Tuesday, May 12, 2015

5 Reasons Why It's Good To Be Bad

1. It makes other mothers feel better about themselves, rather than worse. Wanna feel crappy? Read an article about some celebrity mom who wears a size zero and spouts garbage like,  “When I feel overwhelmed and think I might raise my voice at my child, I just remember to breathe.” Um. I'm sorry. What? 

2. It's funnier. The worst thing, I find, about moms who try really hard to be "good" all the time, and come close, is that they have no sense of humor. What could be more harmful to a child, I ask you? The irony! 

3. It makes you mysterious to your children, even if only for a moment, putting them in the position of being The Responsible Ones. Now, you don’t want to push this one too far at all (hint: getting drunk and arrested=way too far), but even just a moment where you lead your child to think you’re going to do something outlandish like eat the flowers in your neighbor's yard, or park your car in the middle of an intersection, turns the tables in a delightful way, and puts them on the defensive for once. I love the shocked expression and the "Mom! NO! What are you doing?!"

4. It's an act of rebellion, born of self love. If being good means torturing yourself into being perfect, then you've got to be bad in order to save yourself from that torture. It's simple self-defense! Your children will thank you for it. 

5. It mellows everyone out. Bad Mommies don’t take being a mom SOOO seriously. We’ve done this for thousands of years. We do have some healthy instincts. Put down that parenting manual and trust yourself for a second. Bad mommies don’t get hung up on every little mistake they make. This sends a message to their kids that they don’t have to get so hung up either. Welcome to humanity, people! Let's have some fun with it. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Bad Mommy Scares Children

"This is a picture of me at a Halloween party with my daughter and her friend. This was shortly before I began to get the feeling that not everyone appreciated my elaborate face paint. First, it was the funny looks from the other moms, all of whom, without exception, were dressed as witches. Not scary witches. Generic witches with pointy black hats and black or purple dresses. Their looks askance didn't bother me too much. I thought, Maybe they're jealous because their costumes aren't as interesting. 

"It was when three-and-a-half year old Romeo saw me from across the room and collapsed in tears on the floor that I thought, Hmm. Maybe I've overdone it a bit. When little Charley Mae, not yet two years old, began to visibly shake from the safety of her mother's lap, and yell, summoning her limited vocabulary, "GO 'WAY! GO 'WAY!" I had to face facts. I had seriously misjudged the situation. I had gone too far. These mothers were looking at me, not with envy, but with justified concern. I was scaring the children."

That's an excerpt from an essay I wrote, The Other Mother, and posted on my blog, Advanced Studies in Inner Work, in 2009. I reposted it last Halloween, and am posting it again this year with some additional follow up thoughts. 

Now, if you've ever actually really scared a child, you know it doesn't feel good. For example, I have a friend who found himself outside his living room window one night after taking the trash out. He saw his young son inside, playing, completely unaware that he was being watched. In an impulsive moment, he thought it would be funny to press his face up against the window, thus distorting his features in a ghastly way, and knock. His child looked up, turned white as sheet and then broke down sobbing helplessly. It took more than a few minutes to restore the child's central nervous system to health. The horror! For the dad!  Right? 

It's difficult to explain what I think happened on the Halloween of my embarrassing miscalculation, but I do mark it as the moment Bad Mommy was born, and I wanted to share the memory and the essay itself as a way of saying 1. Happy Halloween! and 2. Have you ever scared the crap out of your child accidentally? Please share. Finally, 3. Do you have a costume idea that would pay some homage to your worst fears of what you could be if you were the worst mom ever? (Drunk, mean, scary?)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

We All Fall Down

When my husband and I first separated, I went through a dark period. I remember being with my five year old daughter at that time, and inside my head, my inner critic was on a tear. It was so loud, I couldn't hear anything else. I felt panicked at the awareness that I couldn't even hear the words my child was saying to me as she chatted on about her day at school.

