“You’re hurting my feelings, mama!”
That’s what my five-year-old son shouted after I put him to bed for about the fifth time the other night.
My entire body jolted as his wailing words echoed toward the edge of his room and down the staircase, straight into my conscience. The feeling reminded me of childhood summers spent with my favorite cousins in Houston, Texas when I reluctantly agreed to ride those old-school bumpy, wooden roller coasters at Six Flags Astro World, only to be left with an instantaneous migraine.
I paused for a second to think about what had gotten us here before running up two stairs at a time to quickly make my way to his bedside and comfort him.
“I love you hun, and I’m so sorry I hurt your feelings,” I gently whispered as I squeezed him as tight as I could. “I’m just really tired and I have so many things to do tonight.”
“It’s okay mama—just don’t yell, okay? I love you more,” he whispered back.
At times, it feels strange having such compassion for my five-year-old son.
When I was his age, if I’d told my mom or dad that they hurt my feelings in such a tone, I can almost guarantee they would not have been keen to respond sweetly. This southern girl from Louisiana had strict parents who were adamant about obedience. Attempting to vocalize my thoughts regularly resulted in a “hush” or a scolding because they knew what was best for me, emotionally and all.
Now that I’m a parent, I recognize they did their best. But all of the hushings did a number on my confidence and I don’t want my children to ever feel unheard or be afraid to honor their own individual inner truths. So, it’s become my goal to actionably show them how to express themselves freely (and respectfully).
Over the years, I’ve embraced social-emotional learning throughout my own journey to unearth buried emotions by practicing meditation, committing to consistent spiritual study, and joining like-minded communities (for example, book clubs and writing communities). It seems that all of my emotional challenges have one underlying theme: fear; fear of failing at everything, especially motherhood; fear of expressing myself; fear of being challenged; fear of trusting others because I don’t know how to trust myself; fear of not being accepted; fear of having a voice without someone else’s voice to lead my own.
Even as I write this piece, I can hear this nuisance of a voice (my ego?) questioning my ability as not only a mom but as a person, telling me:
I’m not good enough. Pretty enough (seriously, what does pretty have to do with anything?) I’m not ready to grow as a writer. I’m completely in over my head. That I have this crazy schedule consisting of daily priorities that range from working a corporate job, to owning a small business, to facilitating distance learning and virtual therapies for my kids, along with all of the family responsibilities in between…yet I have the audacity to attempt any form of creativity, the nerve to push myself. It’s no wonder I can’t keep my cool despite practicing conscious parenting and meditation. Not even those foolish mindfulness techniques can help.
Listen, the mama guilt-trips are real!
Thus, to that pestilent voice in my head, I counter it and I ask:
How many times have I wept until every corner and crevice of my mouth was covered in spit and my nose burned of snotty tears due to the overwhelming demands of motherhood, but I kept going?
All those times I told God that he chose the wrong mom to care for my two-year-old special needs angel baby because managing her self-harming quirks and severe developmental delays was too difficult for me to work through and endure, but I kept going.
Or when my son asks question after question, singing in harmonious tune “mama, mama, mama, mama, mama, mamama, mamamamamamamamamama” with no breaths in between…”I need this, get me that, something hurts, can you watch me do this? can you help me?”
“mama mama, mamamamamamama!”
Still, I am always there to help him, and I keep going.
Never mind when I’m not feeling well. Or if I had a bad day at work or I don’t get a break or a nap, or alone time in the bathroom ever, or that I just want to connect with my husband/their dad for 60 seconds without interruption. Because these two kids rely on mama (sometimes dad) for everything.
I always keep going.
This life is hella hard. With all of its wooden, bumpy roller coasters (pun intended), the mental battles I incur constantly leave me feeling spent. I often wonder how on earth I will possibly make it through another draining day, only to start again the next.
But I do.
So, I’ll continue to embrace this way of living, growing, practicing, and parenting that, amidst all hardships, I have come to appreciate. Besides, it has to mean something when, even after hurt feelings, my son lovingly shows me the same compassion that I make conscious efforts to show to him.
I suppose I’m doing something right.