Friday, April 25, 2008

Parenting

The very spirited discussion about parenting we had in the book club post last week reminded me of something I've been meaning to bring up. There is a story and a question (or five) here, and since I enjoy talking to you all rather more than just howling into the winds of the internets, I would be much obliged if you could answer me that question. K?

So the story. Way back when, before I saw Dr.Best for the first time this pregnancy, I had to talk to an intake nurse-- apparently a new-fangled addition to the Order Things Are at the practice. Ostensibly, the purpose of talking to her was for her to update their records with anything medical or otherwise relevant that happened since the last time I was in their care, i.e. after that six week appointment I had after A's birth. Point being, she had the records, and she started by ascertaining that this was in fact my fourth recorded pregnancy, first ending in a miscarriage, second in Monkey, third in the stillbirth for which she expressed appropriate and obviously sincere sympathy. Which then brought us to this here fourth pregnancy, about which she said "So we can thank your little guy for this."

I couldn't formulate right then why that made me supremely uncomfortable, why it made me go cold and stiff, so I went with "that's not how I think about it," and she went with "Awww..." indicating either that she believed me misguided or that she felt sorry for me, but definitely not that she was sorry to have said it, and we went on with the rest of the intake interview. Which was ok. After I hung up, I was still thinking about why that affected me so much. I found it, and fast, which reinforced my belief that you should never depend on me in a firefight because I apparently freeze, but you can depend on me to analyze it to death afterwards. Or pre-analyze it, actually, I do that too. This is why I have a whole list of responses stored up for the stupid things people in general and certain people in particular might say to me in the near future-- makes me feel a lot more secure.

So what I figured out is that the philosophy, the belief behind that particular statement, or at least the logical extension of that belief, is the polar opposite of the way I parent. I don't believe my children owe me anything. I don't believe they are responsible for my happiness, now or in my sunset years. This responsibility, of ensuring we achieved the most important goal (ha! try the only goal) in our lives at the time--getting knocked up-- it's huge. I would never ask my living child to assume responsibility for anything remotely as significant to me, so why would I place that on my dead one? And if we didn't get knocked up, when we didn't for six months after starting to try, if I miscarried, would, were those things A's fault?

I know people don't mean that. I know people don't extend their thought to the logical conclusion as I just did here, but I seem to need to do that. I am very much into the logical extensions these days. As an aside, this logical extension business is also why I can't deal with people crediting God with answering their prayers and giving them X they asked for, where X is the miracle baby, recovery from major illness, safety of a loved one, or just about anything that isn't peace and wisdom. Because I absolutely have to flip what they are saying in my mind and see it as an indication that unlike their deserving selves, everyone who didn't get these same things must not really deserve them.

I also realize there is no law that says you have to parent your dead children to any appreciable degree, or to parent them in the same way as you parent your living children. As I said multiple times in multiple places, I really do believe that we each do what we need to do to keep moving.

And here comes that question. Ok, questions. How do you parent or hope to parent? What about the way you or someone you know was parented influences the way you do or hope to one day do things as a parent? If you have a dead child, do you parent them? How?

Like I said, I would be much obliged to see your comments. You know you have nothing better to do this weekend anyway.

28 comments:

sweetsalty kate said...

That's the kind of comment that would leave me completely dumbfounded.

I suppose you could say that the loss of one child can result in the gain of subsequent children that may have otherwise not have existed if it weren't for the loss of the first.... but I would never state that as "thanks to the loss of A we get B..." because that's just bizarre.

My parenting ideals don't match reality right now, which makes me feel terrible (a.k.a. motherhood). So anything I say ("I want to be engaged and joyful" or "I want to run a tight ship so that I have kids that are well-behaved") is rendered ridiculous by the saturday morning cartoons that are enabling me to read and comment on your post, and by the chocolate pudding Evan ate for breakfast this morning.

As for Liam, mostly it feels not as though I parent him, but as though he parents me.

This is a strange sensation, but it's the best way I can articulate how I've been feeling lately.

I feel him as all the boys and men he should have been, and he has opinions and requests and he tries to soothe.

If souls travel in packs, drawn to each other from one life to the next in any manner of forms and roles, I wonder if, the last time around, I was his child and he was my parent... something about that is comforting.

Rambling. Off to steal a spoonful of Evan's second cup. xo

Tash said...

I'm . . . tired. I'm not really sure I understand the question.

I'm with Kate on the logic -- stupid. And it's not like my pregnancies overlapped in any way either -- had they all worked out, I'd have 3 children, 2 years apart.

