Sunday, May 12, 2013

Teaching My Son the Lessons I Didn't Learn

Much to my surprise, I'm finding motherhood to be incredibly therapeutic.

Part of it is certainly that I have felt far more socially connected since my son's birth than at any other time in my life.  Ironic, I know, but true.  I feel incredibly supported by my friendships with other parents, accepted for who I am, and inspired to grow.  Finally experiencing the social connection that I desperately craved for my entire childhood has increased my self-esteem and has decreased my issues with depression, which in turn helps me feel like a better mother.

But more specifically, as a mother, I feel like all the kindness and love that I pour into my son's life is somehow healing my own childhood wounds.  I see him learning the lessons that I wish I had learned myself as a child, and I feel at peace.

He is learning, right from the start, that his feelings are important.  As a toddler, he has so many feelings, which often appear suddenly and catch both of us off guard.  My job as a parent is to help him learn to recognize his feelings, to validate his feelings, and to direct him toward an appropriate action to manage his feelings.  For us, that means when he's expressing an emotion, I get down at his level and say things like, "Sweetie, are you feeling sad/upset/angry because _______? Awww!" And then I suggest an appropriate comforting/distracting/calming activity.  The most amazing thing to me is that, even as a toddler, he usually quiets down in order to listen to me name his emotion,  and seems incredibly relieved just to be understood.

He is also learning that his opinions and desires are are worth expressing, even though at this age they sound like nothing more than him shouting, "No! No! No!"  It's up to me to help him phrase his opinions and wishes more clearly, because his "no" could mean anything from, "Don't do that!" to "I don't want to do that!" to "I want to do what you are doing" to "I want to have what you have."  Once we understand each other, we can decide how to proceed.  But most importantly, I always try to praise him by saying something like, "Good job asking!" even when I have to delay or deny his wish.

Finally, he is also learning, along with me, about the importance of social connection and the joy that others can bring into our lives.  He is not yet in pre-school, so as a stay-at-home mom I have to make a conscious effort to teach him this.  We leave the house at least once every day, either for a playdate, coffee date, mommy & me class, park, children's museum, library, or errand.  For myself, I know that I need to be around other people daily to avoid emotional flashbacks to the isolation of my youth.  For my son, I know that he needs to have a lot of early positive experiences with others and have a lot of opportunities to observe social interaction so that he can build his confidence for later social success.  Watching my naturally shy little boy become comfortable and have fun with other people is incredibly satisfying.  It gives me hope that my personal social weaknesses will not greatly limit him.  

Seeing my son learn these three lessons has made my motherhood experience wonderful so far.  I only hope, as Baby Boy #2 joins that family this fall, and as my boys get older and start school, that we will be able to continue building strong family relationships on this basic foundation.

Happy Mother's Day!


  1. Wonderful post! So happy to be part of your journey. Love you! Proud of you.

  2. Great post! Feeling like we're understood -- or at the very least, heard -- is such an important thing for all of us to feel. I feel very strongly about making sure my daughter feels this too.

  3. If you are okay with it, I think it would be helpful for many of us to hear more about emotional flashbacks from a fellow homeschool survivor's perspective. I had never heard of the concept before, but I've started to realize that I have had them a lot without knowing that's what was happening. I used to think flashbacks were only remembering specific events and that people only had them if they had been through something really traumatic. But living in nearly complete isolation throughout childhood and the teen years is traumatic in a way.


    1. Same here--I always associated the concept of flashbacks with vividly re-living a single traumatic experience, which I have not had. But it turns out that flashbacks can be just emotional too.

      I guess another phrase to describe the experience would be "emotional regression." For me, I very quickly sink into depression, despair, and helplessness as if I were completely alone and friendless again, like in my teens. Sometimes it's triggered by a few days of no adult interaction, and sometimes it's triggered by a minor personal social failure. But at least now I can recognize that the emotions are a huuuuge over-reaction to my present situation, and can more easily find something positive to focus on to pull myself out of it.

      Since writing this post, I've come across a psych website that describes my experience fairly well: It might describe your experience too.

  4. So much of what you describe is so familiar to me. I was also homeschooled in northern california in the 80s. I remember the intense isolation and boredom. Im also raising a young son and experiencing emotional flashbacks (and some memory laden ones as well). Thanks for blogging this.

  5. Personally, I am 'new' to the game of healing. I recently descovered that I have that issue of supressed emotions, as a childhood herritage. I live in a place that society did not grow up to value or accept emotions, and it is not easy to find that the problem exists. As your article states, for me it started with being a mother of 2. I am happy to read you are directing youir kids to emotional freedom and emotional inteligence. I try too, but unfortunately I am not cured... I hope I will do it fast enough. Happy that I found your blog. Good luck to you all.

  6. I had a similar upbringing as you. I am in my 30s and I have just pulled my 3rd grade son out of school, after many different schools and countless IEP meetings, to homeschool him. He is diagnosed as ADHD/Autism but medicine makes things worse for him. He is very happy and more relaxed and is finally making progress. I am confident that this is the best environment for him at this time for him. However, I am at a loss on how to integrate him socially with others. When he was younger he would often get along with adults and he was so cute and funny. Now, when he says his odd comments in inappropriate places, we are both looked at disdainfully. Thankfully, we have our 4 year old daughter/sister who is a shining star academically and socially. She saves my son from being too lost in his own mind and forces him to relate to somebody else. However, my son alienates himself from other parents and children because he is seen as too rough, inappropriate, rude, etc. My son makes me look like I'm a bad mother. My daughter makes me look like I'm an amazing mother. So I try to focus on the balance of it all. But I am alone.