As I watched her walk toward me at pick up time I could tell she was on edge. Her body language, her eye contact, everything was off. The flapjack snack wasn’t going to cut it today. Just be smiley, walk the tightrope. Pray she doesn’t fall to pieces in front of anyone.
This is what it’s sometimes like to pick up my highly sensitive, emotionally charged, anxious girl. It can be a circus act on the best of the days. This particular time I put something into her bag, accidentally breaking something she had made that day. She looked in her bag to show me her creation, realised it had broken, and I watched her face start to crumple…
Will she just cry or is this going to be the worst pick up in all history of pick ups.
Her scream confirms the latter.
‘You idiot! You broke my worry doll, you stupid idiot!’ shouted loudly enough for the parents around to see. Sharp intake of breath at the disrespect shown toward me, but I take it as a chance to practice my gentle parenting techniques, in public, with everyone watching.
Staying calm and in a quiet voice, ‘You’re sad, I broke your amazing doll, im so sorry. Lets go home and fix it together’. The aim was to connect with her now whilst emotions are high and then discuss later about how we could do things differently next time, and what is not ok to say to mummy. Perfect plan, Emily.
My daughter disregards all this however, and more angry crying comes my way, along with a refusal to move, and she now appears to be completely lost to reason. Her arms and legs tensing up as her whole body struggles to deal with all the built up anger and frustration.
This is all happening right next to the schools only exit. No parent leaving the school can miss this now. She lies down, her anger changing to sobbing. I take this as my cue to cuddle her, I put my hand on her arm. ‘Don’t touch me!’
Oh wow, on top of my ever increasing embarrassment comes a big dose of rejection… I’m getting very near my limit of kindness and calm now, I can feel my own tears coming.
Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.
My little boy takes my attention for a second when he starts kicking the wall asking ‘Will this wall fall down if I kick it? Look at the crack mummy, can I make it crack more?’
‘Don’t kick the wall please darling. I just need to help your sister, she’s sad, just be patient for a minute- want a flapjack snack?’ only a slight tone of desperation in my voice but thankfully he takes my offering.
Although I did wonder if a kicked down wall might actually distract people away from this display of emotion from my daughter, who now happens to have her face on the actual pavement shouting into the ground about her doll and how stupid I am. Ground please swallow me up. Tears are definitely building now and and I look up for some help and every. Single. Mum. Looks away.
Unbelievable lack of mumaraderie- make mental note to remember that phrase for later on when I can properly process this horror. (On reflection, I imagine my audience of parents didn’t want me to feel embarrassed or watched, but in my irrational state it felt like more rejection.)
Scoop up the bags and coats, attempt to scoop up my daughter messily, ask my littliest to come along with a voice full of tears. He can tell I’m about to break, and so he walks like the best behaved child you ever knew. Gives me a cuddle every few minutes to help get me home.
When safely out of sight of the school, my daughter realises that she has perhaps over reacted a little and maybe even been a bit rude to me in the process and asks in a hopeful tone ‘Can we start a new day mum?’
I’m not ready for that.
But because i’m trying to be a good mum I say weakly, ‘Yes OK’ but she knows we are far from mended from my lack of warmth and eye contact, and I don’t want to mend us yet. I actually feel like I might take her home to my husband and then take a flight to another country with my littliest and start a new life.
I would rather escape then then go back to the playground tomorrow. Or have to think about trying to help my daughter respond differently next time. But mostly I would rather run away then have to deal with all this discomfort in myself.
Parent shame affects me so badly. Its like a black cloud of bleakness starts to cover over my mind, and rational thinking leaves me. I feel rejection on top of ‘you are not good enough’ on top of ‘you can’t parent’.
When we feel shame, we feel vulnerable and alone and like there is something wrong with who we are, and that’s when we most need connection and acceptance. We need to know we are loved despite our mistakes or struggles, and sometimes we just need a friendly smile or a helping hand while our child melts down.
If we can start to see each other and ourselves with compassion and empathy, we can help to dissolve the shame we feel. When we understand why we feel like we do, or why our child acts like they do we can then respond in kindness.
Its like walking a tightrope to parent my little girl at times, but I also know it feels like walking a tightrope for her to be her. I know she struggles with regulating her emotions and she struggles when her stuff gets broken, or sometimes even just touched by others.
I don’t take the outbursts so personally when I have no one watching, I find I can respond better, think more clearly. And yet when confronted with a situation in public, the comparison of every other ‘managing’ child, the frustration at her that she can’t cope, plus the fear of judgement all comes crashing in and I cant seem to connect with her in the same way or even parent in the way I want. I lose confidence to be firm with her, in case she doesn’t respond. Afraid to publicly fail even more.
But if I don’t allow shame to dictate how I respond, I can think clearly and parent from a more secure stable place. I can be firm and boundaried, but still compassionate and gentle as I seek to keep the connection between us.
Shame can make us do all kinds of things we don’t want to. It can make us more outwardly angry causing us to overreact in our response, perhaps shouting or making threats to avoid embarrassment of the behaviour. And it can make us freeze and not do anything, losing confidence in ourselves and abilities.
I lost confidence and became overwhelmed by the perceived rejection and judgement, and I felt like I was on my own. After I had calmed down a bit, I knew that I needed to connect with the people who know and love me (and the wild one!) So I messaged a friend and my wonderful mum and they helped me laugh at the drama of it all. My shame was dissolved by their acceptance.
My daughter is so strong and wonderful in so many ways. She makes me be the best that I can be often by showing up the very worst in me. I have sometimes cared more about what people think of me then about how she is and what she needs, and I struggle to separate out her behavior from my ability to parent. Her outburst that day didn’t mean I failed, she (and I) just lacked the skills to manage in that moment and I will remember this next time and forget everyone else.
God has made my wonderful girl like she is for a reason with passion and fire, and I’m grateful I get to be her mum and have the privilege of helping her to channel it. She is a work in progress, like the rest of us- nothing to be ashamed of in that.