Confessions of a Shitty Mom*

For one night, that is.  My mom and I are babysitting my nephews, and they are sleeping over.  Right now, she is telling them a story, and then they are going to bed.

She went to pick them up around two and brought them home around four.  We played downstairs for a bit, then they wanted to watch half of the movie they brought (Up) before playing on the computer.

But I get ahead of myself.  I was on the computer when they came (surprise, surprise), and the middle child (first boy) immediately declared that he was going to use my computer and commandeered my mouse.  I took it back from him and turned it off (wireless), but he continued to fiddle with the keyboard, and his brother followed suit.  The youngest idolizes his brother and does everything Nephew the Elder does.

This immediately flummoxed me because my niece would never have done that when she was a young kid (she’s six years older than Nephew the Elder), and I had no clue how to deal with blatant disregard for boundaries.

See, this has been a burgeoning problem.  My niece and I are close.  When she was growing up, we would spend hours making up stories about enchanted lands and such.  She would be content to have me tell her stories endlessly.  And, when she got older, she loved it best when we read together.  Then, along came the boys in rapid succession (less than two years apart), and everything blew apart.

Nephew the Elder is officiously known as the problem child.  He is the most like his father and prone to tantrums at the drop of a hat.  He is also the smartest of the three kids, and if he makes it through his teen years relatively intact, he is going to do something extraordinary.   Now, as you know, once a child is labeled the problem child, he grows into the role.  Granted, Nephew the Elder is a handful, but it doesn’t help to have him blamed for everything that goes wrong.

In comes Nephew the Younger.  Until he hit three, he was gregarious, charming, personable, etc.  He was the ray of sunshine, and it was easy to tell who was the favored boy in the house (according to my brother).  My brother would glow when talking about Nephew the Younger, and I tried to gently dissuade him from being so definitive about his sons, but to no avail.

So.  The problem is that my nephews vie for my attention, but they do so in a negative way.  They hit me.  And, they throw things at me.  I am the only one in the family they so target.  I think it’s partly because they are jealous of my relationship with my niece, and I feel guilty about that.  However, for someone with PTSD (that would be me), having to constantly be on my guard for an attack is not desirable at all.  The funny thing is that they mostly do it in front of their parents.  Their parents say nothing.

Nephew the Elder started it.  I have done the “Do not hit me” in a firm voice–to no avail.  I have done the holding him in my arms–to no avail (he kicks me).  He stopped doing it for a bit, but after Nephew the Younger was born, they both took up this sport.  They like to throw things at me while laughing gleefully if they hit me.  It’s usually a cat toy or a stuffed something or the other, but sometimes they threaten to throw something heavier.

Tonight, they didn’t throw anything at me until about five minutes before they went to bed.  Then, Nephew the Elder threw a cat fuzzy mouse at me saying it was a football (despite me telling him NOT to throw it).  He laughed and said it was a football when I said I was displeased with him.  I kept the mouse, but I was fuming.  Nephew the Younger did not throw his fuzzy mouse, so I suppose it’s a step in the right direction.

The other thing is they try to pull up my shirt to see my tattoo.  This happened the last time they were at my house, and it took half a dozen times of telling them to knock it off before they quit.  This time, it was trying to pull down my shorts.  It took my mom using her mom voice to get them to quit.

So.  Here’s the thing.  I have no fucking idea what to do.  What’s more, I have no idea why I am the one they do this to.  I feel as if I have a victim label stamped on my forehead, and it’s not pleasant.  I can feel myself getting pissed off, and I know once I start engaging with them, it’s a power struggle, and I’ve already lost.  You know what they respond to?  Authoritarianism.  My mom is very authoritative with them, and they listen to her (more often than not).  I am not an authoritarian, but I can’t do this any longer.

When I am not feeling under attack, I am able to find some enjoyment with being with them.  I’m trying to find a way to minimize the negative behavior on their part in order to increase my own desire to be with them.  But, instead, I end up feeling shitty because I am fuming, and I am thisclose to losing it.

My mom asked if I liked them.  She said they would be able to feel it if I didn’t.  I hemmed and hawed, but if I were to be honest, I would have to say, no, in general, I don’t.  And that makes me feel even shittier.  I mean, they are my flesh and blood as is my niece.  WTF is wrong with me that I don’t want to spend time with them?

I love them.  I do not particularly like the way they behave around me.  I actually have more problem with Nephew the Younger because he reminds me of my father.  Charming, charismatic, manipulative.  And, then I feel bad when I snap at Nephew the Older (like when he said I wasn’t any good at ping-pong and that he was better than I was) because I’m the fucking adult, for god’s sake.

However, when I am around them, I feel myself erecting my shield so that I am not hurt–emotionally.  They never hurt me physically because they are too little for that, but they make me incredibly edgy.

