Quarantine has done a number on my mothering skills, for better and for worse. The light of our togetherness as a family has shone into the cracks in my unconsciousness, illuminating the blind spots where I had been unable to see some of the ways in which I could grow as a mother. I feel weary from having everything I do witnessed 24/7. Day in and day out, I am not left alone to contemplate, but instead I’m sleighing the unknown beast of family life under Coronavirus quarantine circumstances while enduring the nonstop action.
Five years ago, when I supported my daughter through a 5-month hospital stay, my mothering skills consisted mostly of pulling rainbows and unicorns out of my pocket, to bribe her into completing various aspects of her regimented life-saving hospital routine, including taking her meds (albeit in ice cream). I would count down from 10 so many times that the spoonful of ice cream would completely melt and we would have to start over. Thankfully, those intense days are behind us, but now I find myself in a completely different kind of mothering retreat: one in which the very nature of our constant togetherness is creating its unique challenges.
I think this is a safe place to mention that conflicts at home are sometimes being escalated. There are moments when I think my family is falling apart. I’m ruining us. We’re ruining ourselves. The neighbors have got to be able to hear all of this yelling.
It is during my worst moments that I question whether I am mucking up this thing called motherhood. It is usually in those same moments where it feels as if quarantine may never end. This is when I most judge my mothering skills. I fear I’m raising sociopaths, or at the very least, my lack of skillfulness is leading them astray.
Before quarantine, even on tough days, I had feedback from the outside world that my kids were decent humans and I felt good about my mothering skills. Since they currently do not have outside friends, lives, or activities, the stakes at home seem higher. It’s just when I think that it’s all going south, when something unexpected happens: there have been a few little miracles that have lifted me above the self-imposed fog of my own parenting shame.
Yesterday, after watching my kids physically fighting, I remembered a conflict resolution technique based loosely on non-violent communication that Jordan (age 10) had brought home from school and taught us just before the COVID-19 closures. After separating them I calmly asked each child to state to the other how they were feeling. The second child was to mirror back what they heard the first saying. I watched breathlessly as my offspring struggled through a couple of imperfect rounds of this, in which each child added, “I wasn’t done!”, as they piled on to their list of “feelings” (aka, complaints) to each other. Finally, my son’s describing of his feelings had struck an empathy chord in my daughter. She approached him, patted his back and said she was sorry. Her genuineness was palpable. He accepted. The tone changed completely as she stood and exclaimed, “Front-back?” and he wordlessly and in one motion leapt from the couch into her arms. Their conflict was completely over. Chloe carried Jordan (piggy back, only with him on her front: thus, front-back) around while he blissfully clung to her. She knew how to make him feel accepted and loved. And he knew- or felt, rather- how to forgive. (Empathy! And forgiveness! I’m not raising sociopaths after all!)
One morning last week, after a particularly rough day with my 13-year-old, I had returned from a bike ride and was scrambling to gather my things for a phone conference. Chloe sat at the kitchen counter doing homework, and asking questions. “Who are you going to talk to? What is your call going to be about?” I explained that it was a call with my long-standing personal mentor and guide (ie, therapist…. However, after nearly two decades I prefer the former description). I simply shared that I was going to discuss things I needed support with. Chloe then confidently drops this: “You know who my personal mentor is?” “Who?” I respond. “You.”, she gushes, emphatically. I could feel her pride as she boasted, “You can help me with just about any problem.” Ahhh. My heart melted. She trusts me. She feels that she has support. This, I know from personal experience, is one of the most vital components of success: feeling supported. Knowing that we have someone to turn to, someone who can see us and hear us for who we are and for where we struggle.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t have to look to the outside world or even to our children for confirmation of our inherent goodness as mothers. But in this case, I do. It helps. The good stuff supports me through the challenges, and reminds me that we’re all going to be okay. Until we meet again in person, we can rest a little easier knowing that we are all doing a better job than we thought at home.
Photo Credit :: Lindsey Herkert Photography