I just finished deconstructing “The Little Engine that Could.” It had me thinking about the things we tell our children and the things we don’t. The things we show them and the things we don’t. For years, my role as a parent has been a balancing act of secreting certain information and thrusting out nuggets of truth. For a long time I felt like the parenting version of 007. Sneaking into the pantry to devour a cookie that children did not know existed, hiding tears in a bathroom and watching them play on the playground, while contemplating whether I was really marriage material.
If my children only knew…
In my life, there are two categories that will forever remain distinct. Before being hospitalized for mental illness and after being hospitalized.
Before vs. After
If I were to summarize this distinction into something other than time demarcations, then I would describe the difference like this.
Withholding vs. Advancing
Before, when I withheld, I thought that I was too much for the world. I had too much feeling, too much anxiety, too much enthusiasm, too much giftedness. During all of this, I also felt that I was not enough. I did not have enough discipline, organization, self-compassion, resilience. What a paradox! No wonder I wanted to end things.
Now, I think there is probably no such thing as too much or not enough. Everything is simply a matter of perspective. Am I too much for people with religious, conservative views? Maybe, but my mother and sister don’t think so. Am I not enough for non-religious, liberals? Maybe, but my best friend doesn’t seem to think so.
I’ve also come to realize that, for me, the idea of being too much comes from outside of me. The idea of being not enough comes from within me. All of the things I know that I am will be judged by the world. And all of the things that I doubt that I am, will be judged by me. Before, I tried to resolve the problem by hiding. After, I am trying to resolve the problem by recognizing that the ways I am not enough – are the things I need. I need more routine and self-discipline in my life. I need more organization in my life. I need more self-care in my life. It’s not that I am not enough. It’s that I don’t HAVE enough of certain things. Now, after, I try to give myself those things.
I see all of this play out in my parenting as well. Before, I hid things from my children – to protect them, to avoid them, to be perfect in front of them. After, I reveal things to my children so that I can advance their knowledge.
I say, “Children, there are cookies in the pantry. I want to eat one, but I am not going to because I know that it isn’t healthy. I don’t want to set a bad example for you.”
Sometimes, I say instead, “Children, there are cookies in the pantry. I want to eat one, even thought its bad for me. Do you want to eat one too or do you want to make a healthy decision right now? You can decide what is right for you.” I’ll never forget the first time I did this. One of them actually said ‘no’ to cookies! Who knew?
Now, I cry in front of them. Sometimes I tell them why and sometimes I say that I don’t want to talk about it. But they know that it is okay to cry – to cry in front of people and talk about it, as well as not talk about it too. No one has to cry alone, not even moms.
I also tell them when I doubt myself. I tell them when I’m not sure I’m being a good parent, but that this is the best I know to do right now. I tell them if I’m worried I’m not a very good wife, but that daddy says I am and so I will take him at his word. I tell them when I’m taking risks and feel fearful. I tell them when I’m playing it safe too.
In this way, I do not withhold from them. I only advance their understanding of the world.
And in this way, I do not withhold life from myself, but rather advance into new territories.
Before vs. After