I suppose all stories are different. Yours is not the same as mine, and mine is not the same as hers. I grew up in a home where guilt trips were the family vacation of choice. This continued well into my adulthood as my mother pounded the guilt she must have felt into me, making it mine to carry. Nothing was ever good enough. I did not clean my house good enough. I did not visit her often enough. I did not put my life on hold enough. I did not close the door to my father, because she decided she didn’t love him anymore. I will not even get into the guilt she made me feel for being born with heart problems, or the ensuing five open heart surgeries I would have and the care she would give as she took time off from her job to tend to me. I repeated I am sorry so many times, it became the basis of our conversations.
Was this a reflection of her mirror? Was she casting her own guilt on us for the times she left us home alone while she went out on dates, to parties, dabbled with her drug of choice, off to play soft-ball or to bowl? And yes, she was entitled to those things, entitled to a life outside of her children. What she was not entitled to was the physical and mental abuse she dished out to my brother and me. What she was not entitled to was to make us live our lives with an overwhelming amount of guilt which she dumped on our shoulders for her own misgivings.
I try very hard with my daughters not to take them along on these guilt trips, though I realize at times I fail. Because she lived with her for eight years, my eldest daughter is very much like my mother, in the fact that she is both mentally abusive and loves to pack a big ole sack of guilt and pull me along for yet another trip. And admittedly so, I join her for the ride and I retaliate throwing it back her way and then – and then I feel more guilty than I did before because I have allowed her my power, given in to the trip and carried the guilt of others actions which have caused our relationship so much damage. And then I say the mandatory, “I am sorry” so we can move beyond the latest scuffle.
A few days ago I read an article on a news blog in which the author was stating she wished there were a way for all Momma’s to unite, without the judging of how we raise our children, without the criticism when we do not see eye to eye. In the end she decided this was impossible because of the “Mean Mommies” in the mix. The ones who turn their nose up at other parents, the ones who mock another’s parenting style, the ones who are obviously so much better at parenting than we are. In reading this article I was reminded of a day in the park with my Little Man a few weeks ago. I was reminded of the Momma who decided I was not raising my son right, because I had yet to teach him to say he was sorry. I was reminded of the fact that she returned to the park bench where her friend sat waiting, pointed at my son and went on to talk about how he must have learning disabilities because he could not say, “I am sorry”. I commented on this article with a reflection of this particular incident in the park. Before I tell you about the assault on my character which followed, you will probably want to know what transpired at the park that day.
There is a little park in our town behind a museum which is normally empty when Riley and I visit there for a play date. I like it this way; I am a long time sufferer of agoraphobia and though I have been able to overcome the most difficult symptoms of this mental affliction, I still prefer less crowded places. On the day in question there were two women along with their four kids and a couple with their three children already playing at the park. Though this did make me a bit uneasy, Riley had already seen the slide and was running straight for it. He was obviously younger than everyone there and because he is more accustomed to singular play I stayed right on top of him. (Well, that and I have an unnatural fear of people and their intentions.)
There is a three-year old at the top of the slide who continues to sit there as Riley Jabe climbs the stairs, of which I am standing next to. I am telling Riley to be careful while he waits three-quarters of the way up on the ladder. He moves up two more steps and he touches the boy on the shoulder. I remind him he needs to wait his turn, just as the other kid starts to scream and cry. I move my Little Man down a few steps, the other mother comes to the bottom of the slide, encourages her son down and begins to check him for any signs of injury. There are none, Riley really only touched the little boys shoulder. He did not push him, he did not hit him and he did not grab him. Of course I realize he may have done any one of these things, had I not been standing there to remind him to wait his turn and to physically move him down a few steps – he is two years old and though close to it, he is not perfect. As the other mother consoles her son she says to him, “It’s okay, ask for an apology. I am sure the little boy didn’t mean to hurt you”, or something along those lines. I am thinking to myself, I am not sure if Riley has ever said I am sorry before, when the other mother looks up at me and says, “We will expect an apology” in a most indignant tone.
All I could think to say was, “I am sure he is sorry he touched your son, but I highly doubt he will say he is sorry”. I was turning towards Riley with the intention of asking him to say he was sorry, when she asks me why he wasn’t going to apologize. I sort of chuckled when I replied, “Well he’s never said those words before”. Before I could get another word out of my mouth, to her or to Riley, she looks up the slide at him and asks me with condemnation dripping off of her tongue, “Why hasn’t he said those words before? How old is he anyway?” I answered her honestly, “Well he’s two, but he has never been asked to say he was sorry”. Before I was able to finish my thoughts she was walking away, back to the park bench next to her friend, literally pointing at my Little Sugar Man and loudly stating he must have a learning disability since he is two years old and cannot say he is sorry. And of course the underlying insinuation being, what kind of mother am I anyway, that I have yet to teach my son to apologize?
Had she waited for the rest of my answer, she may have learned the following. He is a late talker and we are lucky when we can understand one thought he is trying to convey. Yes he has words; yes he says please and thank you – they apply to his life and being from the south, I am a stickler for manners. However he has never done anything to warrant, “I am sorry” and is too young to understand the difference between “I am sorry I hurt you” and “I am sorry you feel that way”. Of course it may not have mattered if she would have let me finish because I was able to convey these things on the news blog repeatedly as my character and parenting skills were attacked, insulted and criticized for three days by yet another stranger. Apparently because I have not enforced, made, taught my son how to say I am sorry I am raising a child lacking in empathy and as a result he will grow up to have an antisocial personality disorder.
I am so glad to know this. I am so glad this stranger has so much insight into my life, in how I interact with my son, the depth of respect I have already instilled into my two older children, to know I am doing it all wrong. She must be able to see into the future, to know my Little Man will grow up to be antisocial. (And you know he just may. I mean, I am – but it has more to do with my fear of people and their intentions, than it does with my inability to empathize with someone’s emotions.) I wonder if she even realizes she has proven the authors point that we cannot band together in unity as women, as mother’s, simply because we are too busy judging and criticizing how others raise their children?
Now I realize you may think I am crazy because I do not think Riley has done anything which warrants an apology, as all children do things which are wrong. He is no exception, but he is not a mean child; he is sweet and gentle by nature. Saying you’re sorry implies you have done something intentionally and/or with malice, it implies you know what you have done is against the rules; it implies GUILT. Given the fact I am not sure how much Riley actually understands given his limited vocabulary, it is unrealistic for me to expect him to carry guilt or feel regret when he makes a mistake, not to mention I do not want him to. At this point in his life anything he does wrong is an innocent mistake, it is not intentional. He is still learning; he is learning what his words mean, he is learning that for every action there is a reaction. He does not purposefully head butt me, but when he does he gets a sad look on his face and hugs me. He shows empathy for my pain and his little pats on my back as he sweetly hugs me, convey what the words, “I am sorry” never could. And my guess is, when the time is right and when I am certain he understands everything he needs to in order to feel a healthy amount of regret, I will instill in him the importance of a genuine apology. There are plenty of mistakes for him to make and feel guilt over in the future and you can bet, I will be the first one to put him in his place and remind him of how important it is to respect and be respected.
But for today, he will not carry guilt.
February 17, 2012