I’ve been hearing stories all week of obnoxious behaviour from children towards their mothers. I’ve heard stories about kids of all ages, boys and girls, from toddlers to teenagers, and it kicked off with a piece I read in the paper by Rachel Cusk, about teenage girls treating their mothers with contempt. It was this sentence about overhearing their conversations that jumped out at me:
“Their mothers are known as “she.” When I first heard about “she,” I was slightly puzzled by her status, which was somewhere between servant and family pet. “She” came in for a lot of contempt, most of it for acts of servitude and attention that she didn’t appear to realize were unwanted, like a spurned lover continuing to send flowers when the recipient’s affections have moved elsewhere. She’s such a doormat, one of them says.” (italics mine).
I think this little snippet should be handed out to all mothers of young children as a warning and a counter to all the pressure you will feel FROM THE WHOLE OF SOCIETY to perform those acts of servitude and attention – which may be just as unwanted by your two-year-old as by your teenager, it’s just that toddlers don’t have the language to express it yet, they just kick and scream.
(I do of course think that we should look after our children. Don’t get me wrong).
What we don’t need to do is sacrifice ourselves or give up our own needs entirely to service the needs of our child. Too much help creates dependency and dependency leads to resentment. Too much serving and we become subservient.
Sometimes I despair when I read parenting advice full of suggestions about ways we can prioritize our children, as if we mothers haven’t already been socialized throughout our lives to think of others first and put ourselves last. As if we don’t already feel guilty for not giving our kids enough and not being perfect mothers! And as if kids actually need all this focused input from us.
There is great pressure on the ‘good mother’ to understand what’s behind her children’s obnoxious behaviour and ‘help them with it.’ I think that’s ridiculous; you’re expected to take the abuse (which is upsetting) and then WORRY ABOUT THE CHILD (and in searching for the reasons for the behaviour you might even end up blaming yourself as an added bonus). Can you imagine the same advice given if you were dealing with a partner who was disrespectful, aggressive or abusive? I know children are smaller, but the principle is the same, it doesn’t help to try and understand the ‘reasons,’ what helps is to just not put up with it. Do we really think our kids are too fragile to deal with that?
It’s not like we need to learn to care about our kids, we do that anyway; what we could do with is a bit of help in just allowing ourselves to be really pissed off when they behave like little shits.