In reading Edward Marriott’s article When a Bough Breaks – Volcanic feelings of love and hate are part of being a parent: it’s dangerous to pretend otherwise, I finally found a word for the frustration I’ve been experiencing – Ambivalence.
“What is distinctive of our times is how few parents — still, even in our post-Freudian age — will openly admit to feelings of ambivalence towards their children. In an age where very little — from sex to money — is left a mystery, parental ambivalence remains one of the last taboos.”
It is the unfamiliarity with ambivalence in relation to my kids that has surprised me more than anything. I really didn’t know that the feelings of conflict inside of me were normal, common, and have always been so.
As Marriott contends in the article, ambivalence is more than just mixed feelings. It’s the end-all-be-all of mixed feelings – nothing short of love AND hate. Loving is the easy part – it is the word “hate” that has caused the most distress for me. Actually more than distress. Shame. The “s” word.
I am ashamed of the number of days that I have completely resented making dinner for my family. If I am stuck in the negative sway of ambivalence I no longer want to be involved with people, much less care for them domestically. No laundry, dishes, cooking – I just want to quit.
I am ashamed of my thoughts of violence or abandonment of others – specifically my children. Left-brained rational thought says my feelings are dangerous and should be eradicated. Right-brained emotional thought wants to rage and scream and get recognition for the depth of my feelings.
The shame compounds itself because I feel powerless, completely immobilized sometimes, to do anything but sit in negativity, for the simple fact that I don’t feel I should be having these horrible feelings in the first place! I hold onto a common human/parent lie (that we must love without interruption), so each incidence of anger and the resulting shame grows into a mountain.
I have felt this ambivalence when someone will say “What a cute little guy!” about one of my sons. “Sure”, I say, “cute as the devil’s spawn!” Then I reply with something like “Yeah, but he’s cute so I keep feeding him!” I watch myself say these things knowing that I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t. I could say something cute and cuddly, and deny the negativity, or I can make a negative comment that could get me into hot water. This culture seems unready for wholly honest responses that are less than loving and attentive. Responding to a stranger’s passing remark is probably not the best time to let the honest rage and anger out – best to keep the loving facade up – but finding ways to embody and acknowledge all of me is important.
Bradley Olson, Ph.D., also talks about ambivalence and its tendency to make us “supremely uncomfortable”. Many of us then turn that uncomfortable feeling into a soap box to lecture others what they’re doing wrong, or passive-aggressive games with family, or, blog posts about our kids that start out honest and raw and end up in a heap of hugs and love – but never giving full attention to the deep, inner feelings, other than socially acceptable positive ones.
Our culture has created a command that we always look like we love our children. The heresy, to use Olson’s term, of not buying into that command is supremely uncomfortable, but also exhilarating. Exhilarating because as I see it, heresy is essential to growth. We must step outside of convention if we wish to grow.
As Marriott talks about, the repression of the ambivalence can be “risky to others”. I agree, and I would point out that heresy of thought is not the same as heresy of action. I can have thoughts about my children that are not loving, but the moment I act it out, I have crossed the line. And, as Marriott also mentions, no one wants to be put in the same group as the abusive parents that we read about in the headlines. If I repress the darker parts of our myself, I am much more likely to try to repress the darker parts of my children, others, and myself. We in effect transfer our own negativity outward, committing heresy of action. I have found myself transferring that negativity outside of myself more often than I like to admit. I have put my children, husband, and most often myself at risk, more than anyone else, when I haven’t acknowledge all of the feelings caught up in my ambivalence. I rage not only about the feelings I have today, but all of the ones from yesterday that I suppressed.
Now that I can recognize that I have ambivalence, the full spectrum of feelings, toward something or someone, I have a stopping place for my emotions and breathing room to figure out how my actions can be appropriate and my thinking and feeling might come from a deeper place than before. The idea of a stopping place reminds me of Using Mindfulness Practice to Deal with Negative Urges by Shinzen Young. In a quick nutshell, we are to divide the components of the negative urge up into manageable pieces. Uncomfortable body sensations, memories, plans, judgments, beliefs are all bound up in us, getting stuck if we let them. I find that loud music and dancing, or taking a walk are two physical things that I can do to dissipate the negativity.
