I had an emotional experience at my Mom's group yesterday. We watched a DVD by Christian comedian and author Julie Barnhill called She's Going to Blow. It was about anger in mothers and ideas for managing our own rage with our children. It was hilarious in spots, but cut me quite literally to the core when she talked about her difficult relationship with her son.
She said she wanted to fix him, from the time he was born, believing firmly that something was wrong with him because he was so difficult. She went to a seminar when her son was two and a half years old, specifically choosing a session on children's temperaments, with the intention of diagnosing his problems and solving them to make him easier to get along with.
In the seminar, she ticked off all of the boxes that described her own temperament, and then went on to do her son's. She was astonished to discover that the columns were virtually identical. She experienced that "aha!" moment where she recognized that nothing was wrong with her son, except that his personality was basically the same as his mother's.
I had a similar moment this summer, where I finally found the courage to take a hard look at myself and confront the reality of what I was doing to my innocent son. I was withholding a very big part of myself from him, with the best intentions in the world, but logical explanations don't mean much to a small child.
I was deathly afraid of William's need for me, and I wanted to toughen him up so he wouldn't move into adulthood like so many boys who never quite outgrow a clingy relationship with their mother. I wanted him to stand strong, apart from me, but I was quite literally pushing him away from me since he was born, and refusing to take responsibility for my own actions and fears.
When someone asked me this summer, "What would happen if you gave him what he wants from you?" it was like sunlight streaming into a dark and lonely place. Immediately I could breathe a little deeper, and look at it from another angle. What I was doing wasn't working - I was creating a more fearful child and not doing my base job as a mother, to make my children feel loved, safe and secure.
Once I changed, William changed, and the black and white landscape between us took on hues of vibrant colour. We still have setbacks, and will continue to have them as long as we are both alive, but I learned that I can face my fears, take ownership of them, and change the steps to the dysfunctional dance we had established.
It was one of the biggest changes of my life, and watching the DVD brought it back to me, with tears right at the surface, and I couldn't wait to flee when it was over and have a good cry. Guilt over what we can't change is a useless exercise. All we can do is embrace the changes as they come, and forgive ourselves for our own brokenness and pain. I would love to go back to the day I first held him in my arms and do it all differently, but that option isn't open to me. All I can do is tell him, "I'm sorry," forgive myself for my own frailties and mistakes, and do better from this point forward.