For when I love you, but I don’t like you

For when I love you, but I don’t like you

Dear daughter, I thought I’d be writing this sort of letter to you when you were 14 years old, not four.

But then again, you’ve reminded me so much lately that there’s so much I don’t know about parenting. I have far more questions right now than I do answers.

But anything I do know is because of you. Because you have to teach me how to live and problem solve and get on. But right now what you’re teaching me, through scratches, stomping and screaming, is that parenting hurts.

There’s the physical reminders of this in my recessed crease between my brow, and there’s the countless grey spiky hairs atop my head. Each one made its appearance after your or your sister’s arrivals.

But it’s the emotional aspect that has me sitting here eating ice cream at 9am. Right here and now, it’s the only coping I can muster. This is me doing my best.

For only being four years old, you know so much of anger. For four years old, you know rage. You can go from zero to one hundred so fast. And my reflexes are far slower.

You scare me sometimes. Because when you’re throwing your one-hour tantrums about getting dressed in the morning, there’s nothing I can say or do to calm you down. There’s nothing I can do to control your emotions.

I can’t. I simply can’t control you.

You tell me I’m the maddest mom. That I use the mad voice too much.

You tell me you want a new mom.

And that kills me.

Because better than anyone, I know your joy. I know your silly side and I know your sweetness, too.

But lately those feelings seem to have been lost.

Like the match to your favourite sock, I am desperate to find your joy again. Because when you struggle so do I. When you struggle your dad struggles. When you struggle, your sister, in turn, does not get the parent she deserves.

We all deserve happiness.

But our feelings, of late, are so strong. So strong that even though I’m the adult, and you the child, I’m the one brought to tears in these situations, screaming at you to understand my feelings. When I do this, it perpetuates your screaming, but at my wit’s end, I scream too.

Because you hurt my feelings, too. You make me sadder than any sad I’ve ever felt.

And as you know, the emotion sad is just the brand name on front of the suitcase. Inside it, brimming, are its true contents of guilt, confusion, shame, betrayal and failure.

You may not be able to define that last one right now, but I sure can.

Because when you’re throwing things at your bedroom wall, I’m failing you. When you’re purple in the face, I’m failing you. When you’re hitting me in frustration, I’m failing you.

And I go to bed every night wondering what I can do differently tomorrow. I go to bed feeling I’ve got nothing left to give today, but hoping I will tomorrow.

I’ll always wonder how it could have been different. Because as you get older, you’ll come to discover there are a cruel amount of answers to any given problem- literally a million ways to handle any given situation. More often than not, it seems I’m choosing my answers poorly.

Sometimes I give in when maybe I shouldn’t in your endless quest for “just this time.” And sometimes I don’t when maybe I should when you ask for ‘just one more.”

Putting you in the car naked this morning to go to school seemed like an answer. It was what that impulsive side of me told me to do, though cold rain fell on my bare feet, and your bare body, as I carried you out, urging me to turn back. Thankfully my rational side came back moments later, when I plucked you and your tiny, rosy goosebumped body, just moments later.

I wish you didn’t know that pushed to the edge of insanity side of me, yet. I wish I didn’t know her, either. But dear child, you’ve introduced me to more sides of myself than I could ever have imagined.

And some of those sides I am anything but proud of.

We spew words at you like selfishness, respect and cooperation, but you still need help unpacking your emotions before you can come to understand these themes.

When I cry into your pillow that I’m not perfect, that’s probably the realest part of me right now, the honest part, the saddest part. That’s me trying to show you it’s ok to have feelings, and that you needn’t pretend you don’t. And that I, like you, have trouble handling things, too.

Because I have trouble setting limits, and I have trouble with consistency. So for that, I am sorry.

They say you get the kid you need to have, and you, my lifelong lesson, are a lesson that kicks my ass on the daily. And right about now I am just struggling, like you, to get through my test.

But no, for the 10th time, it doesn’t mean I love you any less, or that I love Millie more. There’s just so much to you, for being only four years old. So much more of you to figure out than changing a diaper or strapping you on my back for a rest.

You are complex, and my love for you is, too.

I have not and will not give up on trying to understand you, though you’ve come to know lately, that it’s not easy for me.

I know I’m not always going to pull off wins at this parenting thing, but my commitment to you is to continue to do better as I know better, and keep trying all the way along.

This season in your life is hard, and I am sorry for that sweet girl.

But I hope we can look back on it as learning.

So keep helping me. Help me help you find the joy.


14 Responses to For when I love you, but I don’t like you

  1. Sweet Whitney, this is my life and my sorrow too. Everyday with my four year old boy. The gut wrenching struggle between my emotions and his own, between the sweetness of my youngest and the pain I’ve somehow placed in my oldest. How on earth can I teach him to regulate his emotions and soften his communication when almost everything about him makes my tears flow and my words sharpen? It is some kind of cruel test from the universe, the way that I can see so clearly what I’m doing wrong yet am powerless to find another way. At least, not yet. Know that I am there with you, down in the trenches of the battle to do it better, even just for one day! 💜
    Love, Vera

  2. I could hardly finish this Whitney , it brought me to tears remembering my stabs at parenting my toddlers , how guilty I felt when I lost my cool . All those feelings came back reading this . You are not alone , we do the best we can with what we’ve got. Love your stories and confessions , keep them coming .

    • Rhodena, thank you! Every day is so different- that one was particularly, well, bad, but then the next was fine. Roller coaster of life.

  3. Wow! This mirrors myself in so many ways. Today was particularly rough and I told my husband I would like to get professional councilling just to get some strategies that don’t involve yelling, tears and mean comments towards someone I love most in the world. Sigh! How will this little human grow up to be a happy, successful individual? I only hope I can help her get there.

  4. Ugh. Right in the feels. This post made me squirm with recognition. It’s so true: sometimes I look at M and think, oh to still be in that stage with A where I feel like I haven’t royally fucked up yet. I look at her and I wonder if she’ll remember the struggles, the screaming, the part where I feel those really complex feelings of love and loathing at the same time. I hope I haven’t damaged her in some way. Part of me wonders if I have.

  5. You so eloquently wrote the frustrations, trials and errors, and love that can be jam packed into one day. Thank you. Motherhood is much more difficult than I pictured all those days longing for it to become a reality. It always feels good knowing we are not alone in this…and we will look back on this time and smile with nolgestic awe. I hope anyway 🙂

  6. Wow, Whitney, your writing is so powerful, insightful, reflective and honest. I can see how your willingness to make yourself vulnerable invites in others who are in the same situations. I think I may have mentioned this when we met last that my least
    favorite age was the 4-5-6 years (with all 4 children). The teen years certainly had trials, but something about 4-6 was almost more emotionally draining. In my mind children reach the point at this age where they figure they should be independent; they are, in fact, developing in more public ways into individuals. Combine the process of trying to exert some independence with powerful emotions that somehow need to be expressed within a limited repertoire of channels. I read that it is beneficial to think of how children have the same powerful emotions that adults have, but so much less experience in what to do with them.
    I always recall what someone told me at the beginning of my motherhood- children will take you to the extremes of your emotions. That certainly has come back to me time and time again.
    Hang in there!

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