You know that woman whose kids are endlessly pleasant? She had six children in six years, homeschooled them all even before the virus. The kids cheerfully help with dishes, chores, cleaning, yard work. They go to bed without being told, get up without being asked, do their homework, say thank you. The older ones take joy in caring for their younger siblings. Each of the six kids is well mannered, polite to adults, respectful of strangers. Have you met the woman I’m talking about?
This blog is not for her.
This newsletter is for parents of actual children in 2020, parents who have had imperfect thoughts, reflections including but not limited to “NO WE ARE NOT THERE YET AND FOR A DOLLAR I WOULD LEAVE YOU BY THE SIDE OF THE ROAD AND NOT LOOK BACK UNTIL I WAS HOME IN BED NAPPING UNINTERRUPTED FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE MATERNITY.
In this newsletter, therefore, I will try to address the question, “why do your children make you clinically insane to the point where you feel like asking a judge to grant you a restraining order for yourself?”
Scenario 1: Daria divorced Albert’s father when he was two. (Albert was 24 months old. I have no information regarding the age of Daria’s ex.) Albert is now 15 and struggles with executive functioning. His backpack looks like it was left out in the rain. Albert’s quotidian remark is, “we don’t have any homework and besides I already did it.” Albert’s disorganization and lack of planning are legend. Albert does not wake up for school unless and until his mother sprays him with a water bottle.
Daria, A successful professional, is beside herself. She screams at Albert to take out the garbage, walk the dog, do his homework, go to bed, remember where he put anything, clean his room, put his plate in the dishwasher. When Albert lost his key to their penthouse apartment for the 11th time, his mother let him sleep in the lobby. Her frustration is geological. Her resting state is seething from which she frequently and seamlessly escalates.
Daria believes that Albert models his harmful traits from his father, her ex-husband. A successful businessman who has a staff of people to keep him organized, remind him of meetings, get him to the airport on time, he also would misplace his head were it not securely attached. Daria points out that with all those highly compensated support people, Daria’s husband still manages to forget to send his child support payment on time. With each successive day that the check does not arrive, more smoke comes out of Daria’s ears. Daria’s yelling at Albert which is DEF CON 3 by the time Albert gets up late, can’t find his clothes, and has no time to inhale breakfast, intensifies as they leave the house late for school. Again.
Could Daria’s frustration with her son be traced back directly to Daria’s grievances with her ex?
Because I don’t think Albert modeled any of his father’s behaviors. Albert hasn’t lived with his father for three consecutive weeks since he was a toddler. (Again, since Albert was a toddler.)
Dario screams at Albert incessantly. In reality, she is hurling invective at Albert’s father. Albert and his disorganization are close at hand. Whereas Albert’s actual father is living happily ever after across the country with a new wife and new baby. Albert is just the conduit—an unhappy piece of pipe at that.
“Of course, our parents know how to push our buttons,” Paul Reiser remarked in “Mad about You.” “They installed them.”
Our children exhibit traits of folks with whom we currently share or previously shared bonds of genetics or canoodling. Delusional people mistake healthcare professionals for threatening bears. (“I’m 5’ 2”, I look nothing like a 450-pound Kodiak” remarks a social worker in a psychiatric hospital.) Misguided parents attribute unwanted characteristics of their exes as belonging to their kids.
As always, the strategy is the same: understanding and graciousness are more likely to have a long-range positive impact than thermonuclear shrieking. If Daria were to stop yelling at Albert, Albert would still not be able to produce homework assignment involving lengthy, written answers. Indeed, Albert would still be a disorganized mess. But he would no longer be an abused, sad, disorganized mess. Something to be said for that.
Be with us for a subsequent newsletter in which the subject of what to do when your children’s negative characteristics remind you not of your ex but of yourself. Fasten your seatbelts.