It happened today.
All of the tension from the last couple of weeks, boiling hot, bubbling over, and then, ker-splat.
I left my in-laws’ house so frustrated. With myself, for not speaking up. With my daughter, for behaving in the most nightmarish way possible, a way that she literally doesn’t even act except around them. (And then, saying that, this was even beyond the way she has previously acted around them.) But also with them, for trying to offer support, but the support didn’t actually sound like support; it sounded like criticism.
She’s too attached.
What does that tell you? It sounds like the parents have more separation anxiety than the kid.
You should put her in school. She’ll learn to be more independent. She is way too clingy with you.
I realized that I had even written about this very thing a week before this visit happened, sensing that it would come up. But in the last two weeks, it really hasn’t.
V was absolutely out of control crying for the duration of our twenty-five minute visit. She refused to let anyone touch her. Hell, she didn’t even want anyone to look at her, even people she normally adores. She wouldn’t play, wouldn’t interact with her cousins, nothing. Just having an off day, but I was clearly stressed and overwhelmed by it.
I was alone with V. My husband had work and wasn’t able to be there. In those situations, I can already be a little on edge. And I absolutely know that everything that was said was coming from a perspective of trying to help. It is also important to point out that there is a huge cultural difference, and also that one could say that in the family I grew up in, the communication style is very soft. No one steps on each other’s toes. My mom has never once made a single critical remark about my parenting. She could be possibly thinking one, but if she is, she’s never said it. When my other mom found out that I was still nursing V at two years-old, she very sincerely said, “You are? Good for you.” She smiled as she said it, and I realized that she meant it. I am so used to being criticized for it that my body had tensed defensively. She remains the only person who has ever given me a kind response about it, ever.
So, going back, yes, there is a cultural difference, and I come from a family where we don’t really do in-your-face communication. Combine that with being very tired from the last few work days and V totally acting beyond the realm of being a normal kid, and it was enough to push me too far. I left the house apologizing, nearly in tears.
As soon as I drove away, I thought, Shit. That was my invitation. That was the opportunity I have been waiting for to say, Thank you, but I’m happy with our parenting. Thank you, but she’s just affectionate and sensitive and normal, and will be fine.
I could have kicked myself for not doing it. I was just so flustered in the moment that I didn’t even think about it.
There’s only one way I articulate myself clearly, and that’s with the written word. I debated for an hour if I should say anything or not. A phone call would have been better, but I wasn’t about to get on the phone with four people, some of whom had a flight in two hours.
It wasn’t that I felt slighted. It wasn’t that I was angry. It was simply that I needed to give feedback on how it can feel sometimes, and I needed to make a request about how we talk about parenting moving forward.
After the hour, I decided that, Yes, this is worth talking about. I will bottle this up if I don’t address it now, and I will be disappointed in myself.
So I sent it. I CC’d my husband. He immediately told me that it was kind, and diplomatic, and the best way to ask for what I was asking for.
Silence on the line for several hours. Then, tonight, my father-in-law responded, “I think these kinds of conversations can bring us closer.”
I think there is so much vulnerability in saying, “I have a request for how you communicate with me.” I think it is a delicate and scary topic, and I think that is why I was never able to bring it up with them during the last few years (which I was disappointed in myself about). Whenever anyone has ever come to me with that request (most often at work), I have always felt admiration for risking the vulnerability to ask the question. And then I have always been able to keep that request in mind, and pivot my communication style for them. (Not always perfectly. I actually have a blunt side of my personality too, and it comes out most often at work.)
I think you can only bring up such a request with people who have shown they are worthy of trust. My in-laws definitely deserve my trust. They have never shown me anything but care and kindness and they welcomed me from day one with open arms. It’s just that sometimes, their communication style is so different than mine that I end up with my feelings hurt but without the courage to say anything.
I happened to see my own mom later today and was mentioning V’s behavior.
“You were just like that,” she said.
“Oh yes. I remember prying your hands off of my shirt, handing you off to the woman at the preschool, and crying in my car the whole way to work.”
As she mentioned it, I had memories of wrapping my fingers around the fence, crying as I watched my mom walk to her car. I remember her dropping me off at a babysitter’s house, and feeling so uneasy and unwanted until the moment she picked me up. I remember feeling that attached. The same way V is with me.
And I grew up to be a very self-sufficient, independent person who totally loves her alone time.
I know that all support isn’t going to sound like the exact way of being supported that I prefer. And I never want anyone to walk on eggshells. But when it comes to V, forcing her past her comfort zone has never worked. It didn’t work when she was three weeks old, or three months old, and I know it’s not gonna work when she’s three years old either.
But maybe, when she’s 33, she will be her own kind of independent, self reliant, likes-to-be-alone kind of person.
The world will force her into its cruelty soon enough. For now, gentle is the way. Gentle in my parenting, and gentle in how I request to receive feedback about my parenting.