Then, there’s the movie Up.  You know, the one that garnered so much critical acclaim and consumer appreciation.  The one that adults and children alike adored.  Yeah, that one.  Well, I watched half of it with my nephews (funny note.  Their mom told them they could watch half the movie today before going on the computer.  Nephew the Elder kept asking if half the movie had gone by.  I said we didn’t have to watch half the movie before going on the computer, but he insisted we did because Mom said so), and I just could not get into it.  From the beginning, I was put off by the improbability of certain scenes (such as the Mr. F being taken to court), and then with the addition of the kid, I completely lost interest in the movie.  Yes, it’s well-drawn and well-directed and all that.  However, I kept reading about how people cried ten minutes into the movie, and I wondered what the hell was wrong with me that I didn’t shed even half a tear.  (Since this is not a review, I am trying not to give spoilers).

I kinda liked Mr. F, but I hate Russell.  Then, when Kevin and Dug bounded into the scene, it pushed me into active dislike for the movie.  The whole premise seemed contrived, and I didn’t believe the love story, and and and…yeah, I’m just defective.  I didn’t hate this movie, and I will watch the second half with the boys tomorrow, but I could have happily skipped ever seeing it.

And, this is another reason I’d be a shitty mom.  No way in hell I could watch half the crap that passes for TV/movies these days.  No way I could put the wants of my children ahead of my need to stay sane by not watching, say, Hannah Montana.  By the way, my niece made an awesome video for her birthday of her and her friends dancing and singing to Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but the Miley Cyrus version because, in her words, “The original girl can’t sing.”  Oh, no she didn’t dis Cyndi Lauper like that!

I feel like a shitty person because I struggle to enjoy my time with my nephews.  I feel shitty because I don’t make more plans with my niece.  However, I am working on the issues from my nuclear family, and dealing with my brother’s family is very similar to dealing with my own.

I hate feeling defeated, but I do.  No matter what I do, the boys just will not listen.  No, wait, that’s not true.  There is one thing.  Nephew the Elder has taken to shouting at me and demanding that I answer him.  My response is, “I don’t like when you shout at me.  I will not answer if you continue to shout at me.”  Then he asked the question in a normal tone.  I’ve done that with limited success before, so I may have to build on that.

And, to be honest, when there is just one of them, things are much better.  The two feed off on each other, much to my chagrin.

Watching them for one night just reinforces my gratefulness that I did not have kids.  I was talking to my therapist about my decision not to have kids in part because I didn’t want to continue the family legacy of spectacular dysfunction.  My therapist said that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that I would continue that pattern if I were to be a parent.  I said it wasn’t the main reason I didn’t have kids, but it did play a minor role.

Let me tell you a cute story.  When my mom first came here, she was feeding my cats food from Cub, the local supermarket.  I only feed my cats organic meat, so I asked her a few times not to feed them Cub meat.  She grumbled a bit about it, but she eventually complied.  We went to Fresh & Natural where I do my usual shopping, and when my mom saw the food I bought for my cats, she “jokingly” complained to the cashier that I had organic-food-only cats.  The cashier smiled and said, “I only feed my dog raw food because she’s allergic to everything else.”  Inside, I was snickering.  I mean, my mom thought she’d get sympathy in a co-op?

More seriously, fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to stand up to her.  She would have had her ideas of how a child should be treated, and I would have been too weak to say, “No.  Not with my kids.”  I couldn’t trust my father to be with them, but I would have been too weak to say no when my parents asked to take them for the day.

In addition, I know I have it in me to be an abusive parent.  With the nephews, I could feel my ire raising.  I had to walk away a few times so I wouldn’t snap.  When you are a parent for realz, you don’t have the luxury of saying, “Well, I only have them for twenty-four hours.”  One time my mom and I got in a huge fight, and I had to leave the house because I realized I was thisclose to hitting her.  I am tightly-controlled with my emotions–until I’m not.

Watching over my nephews is pushing other uncomfortable feelings to the surface–such as how alien I am from mainstream life or traditional life or normal life.  I mean, I know I reside in FreakTown, but it’s hard to keep coming up against examples of that and not feel somewhat battered.  My mom mentioned that I would be a good psychologist and that if I ever wanted to go enback to grad school, yadda yadda yadda.  I didn’t get defensive, and I thought, “Not now, but maybe in twenty years” (which in itself is a novelty as I never envisioned I had a future before).  I realized that in her desire for me to be happy and secure, she cannot even imagine a life like the one I have.  To her, going to grad school and being a psychologist would be a good, stable, traditional thing to do.  And, I can’t fault her, because what parent wouldn’t want her kid to be secure?  I will have more to say about that in a future entry.

Dealing with my nephews reminds me that I am not equipped at all to be a good parent.  If I ever wanted to have kids, I would have duplicated the mistakes my parents made with my childhood, and I would have ended up with kids who were as damaged as I was.  That’s a shitty realization to make.  I mean, it’s one thing for me to say, “Hey, I’m not having kids because I don’t want them.”  It’s quite another to realize just how fucked-up any kids of mine would have been.

