Thursday, May 31, 2007

7-year (and 3/4) itch revisited

Last summer I wrote about my "seven year itch" for mothering as my daughter and I spent lots of time rubbing each other the wrong way. Now the school year is ending and there is still plenty of friction to go around. This is a big transitional year, from being a little kid to a real girl. I sense that she is torn between the desire to crawl back into my lap, being taken care of as a toddler, countered by an irresistible urge to be seen as grown up.

I keep thinking that she'll make a really great grown-up someday when she gets to call all the shots. But in the meantime we have power struggles and tears over whether I am expecting too much from her and/or not giving her enough freedom.

In all the years of reading literature about how children are affected by their parents, I can't think of much about how parents are affected by their children. I mean this seriously and not ironically. I can now look back at some women whom I would have once considered to be bad mothers and now I see that maybe part of it was that they were worn down, tired, thwarted, or feeling like "this wasn't the life that I signed up for." This is still a largely taboo subject and I have to admit that I squirm when I read brutally honest works like The Mother Knot by Jane Lazarre.

I wrote a screenplay when my daughter was a toddler, one of many challenging stages of life. Shadows of Fire turned out like a classic Lifetime Movie. It centers on a family secret that is traced over two decades following a fire that killed one of two young daughters. The protagonist is the surviving daughter grown up, a young scientist who has tried to get out from under the thumb of her overbearing mother. This mother is awful, negligent at a key moment, an alcoholic and a frustrated writer who eventually gave up her writing to become a shallow society woman. Above all she is really hard on her daughter. This mother was just about as bad as I could make her, short of having her commit murder. As I was writing the screenplay, I conciously identified with the protagonist, but when I was done it became clear that the mother was the projection of my own nightmares about the shadow side of motherhood. I don't like the mother, and I didn't really feel a catharsis through her, but I can identify with the possibilities of her downfall. She was changed by the experience of motherhood, by the pressures her husband's job brought to bear on her families, by her own lack of mojo and ability to pursue her dreams. She lost one daughter and felt that she had the right to mold her remaining girl's future.

I should go back and re-read it to see if there are any fresh lessons waiting inside for me. This is an unproduced screenplay, by the way, and is still available for optioning! I submitted it to Project Greenlight and a few other contests, where it got generally good reviews by women who like family dramas, and poor reviews from guys in their 20's. No surprise there.

So, on this path of motherhood, I keep coming back to the same lessons. Try to be patient. This too shall pass. The bad feelings on one day don't have to define me or my relationship with my daughter. On a practical level, staying on schedule with a good night's sleep is important for all of us. And takes time, and we have to endure some tough days to show them we're serious. It's hard to hear that she knows she'd have to behave at a restaurant if she were with her teachers, but she somehow can "get away with" a meltdown if she's with me. I am looking for that delicate balance between my role as a refuge and safe harbor, but also letting her know that it's time to grow up.

Breathe in, breathe out, and take it one step at a time.



Anonymous Karen said...

So true so true. Still true, ever true. And I hate to say this, but I will: if we expect anything of anyone it is expecting too much. We do not produce a child; they are already produced. And it is by our loving, resilient, evenminded, generous acceptance of them as they are that they grow large and full and generous and kind and accepting of our failures as parents. Pat yourself on the back and keep applauding Little T.

3:26 PM  

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