There is a whole school of therapy based on the premise that people just need empathy for their childhood wounds. The assumption is that most parents are unable to give empathy or apologize to their children for things that are difficult, which leaves them with a gaping hole that a therapist can fix by providing a corrective emotional experience in adulthood. I have seen a lot of people come to therapy with the underlying issue of never feeling understood or validated by their parents. So as I became a parent, I wanted to provide a lot of empathy for my kids. It is surprisingly not that easy for me. Partly out of my own guilt (if I apologize I have to change) and partly out of my own pride (if I apologize I’m saying it’s my fault).
Nonetheless, I have been trying very hard in this department but realized today that I haven’t really submitted myself to my kid’s feelings about my pregnancy and the way it has affected me. India very kindly pointed this out to me last night when Mark took the kids to the mall to give me a break. She said to me as they left, in a not-so-nice, preteen voice, “Just stay home and watch tv, mommy”. Suddenly I realized that not only is she noticing the sidelining effects of my pregnancy, but she might actually be a little bitter about it. And that in her little mind, she may be thinking that I am just not wanting to participate, and sitting at home watching tv as an active choice.
It is realistic to admit that I am a lame mom right now, and have been for several months. I don’t go on family activities because I am tired and can hardly walk. I look at photos from last summer and barely recognize that active mom that went to the beach with the kids all the time, and took them to parks, and actually participated instead of just trying to get through the day. We stay home most days now, and have since I battled with morning sickness at the beginning of my pregnancy. I am short with them. I snuggle them less because I can’t just crawl into their bunkbeds anymore. Daddy does the bedtime routine. I yell across the house instead of getting up because getting up is painful. I threaten them with punishment if they get out of bed during their naptime. I am parenting very differently than I used to, and I just realized I never had a sit-down with them and acknowledged that this is their truth, and that I feel badly about it. Why? Because I do feel badly about it, really badly about it, and part of me wants to be in denial that it is affecting them.
So, yesterday I sucked it up and layed out my apology for being a seemingly lazy, distracted, and indifferent mom. I told them I was sorry for how I stayed home a lot, and how much I missed doing fun things with them. I told them how proud I was for how they were learning to play at home, and how I realized how hard it must be to not be involved in the outings we used to do. I told them I was looking forward to being able to do things together after the baby comes. I also got out their own baby pictures and talked about their own baby stories, because sheesh, there has been a lot of Karis talk and these kids have already taken a backseat to her. I told them it was okay if they were frustrated with me, or sad about it.
It seems basic. But it was hard for me. It’s hard to be that vulnerable with my kids, and to acknowledge that I might even be causing them pain. I am hoping that in talking about it, they have experienced a corrective emotional experience; that even though I can’t change things, I can empathize and listen and be sorry, and that we can all sit in that pain together.