought about abuse at all is because of my abusive upbringing. My sister stayed with me recently and we were sharing stories about our respective upbringings (if you can call them that!). She shared some stories with me about my mum which were a little eye-opening – one involved her shaking me when I was screaming because of teething and Elaine genuinely feared for my life that day. Lily is teething. She was screeching before she ever got teeth but it stopped for a while and she babbled happily instead. I can easily cope with excessive loud babbling. The screeching is the trigger for me. Screeching and screaming. Maybe I respond in the way that I do because that’s somehow what I remember being done to me. I don’t have any specific memories of anything my mum may or may not have done to me when I was that small. Elaine’s memories are all I have to rely on in many ways and they are unreliable as they are the memories of a terrorised, angry and petrified adolescent who was made responsible for my life up until I was 4 years old. Too young to be a surrogate mum.
Anyway, it made me think that there may be, lurking in my psyche – all subconscious and twitchy, some horrible abusive patterns that I am in danger of repeating. Not terrible violent patterns like beating my child or mentally berating them but subtle abuse like shouting at my bub when she screeches or yelling at her to ‘shut up!’ or lobbing a rubber at her to get a moment’s peace from the noise.
I would never in a million years have thought of myself as an abusive person. Far from it. I am a woman made timid by years being surrounded by violence and abuse, watching and hearing it until I cannot remember much of anything about my childhood except one or two terrifying incidences that I would much rather forget. So why then does it worry me so much? I guess it’s because I know now that the possibility is there. Maybe it’s present in everyone just as I suspect that the ability to do many horrible things is present in everyone – we just don’t act on those urges. The question is what urges WILL I act upon? Given my history I think I am just that little bit more likely to give in to an aggressive urge and I need to know that now so that I can take some steps to avoiding it before it happens.
I don’t believe I am one of those women capable of shaking their child though I have had moments where I can see how it happens and I know that I handle Lily more roughly when I am angry than I do when I am calm and happy. I guess that’s a no-brainer though. Who wouldn’t? It’s just that I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be more at risk of smacking or shacking or even just shouting aggressively at my child and yet I know that I am. I am capable of dark and horrible things because I have been a victim of dark and horrible things and they live in my psyche. What then do I think of as normal?
There are days when I want so much to have just a little peace from the constant demands that she places on my time and I know that this is just me struggling to find myself in the role of mummy. And then there are days when I long to be attached more to my child, when I never want to stop breastfeeding her, when I think I should be holding her more, wearing her in a sling more, playing with her more and then I feel guilty that I am not focused on her 24/7.
I am trying to be a better parent to my baby girl than my mum and dad were to me. It’s not that difficult when it comes to my dad – I just have to not belittle them, punch them or make them feel inferior – oh and I have to not drag them from their beds at 4am while the hubble and I have a punch up in the house.
With mum it’s more tricky. I don’t really know what bad patterns I have internalised there. I can name a few of the more obvious patterns right off the bat such as:
Not pushing my child to compete with other children or to be ‘the best’ at something.
Not making my child do all the things I wish I had done as a child.
Not being so controlling that I don’t allow my child’s own personality to develop normally.
Not spoiling the child out of guilt for the start that I gave her and the horrible upbringing I allowed my other children to have inflicted upon them.
The subtle mum stuff is more difficult because I only just realised today that the capacity for violence is in me and there is nowhere else that it can have come from other than my parents and my upbringing. The blame lies squarely with them for that but the responsibility for Lily is mine. I will not do to her what was done to me – no matter how impossible the circumstances may have been. I will not allow myself to give in to these horrible snappy moments when I do things like this – no matter how small they are in reality. They are a sign of a much deeper well of dark matter that I must now start to scoop out in order to fill my parenting well with clear, nourishing cool water. How I do that I don’t know but it is my responsibility and I guess my leanings towards attachment parenting and aware parenting are all part of my desire to iron out the kinks in my psyche and be a good mum to Lily and her siblings when she has some.
I am a good person. I truly believe this. I just have a dark half, a bruised shadow that waits in the wings trying to show me, to teach me, how to do things better. How to be a better mummy. How to undo some of the damage so that I don’t pass it on.
What realisations come – huh?