My 5 year-old boy is going through a very rough stage- at least it is for us. He is defiant, disrespectful and mouthy. Needless to say, we spend much of our time reacting to his negative behavior- scolding him via time-outs, suspension of privileges, etc.
At first, I’d allow his unruliness to get under my skin and upon disciplining him would end up frazzled and stressed out. I knew something wasn’t right when I’d find myself suffering with unbearable migraines caused by internalizing his naughtiness. Thus, my new strategy is that of stoicism as I try not to engage him in conversation while he’s delusional or irrational.
The other night I was putting my 2 year-old to sleep and I overheard my mother, who lives next door and lends a hand when hubby travels, yelling at my son and condemning his horrendous behavior. He had unleashed a nasty tongue upon her when she attempted to corral him to bed. I just listened.
There I lay still as a cadaver, in the darkness of the night along side my baby girl. Slowly, a few repressed painful memories began to emerge. Memories of how my mother, who at the time was going through her own personal hell, would whip out a mouthful of hardcore rejections in reaction to my misconduct. I remember how it burned to hear my mother use such cruelty with me. At times, it led me to believe that my birth alone had ruined her life. As a kid, I didn’t know anything substantial about her marriage, just that I caused her more grief than she was capable of handling.
Now as a woman with “feisty” children of my own, I recognize how hard it is to parent insolent, spirited children. It’s utterly draining. In retrospect, I now understand the whole picture- she was miserable and felt trapped in a marriage to a man she did not love. And that fact alone contaminated her mothering judgment and polluted her techniques. That is not my case, but that was my example.
To know something intellectually is one thing. To transfer your knowledge into learned instinctual behavior is another level- perhaps an accomplishment for Deepak Chopra or some other guru. Mistakenly, I thought I was immune to some of the dysfunctions of my upbringing- I was more loving, softer, more patient… and happier overall with my life. That was until I heard her shouting at him and it sounded all too familiar.
Now, the truth is out. Nine years into this parenting thing, I must come to terms with the reality that I DO channel what I learned under her roof. Just that I didn’t know it until my child pushed every single one of my buttons. All at once.
I wanna fight this tendency and break the cycle. I don’t want to say hurtful things to my boy even when he looks me in the eyes with hatred and tells me how he wants to leave. I need to remain unaffected. I don’t want to cause him any more emotional damage than that which he causes himself with his own fictitious theories.
Patterns are so hard to break. I’ve studied psychology formally, read countless self-help books, yet this factor called learned behavior is extremely potent- especially when absorbed during the impressionable early years of life. Now I accept that the ugliness must have been there all along- dormant yet waiting patiently just below the surface.
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