Becoming a mother, for me, has not been a natural process. I had wanted children since I was young; I always knew that’s what I wanted. But the emotions that have come along with the experience have almost been debilitating at times.
First, it’s the love. The feeling that if I ever had to spend a day without the perfect child I created, I would crumble in despair. I never knew love could feel like that. It was so unlike the love I experienced with men or a family member. If someone asked me to sit and just “feel” what the love for my boys actually felt like, I think it would be very difficult. I am convinced my mind only allows me to feel it at about 80%, because if I connected with all of it I would be brought to my knees, completely knocked out by love. It’s just so incredibly intense. Second, there is the unexpected shock that they can be different than you expected. My 4-year-old, my very first child, the boy who opened the gate and allowed me to enter a new world as a mommy, is very difficult to raise. Although he is part of me, he is completely his own person. To list his attributes would be a great novel, as would a list of his complexities. He is so smart it’s stunning, and he is so defiant it’s depleting. He is very unsettled when his sensory is on overdrive. Some days, it feels like figuring him out would be like someone completely disassembling my car and then telling me to put to back together. His mind is so elaborate that sometimes I am just left guessing as to why certain things bother him and why sometimes he seems completely somewhere else. And just when I thought I was completely broken down for the day, between a really difficult time with my older son and caring for his little brother, I was granted the gift of comfort and it really made me think about what a difference it makes. I never thought I was like that. I never thought I needed praise to just live my life, but you know what, I think we all might need it sometimes.
1. Give a smile, or perhaps a note – There is no moment of feeling judged as a parent like the feeling I get when my son has a meltdown in public. I can’t count the number of times I have had to physically carry my screaming boy out of a situation. It’s my personal version of the “walk of shame.” From the very back of the store all the way to the exit. From the birthday party to the car. Across the entire mall. The doctor’s office. School. And so on. It started out as embarrassment, and now borders on anger. I used to look around to see what everyone was thinking. You can tell by looking into someone’s eyes what they perhaps might think of you and your parenting style. But now I don’t look at anyone because I tell myself I don’t care. Let them judge. They don’t know what it’s like to have a child like this. They don’t understand. Until I recently was handed a piece of paper by another mom when I was in the midst of a hard moment with my son at the grocery store. Once I finally got him and his brother in their seats, I opened it. It said, “I’ve been in your shoes and I just had to tell you that you are doing the best you can. It gets better. You are a great mom.” At that moment, I realized that in fact I was still bothered by what people thought, but I was completely renewed by the overwhelming gratitude I felt from the woman who didn’t judge, but made me feel safe, like all of a sudden everything was ok. And even a smile or sympathetic nod can ease a troubled mom.
2. Seize the opportunity to pay it forward – I always have to prepare myself for a trip to our mall with my kids. My son is infamous for his public tantrums and I am determined to not stop living our lives because of my own fears. Before we pull out of the driveway I say a few positive affirmations to myself. “It is enough to do my best.” “ I am going to have an extraordinary day today.” But I also know that, when things go bad, it’s sometimes hard to emotionally recover quickly. When we go to the mall, the pattern goes bouncy place, Barnes and Noble train table, and then to the Starbucks in the bookstore before we leave to get chocolate milk because that works and once my son goes anywhere, he likes things to stay the same. It also helps me because he is not able to drink the milk until he is strapped safely in his car seat. The last time we ventured to the mall we had a blast. He was great with leaving the bouncy place. At the train table he did well, even though there was a fiery of children circling like little sharks. He was excited about his chocolate milk, and when we got to the coffee shop there was a mom in the midst of a huge battle with her toddler. She let me go ahead of her in line because she was still working on getting her daughter to stop from running right out of the place. I saw a rare opportunity. I ordered my coffee and then asked for a small gift card. I paid. And then I handed the gift card to the mom in distress. I said, “On any other day this would have been me. Enjoy some coffee, you deserve it.” I am not the kind of mom who can run a household, raise kids, and keep a marriage while saving the world, but I can try to save someone’s day if I see the chance.
3. Engage their child – I have come to learn there are still people who feel kids will be angels if raised properly. But in actuality, a lot of the time mothers aren’t crazy people until after they have children. Despite all the love, structure, and patience I give my son, I have discovered that he is who he is and that he is just wired in a way that brings him frustration and confusion when processing his emotions. I understand that deciding to engage someone’s child is sometimes a tricky decision to make, especially when they are having a difficult moment, but for me it has been very helpful. Some parents may be offended. Some may even ask you to not do it and want to handle the situation on their own. Some kids may not respond, but my philosophy has become that it can’t make it any worse. The most helpful interaction from people has been offering a distraction. I would definitely say offering a child a piece of food or candy would not be the way to go, but a simple distraction from a stranger can sometimes save the day. My son ran from me in the park when I said it was time to leave. I had given him several warnings but he still did not want the fun to end. He took off and a man who happened to witness the interaction said to my son, “Boy, did you see that dragon in the sky?” It stopped my son right in his tracks. As I walked up, we all were looking towards the sky for the creature. Then he said, “Better head to the car quick, but don’t stop looking up at the sky. Remember, they breathe hot fire and come out of nowhere.” Needless to say, we made it to the car with no problems, and I left the park with a much-needed reminder of how kind people can be and how a little imagination can ignite the beauty in a child’s heart.