A friend of mine wondered if we would have less ambivalence if we raised our kids in line with the “it takes a village” concept. I don’t know that we would have less ambivalence, but I know I sure could use more loving support when the pendulum swings toward the negative end of ambivalence, and that might soften my reactions. The strength of having a village support us while we stumble through parenting could be found in the ancestral knowledge, experience, and stories of ambivalence. We would come to understand that ambivalence exists inside all of us. We might just create a moral fabric for our village that includes the depths of our being, thereby negating the need to commit heresy against the old repressed ways, for the old repressed ways would leave us.
I shared my thoughts as part of her post “Are Tiger Moms Happy Moms?”, and she graced me with a link on her pegboard to my post. Thanks Meagan – Moms everywhere thank you!
Inspirations that come from anywhere that cause us to listen with our hearts… unlocking them in the process.
“Real fearlessness is the product of tenderness.
It comes from letting the world tickle your heart, your raw and beautiful heart.
You are willing to open up, without resistance or shyness, and face the world.
You are willing to share your heart with others.”
Chogyam Trungpa Tibetan Buddhist, Scholar and Artist
In a moment our relationship changed.
I chose to be real with him. I told him why I was crying and his big, beautiful, sensitive heart opened right up to me.
My usual MO is to get angry. To take it out on them, my loved ones. This time, rather than try to hide my tears or make him wrong for wanting me to watch a video about dirtbikes, while Ben was making SO MUCH noise and it had been such a long day of trying to keep it all together, much like any day, and I JUST WANTED TO FINISH THIS ONE….DAMN…..PARAGRAPH that I was reading, I owned it.
I found the source of my discomfort and I spilled it out. I gave him an honest picture of what was happening with me, right then, rather than covering it in all the ways that I’m so good at. And I broke down. I wept and kept weeping for a couple of minutes and he asked what was wrong at least twice. As I finally caught my breath I said,”Sometimes I would like to work on some artwork, or reading or just be creative – and there are so many demands and distractions that I hardly every allow myself to do it”
He really heard me.
Later that night I went to veg out in front of the TV with him. He grabbed two pieces of blank paper, two pencils, and two big sturdy books and sat down by me on the couch. He invited me to draw with him. He drew, I started writing this. We talked about how sometimes watching TV helped drown out the mental background noise and helped him draw better. I told him I used music for this. We talked about how girls at school were being “all dramatic about boys and love and stuff”. I suggested he ignore the drama as best he could.
I also thanked him to being so kind to me, for understanding about how my heart needs art and expression. He must know this because He has it inside of himself too. I am so blessed.
MANDALA OF THE FEARLESS BUDDHA
“The mystic and the schizophrenic
find themselves in the same ocean,
but whereas the mystic swims,
the schizophrenic drowns.” – R.D.Laing
“Now I’m aware that I alone am in the vast
of the sea
And cause the sea to be the sea
Go on with your story.
Dainin Katagiri Roshi – from” “Long Quiet Highway – Waking up in America” by Natalie Goldberg
So, to go on with my story……
I have always been afraid of being in water. And, I have always known my grandmother’s house – the one house that has been there my entire life. One night recently I dreamed that I was in my grandmothers house. The entire house was filled with water. There was nowhere to go but through it.
In my dream, I felt myself relax, and for the first time in my life, waking or otherwise, I enjoyed being in the water. I woke up with a smile on my face and then cried because I wished I could walk to the ocean, right then, and jump in.
Water is a symbol of humanity’s unconscious, and of our emotional worlds, and other things. I have been allowing so much of my deeper self to “float up” lately that it’s not really a surprise that I had this dream. The surprise for me was the complete 180 degree turnaround my CONSCIOUS self experienced afterward. I wanted to be in the ocean, in the rivers, the lakes. I wanted to feel the caress that only water can give. I wanted to swim literally and figuratively, mythologically and concretely. The fear was gone.
