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Cooking Up a Family from Scratch, Part 2

A happy family is but an earlier heaven.
-George Bernard Shaw

All moms have days when they feel like they’re just winging it. Some moms do their best work that way! This is part two of a series about things to remember when you are cooking up a family from scratch.

If your relationship with your mother was hard, if she was compromised by addiction, or an untreated mental illness, you might have some ideas hanging around that you can now get rid of. These are the main talking points from Mothering Ourselves, a therapy group for moms. For the first four talking points, see Cooking Up a Family From Scratch, Part 1.

5.Listening and responding to your child’s needs in a way that shows you get it creates attachment. Not just what they say, but what they feel, what you sense about them.  Dan Siegel, author of Parenting from the Inside Out and The Whole Brain Child, contends that this kind of “contingent communication,” is what emotionally attaches two people to one another. Your child shows you a school paper with a smiley face, but looks sad. Instead of just saying, “Good job,” you notice she’s sad, and let her know. She hears the invitation and she tells you the nuances of her day. You listen and you get it. Other people got stickers. You hug her and tell her you think she’s worth a thousand stickers. Something that small is real attachment happening. Children of compromised mothers don’t feel seen or heard. What is unspoken isn’t responded to. These kids are trying to be what their parents are reflecting back to them, but it doesn’t match who they really are, so they begin to feel like they are pretending. Letting your children know you are paying attention and you get it will help them feel okay to be themselves.

“For ‘full’ emotional communication, one person needs to allow his state of mind to be influenced by that of the other.”
― Daniel J. Siegel, MD

6. It’s the parents’ job to create attachment, not the child’s. If you don’t have a good attachment with your parents, it wasn’t your job to create that. It was their job. Your job is to create attachment with your child. Some women feel perpetually obligated to remedy the relationship with their mothers. One mom put it this way, “I always thought if I could be a better daughter, she would be a better mother.” You don’t have to take responsibility for her parenting. She is the kind of mother she is, and you are the kind of mother you are. Nor do you have to instruct her. You can be your children’s teacher instead. This doesn’t mean that you and your mother cannot work together toward bettering your relationship now, only that the parenting part of the relationship isn’t your responsibility.

7. If you blow it with your kids, you can repair. All moms blow it from time to time. If we blow it with bank tellers and people who drive too slow, it makes sense we would blow it with our children whom we see a lot. That’s a great opportunity for you to create closeness with your child by owning up. “I blew it. I was grumpy (anxious, scared, tired). It really wasn’t your fault. I’m going for a walk to get my grumpy out.”  You can simply take responsibility for your part and let them know you’re working on it. Then work on it. Owning your mistakes frees them from the impossible task of trying to fix adult problems. It also shows them one way of dealing with a hard day.  Some people grew up in a culture of criticism and blame. They were always bad and it was always their fault. With your own family, you can create a culture of authenticity and appreciation.

8. Just because you can be the functioning person in your family of origin, doesn’t mean you always have to be. Maybe your mother is still compromised. Maybe your family is “nuts.” Maybe you are trying hard to find a balanced, sustainable lifestyle. That is something to celebrate. It is absolutely okay for you to be healthy, even if other people aren’t. Jumping back into the chaos every time the alarm bell rings is likely to dilute your health tonic. Some days you are recharged and ready; you can skip your yoga. Other days you may be depleted; you need a double header. Now that you are the healthy adult, you are the one to decide when you have enough emotional energy to share, and when you need to bow out and replenish your store.

“What can you do to promote world peace?
Go home and love your family.”
― Mother Teresa

9. It Might Be Safe to Love Again: The good news is that even if you were not truly seen as a child, and didn’t feel cared for, there are people who want to know you now, and can be compassionate. Not everyone has the complicated agenda of a compromised mother. In fact, most people don’t. Even if it is second nature to lay low and protect yourself from other people’s unchecked emotions and chaos, raise your head a little. Chances are the situation doesn’t call for that anymore. Even if you use constant busyness to keep from staying too long in difficult situations, pause and look around. Your environment may be pretty comfortable today. In this moment now, see if you can put your feet up. Your good friends, your partner, may really want to know and love you for all sorts of healthy reasons.

10. In this moment now, remember  #1: Every healthy thing you do for you benefits your children, which benefits everyone.

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