It has to be.
Take this scene, for instance. My daughter is overtired, wired, and afraid of a bad dream and I am attempting to coax her to sleep despite all of this. I have read two long children’s books, activated two night lights, closed the window, and refilled her cup with cold water the way she likes it. I tell her that she won’t have a bad dream (I don’t know that) and that Mommy and Daddy are in the room next door so no bad guys will get her (another concern of hers). She reluctantly takes the chill pill, but throws it back 20 minutes when she yells "Mommy!" I am already in the bath.
Next, J tries to lull her to sleep. She knocks over stuffed animals and hollers with a red face. She is a force at 4 and a half.
“She screamed at me to get out. It was kind of mean.” J admitted as I settled in next to him. These two sentences leapt at me. Because, when I’m angry, I’ve also been mean to him and so I'm instantly defensive. But, I saved us an argument by not indulging the flare that provoked in me. I am starting to understand that Willow directs something different at each of us.
With me, she can be sulky and sullen. She will pull her curly hair over her eyes and become the saddest child I’ve ever seen. And it doesn’t matter if I have a good reason to deny her the $100 stuffed animal at the boutique kids store in Battery Park City, I will still feel the residual daily guilt that comes from not being able to cannot change her. Hers is a self that is fiercely emotional, enduringly kind and alternatively pissed off. She was born into a fractured situation where I was still spewing the bitterness of having been left during my pregnancy. I was grappling with my inability to fix a manic depressive; the person who made her. Her moodiness is what makes her lovable because she feels so much and it is definitely a mixed bag.
With J, she sulks less and screams more. And as per exhibit A above, these scream sessions have increased in frequency in recent weeks leading to nightly discussions between J and I about how to correct her behavior. We talk with her a lot about the correct way to treat us, we’ve taken away certain privileges, and we’ve tried to emphasize that there are consequences. But deep down, I know that it is all flimsy theater at best and probably just ineffective because it is all at the surface. There is an illusion to parenting that is handed down vertically through generations and horizontally via peers: we are trying to get a person to adulthood unscathed, but we are all very beat up ourselves.
It breaks my heart because I always feel my ineptness, frustration, and unworthiness as a parent. Those are always hovering when I kneel down to her crying face. I want to make it alright but loving a child isn’t that much different than loving anything else. It requires a certain dose of pain to keep you always moving toward the light.