I wasn't lying on the floor with a bottle of gin, in the dark, or anything like that. I was just having a hard time listening to her many words, and employing the appropriate maternal responses such as the ever popular "smiling" and that good parenting classic, "looking interested." Outside my head, everything was going "blahblahblahblahblahblahblah," including my daughter. Inside my head, the voice was crisp and clear: You are a failure at marriage and relationships and now, because you feel so terrible about that, you can't even listen to your daughter. In addition to dealing with divorced parents, she is going to have to deal with you, her depressed, vacant mother. 

I was in so much pain I had to write down what I was thinking, to externalize it, in the hopes of clearing it out to create space for my actual self. When Elva asked me what I was writing, I shared an extremely watered down version of my pain so as not to scare her. I said something like, "I'll bet you wish you had a different mom right now." She said, "Mom, your head is wrong." I asked her what she meant. She said, "Your head is not right. That's not how I feel." Aside from the fact that I had just been diagnosed by my five year old daughter (see page 47 in the DSM V: Head Not Right), it also struck me as interesting that she wasn't thinking of getting rid of me and replacing me with (enter name of your favorite idealized mom here).

That was my projection. She just wanted me to come back and be the halfway normal mom she's gotten used to over the years. Which reminded me to remember for myself that even though right then I felt like Julianne Moore in The Hours, it would pass. It would absolutely pass. And I would be funny again, and present, and sane. On a good day, I would even be vaguely wise.

I also felt a sweet kind of heartache that even though I was kind of sucking at the moment, my daughter still wanted me. Me. Imperfect, occasionally pathetic, sometimes scary me. My inner critic prods,  What choice does she have? She's stuck with you. She doesn't have her driver's license. Yet.

Okay, yeah, that's true, but then again, driver's license or no driver's license, what choice do any of us have? We're all stuck with ourselves, for certain, and in many cases, each other. Many of us choose to be stuck with our mothers, no matter how screwed up they were or are. We even love them, as our children love us. This is a real blow to perfectionism, and I welcome it with open arms.

However, I don't want to be misconstrued as giving myself permission to be screwed up as a mother; nor am I suggesting that you shouldn't set healthy boundaries with your mother. We've all got to do our best to take good care of our inner children and our outer ones. But we all fall down from time to time, and it is then we must remember that being inspired by our children, and loving ourselves anyway, is the only sensible thing to do. Children who love themselves come from parents who show them how. So if you can't do it for yourself, do it for them.

Friday, May 18, 2012

What If Bad Mommy Gets Better?

Last week, for three days, I attained enlightenment. Laugh if you will, I am telling you, I was liberated from suffering. For three days. If you want to know what it was like, I'll tell you: I was without fear. I was at one with the belief that my true nature is happiness. I wasn't ungrounded. I didn't fall down and stop moving or forget to pick up Elva at school. I just knew that all I needed to do was experience my own innate joy and that all the mundane tasks I had to perform would naturally flow from that happy place, and when they did, they would just be part of the fun. I laughed with my daughter in a way I barely recognized. We sat on the floor throwing popcorn into each other's mouths, which we both found hilarious. I thought, "Holy shit. This might be the first time I've ever actually played with my child."It was truly Heaven.

 Interestingly, during those three days that felt like I had blessedly fallen into a pool of light, I actually had a flicker of concern about Bad Mommy. What would happen to my snarkiness and my 17.5 devoted followers if Bad Mommy attained enlightenment? Who would be bad for the moms who need a bad mom's confessions to make them feel better about themselves, and less alone? What kind of example would I be setting, being all happy and peaceful? Who would be irritable, exhausted, and short-tempered? Who would let the world know, "Hey! This motherhood shit is seriously hard!"

 And then, as mysteriously as the enlightenment had arrived, it left, and I was back to business as usual--tons of fear and anxiety about the future, multiple story lines that end with Elva in a straight jacket or dead, me alone and homeless, fighting to protect my shopping cart full of trash, naked, with a stick as my only weapon. In a dark alley. And everyone hates me.

