I Can't Fix It

We’ve had a difficult year in our home. An extended family member lived with us for 7-months, and her personal journey created quite a bit of stress and general upset in our home before coming to a forceful and dramatic end in October. Instead of dwelling on the negative events that transpired, I’ve focused on having compassion for myself and everyone else involved, and on my deep gratitude for the many friends and family members who stepped in to love and support us through it in whatever ways they could.

More recently, and less dramatically, my daughter came down with the flu. Two days before she got sick she played hooky from school because…well, it’s fun! We hung out and played and laughed and had a good time. And then she got sick. REALLY sick. She slept for 36 hours, only getting up to use the bathroom and occasionally waking to cry because her body ached. She spent the next several days drinking water and elderberry syrup, cuddling, crying, sleeping, crying, listening to stories, cuddling, watching tv, and crying; eventually she started eating toast and then fruit, and now she’s finally eating regular (SMALL) meals. My husband and I did everything we could to alleviate her physical pain: rubbing her feet, joints and head during all hours of the night, adding more ice to her water or getting her another ice pack for her head. And we haven’t had much sleep.

I have cabin fever.

I’m tired.

I’m touched out.

I’m human.

Yesterday we got out of the house and met my parents for lunch. My daughter and her Papaw went to ride The Pink Pig while my mom and I did a bit of shopping. I told my mom, “I’m tired and grumpy. She’s tired and grumpy. I’m overwhelmed. She doesn’t want anyone but me, and I’m depleted. I don’t know how parents of high needs children do this every single day for years. 2-weeks has wrecked me.” My mom, the epitome of empathy and validation, responded with all the “right words.” And while I still felt guilty for not having anything left to give, her empathy and validation helped.

Although my daughter has now been fever-free for 4 days, I’ve kept her home because she’s still tired in the afternoons. But today I needed her to go to school. I needed space to replenish my reserves so we can maintain the feelings of connection and safety in our relationship.

When she woke up and we cuddled. She wanted to play before getting ready, so we did. Then she didn’t want to get ready for school. She was tired.

“I’m tired.” she said

“You’re tired. Sometimes it’s hard to get moving in the morning.” I empathized and validated.

“I’m tired.”

“You’re tired. What can I do to help?”

“I’m tired.”

“I hear that you’re tired.”

“I’m tired.”

“I hear you.”

“I’m tired.”

 

“I can’t fix it!”

“Stop telling me you’re tired. I hear you and there’s nothing I can do.” I said it loudly, with a wavering voice and tears in my eyes.

And in that very moment I realized my biggest trigger: feeling helpless to protect my child…from anything. I can’t protect her from family threats, I can’t protect her from illnesses, I can’t protect her from the many difficult parts of life. I can’t “fix” her feelings. I can’t make her not tired. I can’t make me not tired. I can’t stop feeling touched out and I can’t give from a place of depletion.

 

It’s a terrible feeling, helplessness, and not one that felt familiar to me until my daughter was born. I’ve come to believe many of the feelings that come thundering out of us as parents, usually to our surprise, are reflections of our own childhood experiences. As adults we work hard repressing our negative childhood experiences and overcompensating for the feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, fear, etc. so we can keep going.

 

Then we have our own children and all our efforts to “forget and move on” are waylaid when we see our children share similar experiences and feelings. Suddenly those emotions buried deep within us are triggered and they come exploding out…sometimes audibly. We see our children’s struggles and we’re immediately transported back to our own difficult feelings and unmet needs. And instead of stepping back and allowing our anger to flow out, we displace that anger onto our children. Of course, all of this is outside of our awareness; we simply think, “why are you upset? You’re making me upset with your upset. Stop.” But the emotions of parents are so much more complicated and go so much deeper.

 

If we want to move forward in our peaceful parenting journey, we must go deeper, we must reflect on what it is that triggers us, what keeps us from being peaceful parents 100% of the time. And that takes work. It takes vulnerability. It takes time. And it takes self-compassion, both for who we were as children and who we are now.

As I write this I realize I can protect my daughter from one thing: myself. I can protect our relationship. I can work on understanding my triggers in order to have peaceful responses and interactions. And while I know I may never be a perfect peaceful parent, I also know that each one of these “aha!” moments brings me one step closer toward my daughter and one step closer the parent I want to be.

NOTE: I don’t want to protect my daughter from life. Life is the most amazing, awesome, exciting, devastating, difficult and trying adventure I’ve ever been on. And while I sometimes want to protect her from upset, heartbreak, and pain, I know that without that part of life she will miss the sense of wonder and beauty that fills us when we find ourselves on the other side of hardship.

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