I came across a podcast this morning that I wanted to listen to. I subscribe to Therapy Chat (don’t throw up in your mouth, please) and the episode that caught my eye is on Childhood Emotional Neglect. Geez. Most of us over forty could teach a course on it, because child rearing used to be different. The world used to be geared toward adults, and children had to wait to mature before they got to enter it. We heard things like, “Go outside and play and don’t come in until dark.” Or, “This is adult time, go find something to do.” Such utterances are frowned upon now, in this age where we told we have to come up with constant nurturing and enriching activities for our offspring lest they get bored. I think that’s great. I certainly do my share of dedicated mother and son time and try to achieve that quality that I’m always hearing about. But I do wonder, if we don’t let them get bored, how will they ever learn how to entertain themselves? What exactly is neglectful? How is it something we as parents can always avoid? And if it happened to us as children, how do we get over it? How do we keep from doing that same thing to our children?
Those are ongoing questions and each one has endless and incomplete answers. The idea of lineage is a heavy thing for me. It’s heavy for most of us, as we are well aware of how we carry what we inherit and how it affects us in our daily lives and beyond. When we think of how we pass this or that from generation to generation, it can be beyond heavy, it can be debilitating and make us afraid to make a move in one direction or another. Fear of doing something wrong can render us impotent. The truth is, as far as I see it, is that we need to confidently go in the direction of the well-considered instinct. Yes, I said well-considered, because what is also true is that our instincts can get diluted by experience — when we grow up being lied to we get the message that our instincts are wrong, and that our feelings aren’t real, and at the least, invalid, so we begin to distrust our instincts which results in not being able to count on them. That leaves us bereft of direction, centerless, hopeless.
I don’t know about childhood emotional neglect, that sounds like a severe thing, but I really don’t believe that I suffered from it. I don’t know how, but my Mama was able to show up for me when it mattered, and she made me feel like I had a place in the world, like I belonged to her and that was the best thing in the entire sphere of best things, despite our difficulties. And you know, that’s the most important thing one can provide for a child, to make them believe that they matter in a consistent, solid way. To let them know they belong somewhere and that they are claimed. They shouldn’t feel they matter only when we feel like allowing them to, they shouldn’t be party to our whims or moods. They should just be loved and made to feel that they are significant and have a place, all the time, even if we’re telling them to go play outside because our nerves can’t take the racket anymore. There’s a way to let them know they’re safe even if they’re only attached to that safety by a really long tether that reaches down to the creek or across the subdivision to a neighbor’s house. And they know whether they are or aren’t, just like you knew, just like I knew.
We aren’t perfect and we never will be. We will never be perfect parents, but we can be aware that we aren’t and do our best to get not only ourselves but our children through that reality. I’ll put it to you this way: Yesterday evening at about 7pm, I was busy with a project. John Henry had been bathed and fed and, I thought, was playing happily in his room in his pajamas. I realized I didn’t hear any sound coming from his room and when I don’t hear him, I don’t know if he’s okay. So I got up to look for him. I found him a few feet away from where I was sitting, naked from the waist down on my bed, masturbating, and having had a toileting accident. All I could think or say was Dear God. I dealt with it all as I always do, I cleaned him up and stripped the bed right away. Mind you, these episodes happen more often than seems reasonable, but I wonder today, as this blog topic wafts through my mind, what would my Mama have done in such a situation? How does my lineage affect how I deal with this extreme set of circumstances?
I see her sweet smile in my mind and I know that it is her love that allows me to pick it all up and figure it out and just get through it as gracefully as possible. She would’ve loved him fiercely, as I do. I am not perpetually patient as she was not. I am not always completely measured as she was not. I am quick with a retort and smart ass remark as she was, and sometimes I just want some space as she did. But I also protect, defend, and honor, I clean, cook, and prepare, I laugh, hug, and kiss, I cry, wish, and hope, and I pray, pray, and pray. Just like she did. It is to her credit that I am not a ranting, raving lunatic. That’s a lineage of which I’m very proud and which I happily carry.
Happy Wednesday, Y’all.