I have always had a burning desire to delve into the uncommon. To root around in the dark mass, just below the surface of waking life. To find my origin and destination. To try to communicate back to others what I find. This is no small task. Turns out, there are many others attempting the same thing through whatever means they find necessary. I feel blessed to know some of you personally, and am thrilled by the thoughts of meeting others out there.
As a matter of fact, that thought, that there are many of us “shaman-in-training”, learning to swim through our own personal oceans, that has been almost constantly in my mind lately. I am quieted inside when I realize that these people are my tribe. I am quieted when I realize that so many of us are working on bringing awareness into being – into our beings.
“Real power is the ability to be resonant with
the Tao in such a way as to get in sync with
the power that already exists”
From: The Power Path
I know I’m supposed to Chop Wood and Carry Water
Do laundry, meticulously
be in the now
sweep my fucking dusty floors
I just don’t feel like it makes for a real “powerful” day.
Feeding, cleaning, cleaning, shopping, cooking, cleaning, resting – where is the power in that? Where can I let my soul sing through that?
I want bright colors, bold words, interesting thoughts, funny happenings
drudgery gets in the way
my ego wants more excitement
I am isolated here in this house while others “work” – what am I doing, if not working?
I am working on keeping house
which is what this blog is ostensibly about
I am holding on
“Believing that you have all the answers is delusional. Motherhood teaches this well.”
I love Maezen’s take on this whole ‘Tiger Mother’ buzz in the world right now. Essentially she says, “Comparing our kids to one another is the most juvenile thing we grown ups can do.”
I have a huge amount of doubt (as many parents do) that the way I parent is adequate. But adequate for what? and for whom?
I feed, clothe, and water my kids. I feed their curiosity as much as I can. I attempt to instill good habits, kind thinking, and creative hearts. These are generalities, I know, but the details seem to work themselves out each day. For me, parenting happens in the moment.
How will I know if I’ve parented adequately? That is where I stumble into doubt. Do I really need to wait till one of my sons, in his 30’s, comes home from a counseling session and calls me up to tell me I; a) did something horribly wrong, or b) something great? Or can I trust my feeling in the moment that what I’m doing and how I’m being with them is ok? I don’t expect perfection from them, so why do I try to hold myself to that impossibility?
Here is an excerpt from Time Magazine about the Tiger Mother:
Though Chua was born and raised in the U.S., her invocation of what she describes as traditional “Chinese parenting” has hit hard at a national sore spot: our fears about losing ground to China and other rising powers and about adequately preparing our children to survive in the global economy. Her stories of never accepting a grade lower than an A, of insisting on hours of math and spelling drills and piano and violin practice each day (weekends and vacations included), of not allowing playdates or sleepovers or television or computer games or even school plays, for goodness’ sake, have left many readers outraged but also defensive. The tiger mother’s cubs are being raised to rule the world, the book clearly implies, while the offspring of “weak-willed,” “indulgent” Westerners are growing up ill equipped to compete in a fierce global marketplace.
Competing in a Global Marketplace. While I know that is a part of human reality right now, I do believe, where a person is, at any moment, is more important than a global anything. I want my children to compete in the moment of where they are, to have tools available to them that will allow their heart and heads to think and feel clearly and to make decisions based on love, creativity and frankly, spunk….you know, that spark of curiosity that fuels inventors, musicians, artists, and the like. To foster that spark even in the face of an impending takeover by China, is where I want to parent from. Love triumphs always, this I know. So I say, love your kids. Make sure you show your kids you love them.
From the book The Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beattie:
“Sometimes, to get from where we are to where we are going, we have to be willing to be in-between”
I don’t generally do well with In Between, because I feel like I need to always be “going SOMEWHERE”. The grass over there is green, and my grass is covered in dog poop. I know, it makes me sound ungrateful, but I’m not. Just over-ambitious.
I don’t know why I doubt the universe when it tells me that I need to wait – to be patient. (patience is NOT one of my virtues, which of course means I need to work on it all the fucking time!) I mean, has the universe ever let me down? no. Then, listen to Ms. Beattie’s words:
Today, I will accept where I am as the ideal place for me to be. If I am in-between, I will strive for the faith that this place is not without purpose, that it is moving me toward something good.