So, I'm back. But I am, I think, a little lighter. Bad Mommy is not, essentially, contrary to enlightenment. In fact, just as Jung would predict, she is, as a shadowy figure, one of the keys to it. Bad Mommy exposes the truly dark goddess of perfectionism (Good Mommy) for what she is--an unhappy, uptight, self-harming killjoy who needs a big hug, a long cry, and a shot of bourbon, followed by a good night's sleep. Bad Mommy, God love her, can give her those things, until enlightenment arrives in a more permanent way.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Bad Mommy Don't Play That

One of the things I love about my friend Claire is her complete comfort with being brutally honest. I was eking out a confession recently that (shh! don't tell anyone) "I don't really like to play with children, even my own." As I waited to be struck by lightning from the hand of a displeased God, Claire said loudly, "Ugh. I HATE playing with Veronica. I used to feel so bad about it. But then I talked to my mother-in-law and she said, 'Please. Do you really think I played with my children? I had no interest in it. And besides, I was too busy cooking and cleaning and running the house.'" Ah, the old days, when the line between the world of adults and the world of children was intact.

My husband and I used to call each other from the park we took our daughter to each and every day for years (each and every living day. for years) and say, "If I never see this God forsaken place again it will be too goddamned soon. Okay?"


"Okay. I gotta go. She wants me to push her on the swings."

I remember one Saturday afternoon, digging a hole in the sand with my daughter and thinking, I can't take this any more. The only thing that could possibly counterbalance this experience for me is a three hour discussion with a deeply intelligent adult about Kierkegard or the implications of the French Revolution on American Foreign Policy in the 1800s... Help me. Somebody. Help me, please.

Meanwhile, I judged myself for not enjoying digging a hole in the sand as much as she enjoyed it. Why am I not more patient, more relaxed, more playful? But then, I had this aha moment: I am not supposed to enjoy this. She is. This is fun for a three year old. She's learning. I learned all I needed to learn from this experience of digging a hole in the sand about 35 years ago. It's not a parenting issue; it's a developmental issue. I need to talk to a grownup! Help!!! Get me out of here!

The other thing my daughter loves to do that I want almost no part of is wrestling. Meanwhile, her father can wrestle with her for close to an hour before he's over it. So that's his job. I don't want to play Barbies or pretty ponies or pet shops. I don't want to "make guys talk" which is what my friend Caren's daughter Olive calls giving voices to small plastic figures. Don't make me make guys talk! I'll go crazy.

Basically, what I realized is that when it comes to playing, I have to pick my poisons and pick them well. I can't afford to do things that significantly deplete my energy and my will to live, like getting on the play structure at the park. I drew the line in the sand on that one: That's for children. Mommy doesn't play that. You play that while Mommy drinks her latte and talks grownup talk with any adult who will engage. Mommy glares at the other adults who get on the play structure. Don't they know that's for children?

And just in case you think you're going to make me feel guilty that I'm not connecting with my child enough by giving me "the look", think again. I read out loud for hours. I braid hair. I pack a mean lunch and sometimes I get creative and put love notes in her lunchbox. I make art and draw. I facilitate the making of books. I talk about feelings and snuggle in bed. I connect in a million ways. Digging a hole in the sand at the park just isn't gonna be one of them. And if you do dig holes in the sand, and that works for you, you go for it. But I hope you're cutting yourself slack somewhere else, then. Not joining the PTA, for example, or saying, "Sorry, kid. I don't make Halloween costumes from scratch. And guess what? I don't even feel bad about it."

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Slap or Run

I recently slapped my mother across the face. In my therapist's office.

She wasn't actually there, of course. I mean, I'm not crazy, for God's sake. But the thing is, I had never slapped my mother before--in my mind, or in a dream, or in my journal. I didn't even know I wanted to. I had always thought of her as a very nice woman. But once I slapped her, I realized I was long overdue. I needed that!

