A History Lesson

.. and I’ve seen it before

.. and I’ll see it again

.. yes I’ve seen it before

.. just little bits of history repeating

I’m turning into my parents.  Actually, make that past tense. I used to think this was something to be proud of but now, more and more, I feel as though I’m channeling the worst of each of them.

My father- short tempered, socially awkward, he’s a strange combination of obsessive compulsive and procrastinator/non-finisher extraordinaire. He seems unable to see projects through till the end (what he does, he does perfectly but doesn’t finish anything which makes all that perfection kind of pointless).

My mother- much more submissive although hardly short of an opinion herself, can be incredibly judgmental but just when you think it’s really time to stand up and say something- she doesn’t.

Both of them are fairly low energy but compensate for that with high-ish ambition, which means they’ve been reasonably successful I suppose, by conventional standards.  Neither one expresses emotion particularly well, in fact sometimes I wonder if they feel much emotion, but that’s probably a bit harsh. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t expect everyone to wear their heart on their sleeve the whole time, but sometimes the no-nonsense, unsentimental approach wears a little thin.

I was always conscious of the fact that I might be “turning into my mother” and it never really bothered me that much, whether that was because of denial or just resignation, I’m not quite sure. But since having children (more precisely, since Master L has become a toddler) I hear the worst lines from each of my parents coming out of my mouth. Like my father, I find myself letting relatively minor irritations take over my mood, instead of just putting them aside and getting on with the relatively straight-forward business of being cheerful. Worst of all, I look at my beautiful two year old boy with (I think) the same feelings of awe and wonder that my parents regarded me with but, like them, I struggle to say the words “I love you”.

Today was a particularly trying day for various reasons. It’s preschool holidays and Master L seems to be in the throes of the terrible twos and I found myself shouting at him before 7am and wishing the day over by mid-morning. At one point I thought “I only have to get through today and then I’m at work for the rest of the week” and then immediately thought “these are your children, what sort of attitude is that?!”. At several stages throughout the day I said to myself “right, deep breath, let’s change this and make today a happy day” and we did manage to end up better than we started (amazingly). But several things really struck me that, after a whole two and a half years of parenting, I do the same way my parents did and I’m really not happy about them:

  1. Losing my temper– when I think about my childhood and the relationship I had with my parents, I’d sum up the day-to-day interaction with my father as “treading on eggshells”. He was volatile, unpredictable and short-tempered. He would fly into a rage at the drop of a hat, he’d shout at us, he’d smack us (hard) and we seemed to live in the perpetual and fearful shadow of trying not to upset him. Don’t get me wrong, he was also loving, involved, affectionate and fun, but it was always a bit of an unknown. And when Dad was in a “bad mood”, you braced yourself for an unhappy day of lying low and jumping every time a door slammed. I now find my buttons being pushed too easily by Master L’s toddler whims, tantrums and inconsistencies. I shout at him all too easily, the frustration when he doesn’t do what I tell him (AGAIN) bubbles up inside me and the only way to vent it seems to be to shout at him or worse, smack him (which I have so far managed not to do apart from on a couple of occasions). I need to find a way to deal with this. Shouting at a two-year old achieves nothing. It doesn’t make him do what I want him to do and it just makes me more angry. One of two things will happen to him- either he’ll become wary and afraid of his volatile mother, as I was of my father, or he’ll become indifferent and ignore me completely.
  2. Distance– I mentioned my parents were low-energy. I am well aware of this and try not to be the same. To a point I’m successful. I will say, “Right, let’s go and do something” and get us out of the house to find some entertainment without too much effort. But when we’re at home, I lack the energy to keep going. I can’t play all day, constantly traipsing out to the cubby house, following Master L around, playing trains or dancing or getting down on my hands and knees to entertain him. I try not to, but I find myself thinking about my own agenda, tidying up, getting dinner, sending that email, checking my phone. Every now and then I do sit down with them, on the floor, and just do nothing, let them climb over me, read books, drink imaginary cups of tea, listen to Master L’s trucks go beeeeep beeeeep beeeeep….. But sometimes I just feel like I’m faking it. I remember trying to constantly cajole my Mum to “come and play, Mum!” but now I notice it when my parents interact with my kids. It’s not that they don’t try, they just don’t have the enthusiasm to pull it off convincingly. This is in stark contrast to Mr L and his parents, all high-energy people whose energy seems to know no bounds when it comes to pretty much anything- toddler-related or not.
  3. And then there’s emotional distance– if I remember my Dad as the volatile, unpredictable one, it was my Mum who we went to for comfort, for warmth, for love, it was Mum who was “the favourite”…. Yet I could tell you the two specific times she said “I love you” to me. And one was written down. And in fact, I think she said “We love you”, not “I love you”. It was about 8 months before I said “I love you” to Master L. And even then I felt stupid doing it. At 10 months, I don’t think I’ve said it to Miss L yet. And I have never said it to the kids in front of anyone else. I always envied friends who would end their phone conversations with their parents with “Love you, Mum!”. Not that saying it every single time you speak to someone is necessarily what I’d consider appropriate, but it’s better than never saying it at all! I’ve started to notice friends’ children (older than mine) saying “I love you” to their parents and I wonder when Master L will say it to me. Although, if I don’t say it to him, I figure I’ll be waiting a long time! For the last week or so I’ve tried to get into the habit of saying it when I put him to bed, and gradually it’s feeling less awkward…  I mean, seriously, how screwed up is that???

 

So on the positive side, I guess being aware of these things is surely part of the battle? I mean, I have insight, right?? Now all I need to do is figure out how to do something about it….

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