I used to pride myself on being a good ‘crazy auntie’.  Now, I’m not even sure of that.

*H/T to Kel for the title.  Hope you don’t mind that I borrowed it and bastardized it.

15 Responses to Confessions of a Shitty Mom*

  1. having your own kids is way, ay different, consider the fact they start out as itty, bitty babies and usually one at a time vs two already opinionated and moving kids, who already learned lots of icky behaviors before they walked through your door

  2. sheri, true on all accounts. However, I still think I would have been a shitty mom. And, there is no way to test that particular hypothesis!

  3. You can borrow whatever, any time. What’s mine is yours.

    Your post, though, while filled with very legitimate frustrations, also contains a good bit of bullshit. But we all know that you are amazingly talented at taking on guilt for things that have nothing to do with you.

    If those boys were YOURS, and YOU had raised them and they acted like that, I would be the first person to agree that you were a shitty parent. But the fact that someone ELSE raised them to be obnoxious, disrespectful, physically abusive, and generally just assholes, has nothing to do with YOU. You cannot undo years of training in a day here and there. It simply cannot be done.

    Now, you and I swapped about a zillion texts earlier tonight about this, and I stand by it. The FIRST time they hit/throw/pull off your clothes, that’s it. They go HOME. No second chances, no grace period, nada. And while you’re standing up to people, you can add your brother and his psychotic wife to the list. If it happens at their house, there are two options, and only two options. Either they put a stop to it IMMEDIATELY, or you’re out the door. Do NOT budge on this, Minna. There is never ever any excuse for a child to initiate physical aggression towards an adult. Do not stand for it.

    Of course, you know I support your child-free state 100%. So this response is not at all about trying to convince you that you’d be Super Mom and that you should go right out and get yourself knocked up. This is merely about the fact that poorly raised kids do NOT make YOU a shitty anything.


  4. Kel, your words are wise, oh mother of three. I’m not so sure it’s about shitty parenting, though, either. I mean, Nephew the Elder has been difficult since birth, but yeah, family dynamics certainly do not help.

    I don’t know why I am so reluctant to be that firm about standing up for myself. Maybe because I feel guilty about…well, lots of things. At any rate, you are right. There is no excuse for that sort of behavior, and I need to nip it now because otherwise, it’ll just become more ingrained over time. I need to channel some of your firm, but loving mom attitude, methinks. Wish me luck.

  5. Honestly, you only need four things to deal with children satisfactorily:

    olive oil
    a sharp skewer
    a roaring fire

    Baste, rub with garlic, apply the spit, roast lightly for about 45 minutes. Problem solved and protein needs met.

  6. morzer, OK, you made me laugh out loud, damn it! That’s some funny shit right there. I might have to steal it at some point. Would a rusty pitchfork work just as well?

  7. Well, a rusty pitchfork works quite well if you have tendencies to anemia. Medicinal use only – but any doctor worth their minimum bribe level will surely write a prescription for you.

  8. Yeah, I know. Still…I feel bad that I can’t find a way to relate to them that isn’t pretty much authoritative in nature. I will be blogging more about it shortly.

  9. Hi Minna, Sounds like your SIL and your brother are doing a great job of establishing boundaries and encouraging their kids to be well adjusted and sociable. All I can say is “you reap what you sow.” Sounds like some imminent problems during teenagerhood. I think you need to just ignore your two nephews when they start to behave badly or say things like, “well, I’ll go and see your sister now…” The harder you try to control them the worse you will feel and the less of an impact you will make. There’s not much you can do as there are obviously no boundaries at home. I would cut your losses and focus on your niece. If your nephews manage to behave appropriately around you and with you, then you reward them with your attention. If they don’t and they take your things throw them at you, etc, you walk away. Hitting them is rewarding them with attention. Turning your back on them is not. As a parent, I deal with this all the time and see lots of ways that people don’t deal well with their kids all the time.

  10. Sarah, NTE was a handful from the start, and I think he wore his parents down. Now that there is two of them, yeah, it’s a constant struggle. I am not ready to give up completely on them, but I agree with your suggestion of withdrawing entirely when they get out of control. Negative attention is, apparently, better than none–so none they will get. When and if they can act in appropriate manner (i.e., not hitting me), then I will engage with them again.

  11. Ignoring bad behavior is a good strategy, but I do NOT agree with it as an all around thing. When thy turn physically aggressive, that should -never- be ignored, period.

    If your SIL/Bro choose to accept their children acting like shitheads, that’s their business. But at no time should physical aggression be tolerated by you, especially as a PTSD kid.

    I’ll come visit and have them straightened out in no time.

  12. Kel, I think you could straighten them out in no time with minimal blood shed. NTE ended up not coming over tonight, so I didn’t get the chance to try out new skills. My therapist suggested sitting them down and saying something to the effect of, “It is not acceptable to hit. This is what will happen if you do it again.” Then, as you know, I have to follow through with it every time.