The kid in me is an idealist. His ideals cause a lot of pain because reality can never live up to them. I understand why he created these ideals. So much was missing that he needed to close his eyes and dream of a different sort of life. In this imaginary life he has a loving, empathic all-knowing mother and a warm, attentive and playful father. In this life other kids like him. He’s not overweight. He’s not awkward. He gets to play with the other children instead of getting teased. He’s a sweet child, so I think he wants everyone else to have this as well. Still, he’s a child–so he’s selfish in the way that even the sweetest kids are.
It is a sort of narcissistic fantasy (appropriately narcissistic developmentally) that the kid created in order to survive. The problem is that when the kid runs the show I can’t quite….be happy. At times I can barely even function. He’s almost always disappointed with the way his life is.
I’m not always the best at taking care of this kid. I let his idealism block my love. I wrap my arms around him and he says, “Get away. I want mommy!” I try to mother him with kind words and he says, “Go away, I want a real mommy!” And sometimes….sometimes I do get through to him and he runs off and plays and we live peacefully. But other times I just give up and let him run our lives. Like the “problem child” who ends up having way too much power in their household at too young of an age.
The truth is that sometimes I’m an abusive parent. He gets me so frustrated that I shame him or neglect him. Sometimes it’s the only thing I can do to get through the day. Especially a workday.
It may sound like I’m blaming my working life as an excuse for not doing a good job with him. Perhaps. It’s more complicated than that. A parent has a duty to take care of their kid regardless of their life circumstances. It’s what they signed up for when they decided to have one. But I certainly recognize how challenging it is when parents have to work in order to provide for the most basic needs (rent, medical insurance, car, etc).
I take care of us materially. I do whatever I can to make sure we have food and shelter and minimal luxuries. We don’t have or need too many toys but we have a TV and movies and books and games. In short, we don’t lack for anything substantial there. There is no real material neglect. I remember my parents (I point here to my adopted parents and father) constantly pointing out how lucky I was to have a home and clothes and toys. I get it–I had more than they did. They were doing their best and they were proud of how they provided. And I’m grateful to them for this. But it wasn’t enough. Neither is it enough that I take care of us in these limited ways.
I often feed the kid in the wrong ways in much the way that I was. I indulge him with food. I indulge him by giving him too much screen time. I have empathy for parents who lack firm boundaries; who indulge their children too much. So often it is the result of exhaustion. It’s the “easy” button–maybe he’ll stop crying for a second and we can have some peace! But it doesn’t help him grow up.
I am frequently tired (I’m referring to the adult now). I’m not special in this way. I have a job that revolves around helping others. It’s rewarding and exhausting. It’s especially exhausting during this painful and difficult time. I live alone. Grown-ups need hugs and special attention too. I don’t have daily doses of this type of connection. Of touch. So, I come home from work and I….well I do to my kid what my dad and grandparents so frequently did to me: I ignore him. I stick him in front of the television. I grunt that I am tired instead of tend to him. I play without inviting him to play with me. I leave him alone in his dark bedroom because it’s easier.
The kid has been running the show more frequently during this pandemic and time of social unrest. The adult is, understandably, tired, angry, and sad about the state of the world. No, it’s more than that. He’s aghast. He’s confused. He’s in pain. Again, I’m still talking about the adult. I don’t think these are unreasonable feelings. If an adult can barely withstand the pain of the world…imagine what the kid is going through.
Sometimes taking care of the inner kid can be like a Catch-22. Only I can satisfy him (when I get it right) and yet….my adult is also lacking in a lot. But it’s no excuse. I know that if I take care of the kid that the adult…well he’ll be sad. He’ll be angry. But he won’t feel like he can’t function in the world. He’ll be able to take in love. He’ll be okay. Perhaps a wee melancholic, but that can be lovely when the melancholy doesn’t morph into depression.
The kid has been leaning heavily into his idealistic fantasies for the past few months. He shrugs off my love and the love of others. He’s constantly saying, “NO! and running off into his room. The problem is that I leave him there too long. Just like I was left alone for too long. He can’t appreciate the love that is there because….well, there is no all-knowing perfectly empathic mother out there. There is no warm and always playful father out there. It’s just us. And I need to stay with him. And I’ll keep trying.