Crosspost: Teaching My Son the Lessons I Didn’t Learn
HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on May 12, 2013.
Much to my surprise, I’m finding motherhood to be incredibly therapeutic.
Part of it is certainly that I have felt far more socially connected since my son’s birth than at any other time in my life. Ironic, I know, but true. I feel incredibly supported by my friendships with other parents, accepted for who I am, and inspired to grow. Finally experiencing the social connection that I desperately craved for my entire childhood has increased my self-esteem and has decreased my issues with depression, which in turn helps me feel like a better mother.
But more specifically, as a mother, I feel like all the kindness and love that I pour into my son’s life is somehow healing my own childhood wounds. I see him learning the lessons that I wish I had learned myself as a child, and I feel at peace.
He is learning, right from the start, that his feelings are important. As a toddler, he has so many feelings, which often appear suddenly and catch both of us off guard. My job as a parent is to help him learn to recognize his feelings, to validate his feelings, and to direct him toward an appropriate action to manage his feelings. For us, that means when he’s expressing an emotion, I get down at his level and say things like, “Sweetie, are you feeling sad/upset/angry because _______? Awww!” And then I suggest an appropriate comforting/distracting/calming activity. The most amazing thing to me is that, even as a toddler, he usually quiets down in order to listen to me name his emotion, and seems incredibly relieved just to be understood.
He is also learning that his opinions and desires are are worth expressing, even though at this age they sound like nothing more than him shouting, “No! No! No!” It’s up to me to help him phrase his opinions and wishes more clearly, because his “no” could mean anything from, “Don’t do that!” to “I don’t want to do that!” to “I want to do what you are doing” to “I want to have what you have.” Once we understand each other, we can decide how to proceed. But most importantly, I always try to praise him by saying something like, “Good job asking!” even when I have to delay or deny his wish.
Finally, he is also learning, along with me, about the importance of social connection and the joy that others can bring into our lives. He is not yet in pre-school, so as a stay-at-home mom I have to make a conscious effort to teach him this. We leave the house at least once every day, either for a playdate, coffee date, mommy & me class, park, children’s museum, library, or errand.
For myself, I know that I need to be around other people daily to avoid emotional flashbacks to the isolation of my youth.
For my son, I know that he needs to have a lot of early positive experiences with others and have a lot of opportunities to observe social interaction so that he can build his confidence for later social success. Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying. It gives me hope that my personal social weaknesses will not greatly limit him.
Seeing my son learn these three lessons has made my motherhood experience wonderful so far. I only hope, as Baby Boy #2 joins that family this fall, and as my boys get older and start school, that we will be able to continue building strong family relationships on this basic foundation.