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Oct 25

An oldest child raising her children

I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about the baggage we bring to motherhood.  About the lessons we learn about childhood and responsibility and growing up, and how that translates to the way we mother our own children.  I had, by many standards, an absolutely wonderful childhood.  I had a warm, loving relationship with my mother, a fabulous grandfather, a close knit group of aunts and uncles and cousins watching out for me.  I had a roof over my head, food on my table – and while we were never even close to wealthy, we were not so poor that I did without what I needed.

But there’s another perspective – and that’s the one that I struggle with sometimes.  My father had left early on in my childhood, and because I was the oldest, and so close to my mother, I definitely felt the lack of that additional parent.  I grew up early, and assumed a lot of responsibility.  I had a tremendously close relationship with my mother, and while it was (and is) wonderful on so many levels, I don’t necessarily want to give my own daughter that much responsibility.  It didn’t work for me, not entirely.  I have an unbelievably crappy relationship with some of my siblings now, and I think a big part of that can be traced back to our childhood.

So I’m conflicted – especially with Jessica.  I want for her to be protected from too much responsibility too soon, and I think I overdo it sometimes.  I also think that I don’t give her enough responsibility – and that she fights for control and respect more than she needs to – simply because there’s a part of me that wants to shield her from having to grow up too fast.  I’m realizing that a lot of our biggest battles boil down to power – who is going to be the one in charge of her life, and when I ease back a little, when I give her as much control as I can (within reason), her stress level is noticeably lower.

Last night – she didn’t want to go to bed.  Which is not unusual – she’s a lot like me and doesn’t fall asleep easily.  Sam is more like Marc and just announces he’s tired, lays down and sleeps.  Jessie has always required more – I need to ease her into sleep, and she fights it all the time.  As an infant, Jessie would cry before bed, and it broke my heart, she’d be sobbing in my arms, so tired and just refused to sleep.  So the bedtime battle wasn’t unusual, or even unexpected – but this time, instead of demanding that she go to sleep, I just gently explained that her body needed rest, and she needed to lay down and let her body relax.  She could read or listen to music or sleep, it was up to her.  And once I gave her that power, the fight went out of her immediately, she was asleep within minutes.

I don’t have any answers – and I’m pretty sure that I’m always going to be a little unsure if I’m giving her enough or too much responsibility.  But I do know that being aware of my own baggage, being aware of my own desire to protect her might be overwhelming her need to assert her own personality, being aware of that can only help me to make the decisions based on what’s best for her, at that moment.  I want to give her more room – so that she doesn’t have to fight quite so hard to get it from me.

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