Some mornings I ignore email until my kids are in their classrooms and I have returned, coffee in hand, to sit at my laptop at the kitchen counter. Others, I am unable to keep my fingers off my phone the moment I wake. I am curious those mornings after I have published a post, and excited; I receive many emails from other parents (mostly moms and mostly supportive) who are eager to share their own stories, many who want to thank me for my honesty, and others who are seeking personalized advice. Writing for this specific audience, and being reachable via social media and e-mail, is a great responsibility; and when I fail in my own life, I fail all of us. Or so it feels.
Recently I wrote about how I became a “softer” parent because I realized how great the stakes were: my own children were modeling my harsh words and behaviors; my years of self-abuse had armed me with vicious words, unrealistic expectations; what I demanded of myself seeped into relationships with my children, and the dynamics were becoming toxic.
The response was humbling. So many asked for more details, more specifics from me. How did I use yoga? Did therapy work? Why kind of therapy? What meditation? What medications? Please, could you write back? I began several emails and stopped. I wanted to take time to answer questions with thought and accuracy. But there was a weakness when I started to write, a vague tug of something that had been left unsaid.
Right after that post was published, my husband left on a two-week business trip; New York City had a bad snow storm; then my son was sick with asthma complications for days; several of us got pink eye.
During that time, it seems I was not so soft. I was pissed. There was no time for me to work, or no energy when there was time. I wanted the peace of bad television and self-pity. I felt trapped, irrationally, but there you have it. And I fell quickly into the decades-old habit of blaming myself for my feelings.
Not only was I letting my family down, now there were scores of readers, I imagined, waiting for me to respond to their sincere inquiries. Their emails and comments had meant so much but what could I say? In theory, I know what to do. But when things get tough, like when my husband goes away, I revert to all my old ways…
I tried to write through my self-doubts but nothing gelled. So I silenced the keyboard for a few weeks and doubled down on yoga and exercise to silence the voices in my head. I sought inspiration in simple meditation apps on the iPhone. And I found wine still helped.
And then as the snowy New York days cocooned us, life nudged me toward a hard truth. Just as I had been writing about healing. Just as I had said humility was so crucial in the process of becoming a different kind of parent: one who pauses, one in whom mercy has been introduced and nurtured. It struck just as I had questioned whether I could really feel softness for myself again, but not in any way I expected.
I exploded in anger one night at my oldest when she wrote on a new leather chair. I demanded she tell me just who she thought she was destroying this new chair! I put her to bed promising she would be grounded for what she had done, amid very familiar parenting guilt and vaguely familiar shame from all my own past mistakes.
I sat grimly for hours after she went to bed. I wished I’d been different with her. But more, I felt knocked over, knocked off a perch to which I had been clinging with ferocious fear. I didn’t want to fail at this. When she woke in the night for water, I walked her back to her room. “You know I will not stop loving you no matter what you do. It’s just a chair.”
I repeated myself in the morning.
“Yes, I know, mommy. You told me. It’s okay. Really.”
Forgiveness was the only option. It always is. I had already forgiven her. It is just a chair.
Returning to my readers, I wish this were a process of steady trajectory. For my sake but more for theirs. I wish it were an easier story to tell. At the same time, however, I know that I am not a simple equation; my path represents parenting for many of us. When readers share their lives and brave questions with me, I often read in tears. I am reminded how much we must love the broken, the bent, the endlessly confused, the parts of us that have been shamed; I regret and then I forgive, daily. And then I am genuinely shocked when I must do it again. So arrogant are my pride and fear. Why can’t I be done with it? But we are never done; it is not when we overcome our faults that we get permission to be soft, but rather when we embrace the entire clumsy journey to get there.