These are some first draft thoughts I think about a lot. Would be interested in hearing yours.
You know, I thought this would be much easier than it is. I thought that having a child who was very like me would make parenting a breeze. When I imagined the slammed doors and hurtful arguments of the future (still mostly in the future, thank goodness), I pictured an angry teenager whose depths and fathoms I didn’t fully understand, so couldn’t empathise with.
It’s not like that at all.
H and I are cut from the same cloth. When we do the personality tests in my parenting books (more on those later) we come out with the same numbers. We’re not carbon copies of each other, of course, because no two people are. He is only four, and has years of change ahead of him. But when I look at him and see stubbornness, social awkwardness, fear and words and quickness and bossiness and insecurity coupled with an absolute belief in his own authority, I recognise those things in myself. My four-year-old self as well as my grown-up self. The best of me and the worst. Which makes it all rather difficult.
This is what I think it does: it makes parenting a loaded process. It becomes a matter of bias. I’m not seeing his strengths and faults just as they are, in him: they come with a lifetime of feelings already attached. When I find strengths in him that I recognise, I am overly invested in encouraging him in that direction. And that’s not too bad, but when it comes to the weaknesses we share – when I know how much bother they’ve caused me over the years, when I see things in him I would rather not even see in myself – I am desperate for him to cut them loose. I want him to do better than I did. I want this so badly that I am more likely to lose my temper, less likely to be understanding.
Isn’t that strange? Where I should be the most understanding – because these are things I still struggle with myself – I am the most impatient. Because it’s so much harder to be detached about them. Because they mean something to me, outside and apart from what they mean to him.
I am often parenting from a place of fear and anxiety, in other words, not just love.
It’s been interesting to start covering some of the same ground with T, who is a different creature entirely. His energy is all outward and active, his emotions simpler and louder. I find it so much easier to comprehend him, and to be detached about his bad days. His tantrums are exhausting, but they’re not emotional (for me). They don’t hold the key to a character flaw that will ruin him. They’re just tantrums. He’s two, and they’ll pass.
I’ve never been able to be so blasé with H. Ever. Partly because he’ll always be my learning curve, bless him; that’s the curse of the eldest child. Whatever phase he’s in, it’s the first time I’ve seen it. But partly because I invest every last thing he does with meaning. Which doesn’t tend to be good for either of us.
I would be worried about this pattern (ok, I DO worry), except that patterns can be rewoven, and noticing them is the first step to doing it (right? Right?!).
I think he deserves to make his own mistakes – that aren’t a type of mine, whatever I might think, but his very own. I can’t swoop in and protect him from every difficulty, no matter how much I want to. He needs to grow in his own space, as himself, without the weight of my expectation and anxiety.
I’m going to try harder to let him be himself. If we end up being able to bond over a cheery fondness for semicolons, that’s a good result but not essential. And for T, well: I’m going to buy some earplugs, probably. And hug them both more. And apologise more. And tell them I love them until they get sick of hearing it.
I don’t think it will ever stop being a work-in-progress.