Emma told us today with a sad voice that she still has not received a certificate at school for doing something well. She mentioned a short story she wrote about Christmas and the teacher said it was well written, however she still did not get the magic paper. I do not care about these rewards. Simply because I do not believe in the whole concept of giving special rewards for what I consider to be usual work at school. I also know from my own experience that these little incentives create only comparison, feelings of inferiority and fear of failure.
My father used to shine when I excelled and he was disappointed when I got only average mark – asking me if I could not do better, if I could not try harder. I tried always because I wanted to please him, I wanted his smile and I wanted to feel his affection. Actually I always tried harder even if I was not living at home any more. I worked hard at work and in my relationships.If something went wrong I blamed myself, I was thinking endless hours what should and should not have been done or said. I was questioning my qualities. I was afraid to start many new things just because I thought I would never get the “certificate”. The paper that proves I am enough.
It has been difficult to break the conditioning. Not so much at work – over there I was never afraid of rejection, neither of losing the job. No matter how much I liked the work, I knew eventually I could find another one. In personal relationship definitely yes. I believed until recently that I am the one responsible of every misunderstanding, every quarrel, every heated debate, every spoiled moment. The moment that could have been if not wonderful but at least a good one. Until recently I was capable to believe more in what the other said to me about myself (if criticized of course not the other way round) instead of staying grounded and confident about who I really am. I got it all wrong thinking that I need to work harder or change something in order to be loved and accepted. Despite that I was capable of giving advice to others on how love is not something we must deserve I actually did not apply it to myself.
Most of the struggles I face in my children´s upbringing stem from the fact that I am very aware of what I do not want to repeat. I certainly do not want to repeat the “certificate” story. Hard when the school motivates with competitions and rewards. Hard when one must deal with their own past hurts and emotions. Hard when your children are not co-operating or even blocking your good intentions and efforts. I felt bad when I caught myself hating a certain situation or behaviour. I was shocked the other day about the power of the feelings in my body when I had a “moment”. I needed to walk and swear badly and walk and slam the door and then cry with helplessness (kids in the other room). Afterwards I felt more calm (exhausted by the sudden release of energy) but indeed bad about myself. Donald Winnicott (English paediatrician and psychoanalyst) helped me to come in peace with myself. He talks about “hating appropriately” and lists 18 reasons why the mother hates her child 🙂 This hatred if not acted upon (you do not withhold from communication or reject the child) is reciprocal (the child hates you when you set the limits for example) and it is actually a very healthy process. It allows the child to cope with unavoidable negative feelings and the mother not to turn hatred towards herself in unhealthy, masochistic way.
Having kids is the most challenging job I have ever had. It is a constant trial, failure, success in whatever order you can imagine. It is exhausting but enriching. Yet, if we are capable of retrospection and introspection it will give us a powerful lesson. We might need to read couple of books but most of all we need to observe ourselves and be totally honest. All our roles we have ever tried with our boss, colleagues, spouse, partner, ex will not do. With our child we are back to ourselves and with ourselves. We see clearly where we stand, what are our shortcomings and what are our strengths. In a way it is liberating. We will mess up many times. But if we try our best, when we stay open, when we say often “I love you” no matter your achievements, no matter your behaviour we will experience mutual love. This painful love that shouts sometimes and slams the door but that leaks through the walls simply because the true love always finds its way. This unconditional love teaches us that we are good enough mothers and not only mothers.
I thank my mum, my special girl-friends and D. Winnicott for showing me the way.