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The Sins of the Mother

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No one told me that when I had children, I would have to squarely face all those parts of myself that I have attempted to sweep under the rug.

Jennifer Ginsberg: If I was faced with Sophie's choice today, there would be no question what I would do. As politically incorrect as this sentiment is, I am certain that most mothers of more than one child can relate to it. Simply put, while I love my children equally, I generally tend to like one better than the other. Navigating through these feelings can be a tricky dance, especially as I am committed to not letting them seep into my interactions with my children.

mother hugging her daughter

My relationship with my 4 1/2-year-old son Shane is pretty contentious these days. In a nutshell, my goal is to get him to behave in accordance with the rules of our house and the laws of the world, which I don't think is too much to ask. He responds to my attempts at control with irrational resistance and rejection. While he is able to keep it together at school and in other people's homes, when he is with me, he seems to just fall apart. He wants to do things his way and in his order (eat dessert before breakfast, watch TV before getting dressed, and take a bath in a salad bowl with all of my expensive bath salts!). Trying to reason with him is like trying to negotiate with terrorists.

One of the hardest parts of our relationship is that I am often forced to face all the things I hate about myself. When he is behaving the most egregiously, it is like looking in a f%$#ing mirror that shines on all of my dark and shadowy parts which I have spent years alternately trying to correct and deny. His incessant tenacity -- how he won't give up until he gets his way -- vintage Jen. His obsessiveness -- whether it's about candy or a specific toy that he covets -- was inherited from Yours Truly. The list goes on and on -- his stubborn nature, his need for power and control, the way he never forgets a single thing -- all I have to do is look at my reflection.

I always struggled with the biblical verse, "The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons," because I felt it was profoundly unfair that children were condemned to bear the shortcomings of their parents. Now that I am a mom, I understand this passage on a whole different level. I feel sadness and shame that after putting forth my greatest effort to not pass my worst qualities onto my son, it still has happened.

My friends tell me I am being too hard on myself -- that all this is simply a result of him being my firstborn and a reflection of his developmental phase. I, for one, find the "f%$#ing fours" much more challenging than the "terrible twos"! But on some level, I know that I hold the power to change our relationship. I am the adult -- the one who is forced to rise to the task of being the wiser, kinder, stronger, and more patient person. When I get down on his level and engage with him like I am another rage-full 4-year-old child, all hell breaks loose.

No one told me that when I had children, I would have to squarely face all those parts of myself that I have attempted to sweep under the rug. By some miracle, this layer of angst has not permeated my relationship with my 2-year-old daughter (yet). For now, things with her are sweet and easy and light. Living with the glaring contrast without allowing it to inform my behavior is a tough line to walk.

I force myself to work through my feelings of anxiety and dig deep when I am with Shane -- I want him to understand the rules and boundaries while feeling safe and loved. The truth be told, I love him so very much it often hurts -- even when he is acting the most unlovable. Perhaps I can learn to love those parts of myself, as well.

next: Chris Brown: 'I've Let a Lot of People Down'
7 comments so far | Post a comment now
Horrible July 21, 2009, 8:13 AM

You should be ashamed. How would you feel if your Mother liked one of your siblings more than you. Kids pick up on these things, I am sure he knows. Not to mention your other children do as well.

Hope you can pay for all of the therepy coming your way.

Anonymous July 21, 2009, 9:55 AM

Don’t be so harsh, Horrible. It seems like she loves her children equally like all good parents. You cannot deny that some kids butt heads with their parents while others get along perfectly with them. It might only last while they’re toddlers or pre-school age, then they mellow out, or maybe it will be that way their whole lives. I was always a mirror image of my parents and got along great, but my sister often times caused friction. Not because they love her less, but because she’s simply a different person. It’s just ridiculous to deny that parents don’t get along with each of their kids differently. That doesn’t affect how much they love them at all!

Chris July 21, 2009, 10:04 AM

I think she has nothing to be ashamed of. I know what she is stating. We don’t really love anyone less, it just gets frustrating, and it feels strained. My oldest son and I have been butting heads since my twins were born. He wants his power struggle. It’s normal. And it is normal to feel that way coming from the parent.

Wendi July 21, 2009, 1:58 PM

I really like that she said that it is like looking in a mirror. She is right on with that statement. My hubby and I often joke about how much our boys are like me and our daughter is like him. It is good for parents to realize that this little person you created does pick up your habbits and attitudes towards things. They will inherit certian traits from each parent. It is hard to see what you hate about yourself coming out in a child. However, that is part of the process. You then must teach that child to work though those issues, and sometimes learn as you go. I don’t think you could actually love any of your children less than the other, you just don’t like seeing yourself in them. Well the bad parts at least.

birdsfly July 21, 2009, 3:15 PM

Wow. It really sounds like I wrote this about my 4 1/2 yo son. He drives me crazy. Everytime I tell him to do something he raspberries at me. I call him the rude reptile. Last night, for fun, he filled my new food processor with cayanne pepper. Everytime I mention something to my mother she says, “gee, who does that remind me of?”

messymom July 21, 2009, 3:44 PM

you are a real mom! keep putting it out there.

Mark July 25, 2009, 4:13 AM

Horrible- your comments are just silly, she is simply expressing her feelings, they are what they are. Being a parent of two children I can relate, at times I have liked one more than the other, it perfectly normal, lighten up. Mark

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