This morning, my son hit me with a Nerf Gun. My anger flared up right away, because that sucker hurt!! He felt really bad and apologized immediately. About ten minutes later, he came back and said, “Mom, I feel bad about just now. I am so sorry.” I told him not to feel bad, I was not mad at all, and that I wanted him to know the bullet hurt me and to not aim within range of people.
Immediately, I realized I had a moment of “shitty parenting.” Why the heck would I tell him not to feel bad? I corrected myself, “Actually, you need to feel what you feel. I am sorry I tried to shut down your feelings.”
The healthiest thing for him to do, when he hurt me, was to feel bad. To tell him otherwise was to raise an apathetic human being, but my first (and erroneous) response was to “protect” him from feeling.
Lately, there has been a lot of lashing-out against my son’s middle school, Basis DC. Some parents appear very agitated by the high standards and expectations of the school, especially parents of children with special needs. They desire a school that provides equal outcome for kids with special needs and kids with no such needs. Many believe that with adequate funding and channeling of resources, all things will be made equal.
Standing from the POV of a parent, I understand. If I do not want my child to feel bad and be left out of opportunities and a great future, I would fight to provide the best possible care for him or her. That must be the desire of any healthy parent.
However, when I stand inside my own mind and see my own limits, I think the healthiest thing for myself is to understand my limits and to not have false expectations of what I can accomplish. Sometimes, feeling the failures of my attempts is great information. It allows me to see that there are some things I cannot keep doing and remain healthy, like spending beyond my means, working more than my body lets me, spending too much time with people when I need to quietly process…etc. Doing things in excess of my ability causes me to FEEL. I feel burnout, I feel the shame of my mistakes, I feel pain, I alienate people. Good to feel, see limits, see consequences, and become healthier.
Do parents who hate Basis DC hate it because they do not want their children, who have limits, to feel their limits? Is it right to demand a school to fix limits that cannot be fixed? I make some assumptions here. I assume these parents are not planning to send their kids to a rigorous school so that they can guide their children to see limits as they fail at meeting certain academic standards. That can be a lesson on its own, but what is driving the anger towards this particular school other than a deep desire to protect a child from feeling bad about themselves?
I personally do not know that setting up a child to operate in a setting that is not appropriate really erases shame. I think it aggravates it. I think many parents will not accept, nor process, the shame they feel to have a child with limits. I liberally assume here that these same parents have not learned to accept their own limits. Rather than modeling self love, they are channeling their energy towards changing the environment to disguise or eliminate any appearance of limits.
I, for one, will not send one of my kids, who cannot sing, to audition for a national choir. I will not demand the choir to make arrangements so that my child can belong to it. But I will encourage my child to sing his heart out in a setting where it is healthy and happy.
Back to the Nerf Gun thing. I really wasn’t telling my son not to feel bad. I was really wanting him not to feel toxic shame… which I define as swimming in self hatred directed at one’s imperfection and limits. My child’s “feeling bad” was healthy, but my projection onto him was about an upbringing and a fantasy that all is well when we do not feel.
Lately, I have been working on accepting and enjoying my feelings. I love feeling pain, anger, modesty, happiness, the whole nine yards. With feelings, I am informed as to where I begin and where I end. I had operated on “don’t feel bad” for as I could remember, and it had stunted my growth. So, seriously, these days, I feel bad all the time. Not to say I am not a feel-good chaser, but at least I am now smart enough to know that feeling the bad helps me to figure out how to feel the good.