Here's how it happened. I have been doing a lot of inner work these days and have come upon some key moments in my childhood that define how I relate to life. I would like to understand them better so that I can stop being unconsciously enslaved by them. In this vein, I was describing to my therapist an incident from when I was around six years old and my mother really flipped her lid after a fight with my dad. She was not even remotely adult in her behavior on the night in question, and I became, for the first time I remember, but probably not the first time, the grownup in the room. At six years old, I took on the responsibility of managing the whole situation, trying to calm her down, trying to get my father to do something other than stare blankly at the television as if nothing were happening, running up and down the stairs between them for hours trying to secure my life as I knew it. Trying to get my mother to stop throwing her clothes into a suitcase. Trying to get my mother to act like my mother.

And this is one reason I slapped her, in my mind, in my therapist's office: it was that old-fashioned approach to putting a stop to hysterical behavior, like Cher slapping Nicholas Cage in Moonstruck. "Snap out of it!" But I won't deny that the primary reason was pure rage at how overwhelmed I felt at being put in the position she was putting me in. She was terrifying me.

This is significant because I still feel sudden upsurges of rage and overwhelm and terror when people--like, for example, my daughter--go to pieces emotionally around me. I just want it to stop. I can do a little cajoling, a little comforting, but at a certain point, I start to unravel. I want to run away, screaming, and never come back, because I definitely don't want to slap anybody, and in those moments of total internal panic, those seem to be the only two options. Slap or Run, my version of Fight or Flight. I am pleased to report that so far, I have done neither.

My hope is that, in processing this early childhood experience, I will become conscious enough to stop confusing my mother with my daughter, or any other hysterical person. I won't panic. I'll be calm enough to actually be of use. I'll realize it's okay, because I'm not six years old, and that's not my mother, and I can handle this. And I think it's a valid hope. I'll keep you posted.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Have You Tried Yelling?

As anyone who reads my column regularly knows, I have a temper. I don't like it and I am devoted to working on it and when that fails, working with it. One of the ways I've found to go with the flow of my rage, when it's too late to stave it off at the pass, is to do a little impromptu performance art, in which I dramatize whatever I'm feeling so that it's so over the top that it's more entertaining than scary. I call this technique Theatrical Yelling.

I remember my own mother tilting her head skyward, raising her hands in the air and pleading, Dear God, why have you cursed me with such a child as this in my old age? What have I done to deserve this? For whatever reason, I found this hilarious. I never once took it seriously or believed my mother felt cursed. There were three reasons for this: One, I knew she was an atheist; two, I knew in my bones (and still do) how completely she loved me; and three, I was raised to have a sense of humor. It was the only effective way to survive my family.

Recently I was cleaning and running around while "everyone else" (names withheld to protect the entitled), as far as I could tell, was sitting around doing nothing. My daughter dropped something right next to her chair--right next to it--and, instead of leaning over and picking it up herself, she asked me to do it. I was on the other side of the room doing three things at once and I felt my temperature rise. Now, a so-called normal person might say, "I'm busy, sweetie. Pick it up yourself, please." But a person with a temper like mine, well, the first thing that crossed my mind was to throw the pile of clothes I was holding and yell, "Are you out of your effing mind?!" So, rather than fight it, I just kind of went with it.

(One tip. It is more theatrical and less frightening for your child if you mainly address God, and not your child, in your spontaneous outbursts. This is true even if you don't believe in God. And if you do, don't worry. God knows what you're doing.)

I dropped the clothes, raised my hands above my head and made eye contact with the ceiling, "Am I a servant? Is that what I am?!" Pause. I could see my daughter's six-year-old mind thinking, "What's a servant?" But she just watched me in silence. I had her attention. I continued. "All I do all day and night is wait on this child hand and foot and this is the thanks I get?!" Pause. "Is this not insane?! I mean, am I crazy or is this crazy? Sweet. Mother. Of. God!"

Or something like that. You get the idea. Be creative! You can follow your rant with a wink, and a calm "I'm busy, sweetie. Pick it up yourself, please," as you return to what you were doing. In the end, you've made your point, you've made your child think you're a little bit nuts, you've both laughed, and you've expressed your shadow side. Bada boom, bada bing. Now that's what being a bad mommy is all about.