I'm in the three place where every sentence out of Bella's mouth and every action is a test of her independence and boundaries. And I react and set them. it's not entirely pleasant, I feel like some days are entirely "do overs," and "please ask nicely," and "no" and "I'm counting to three." Does she owe me a polite request for lunch instead of a demand? Or a fucking nap once and awhile? No. but it'd be nice.

Maddy? I feel terrible. I feel like half a mom in the sense that half my children are alive, and I can only focus on one or the other. I try not to break down in front of Bella, so I save it and try and do so quietly some other time. And I can't really do that. The other time never comes. I can't just say "now I'm going to let it out." It just comes. So I either ignore one daughter, or the other, or ruin one's day making her feel oddly in front of her crying mom at some inopportune time, or I neglect my feelings to the other. I'm very very bad at this. Part of why on mother's day I'm hiding in the closet and playing video games.

CLC said...

I don't have a good answer to your question. I don't have living children so I don't have to worry about finding a balance of living for one and grieving for another. I just grieve. All of the frickin' time.

As for the nurse's comment, I'd like to think she meant well by it but I agree that it wasn't the best thing to say. You are right, when people thank god or some other being for their good fortune, it implies that those without that good fortune didn't pray for it enough, want it enough, or deserve it enough or whatever. And that is a pretty shitty way to think. BUT, I don't think people who say these things even think about what they are saying and therefore implying. I think it's easy to be naive and thank god for one's good fortune, when good fortune is all one knows. It's only when bad fortune strikes that one re-evaluates that whole notion and most likely throws it out the window.

Catherine said...

So you should thank him for dying so you could have another? What an odd thing for someone to say.

I parent my living children in a way that I hope they understand they are part of a family that respects them as people. I know I go overboard giving them a voice sometimes as a direct result of my father never allowing us kids a voice while we were growing up. I want to raise independent individuals because I felt so woefully unprepared for adult life (and still do to some extent). I want to give them the tools my family didn't give me for dealing with other people and finding their own happiness in life.

Parenting my dead children is "easy." I know people aren't supposed to think that...but really...some flowers at the cemetery...some sad thoughts on important days...moments of reflection about what might have been...and then it's off to answer the next "why" question from my five-year-old. I have, I think, successfully incorporated their deaths into my life. I don't have to incorporate them too much because...well...they're dead. I don't have much idealization of the dead left in me anymore. It's just too hard to live like that. So I've let go, little by little, to come to this place where I am now. I still miss them...but I can't parent them because that just hurts too much.

Julia said...

Kate, Tash, and Catherine-- I am positive that what she meant by thank is that this pregnancy is due to some supernatural influence by A. You know, his doing, him helping us. All angel-like. Which is why I bristled at the idea that even if I believed he had such a power (which I don't) I would ask him for something this important.

Anonymous said...

With regards to God being responsible for people's miracle baby, recovery from illness, etc....the other saying that absolutely puts me over the edge is "God wouldn't give me anything I couldn't handle" - yeah, he would, people end up dealing with shit they can't handle all the time. I work in the mental health field and even little tiny kids end up dealing with stuff they can't handle. But that's not answering your question! I have both bio children and an adopted child, which raises it's own particular issues - ensuring that our adopted daughter never feels she should be any more "grateful" to us than our bio children (not that I'm really expecting a lick of gratitude until they have their own kids). It's important to me that our bio daughters never feel they they are expected to be "like me" because they share the same genes. They are not an extension of me.

wannabe mom said...

when i got pg with the twins my husband and i both said that it was the reincarnation of our first miscarried baby and our recently deceased kitty (don't laugh!). we felt that because we suffered with the pain of losing them, we were blessed with twins. that's just how our strange minds work. and yet, i never thanked my cat for dying or was grateful for the miscarriage, and never reveled in the twins' deaths so i could carry their little bro.

i probably would have asked the nurse "what do you mean by that? i don't get it" so i could really get her meaning before i opened up a can of whoop ass or analyzed the hell out of it later. it was a strange thing to say, not knowing your beliefs.

as for parenting my girls, i would chalk it up to cemetery visits, remembering them and making sure people know they existed.

Coggy said...

I think people just say things to make stuff fit into their own world view. Sometimes I think they just say stuff because they just feel they have to. People get so uncomfortable around people like us that really weird crap seems to come out of their mouth.

I'm not a parent. I may be a mother, but I'm definitely not a parent. I have no idea how I'd parent. Prior to J dying I'm not sure I would have been that understanding a parent. I think I would have been a good parent, but maybe a little harsh.
Now if I ever get to parent for real I think I will be a lot more relaxed. Which sounds odd given what we've been through. I just think the realization that the big things in life are so beyond our control is kind of freeing in a lot of ways. I seem to be a much calmer person following J's death. I get angry still, but not about the stupid little things any more.

Bon said...

it is, for me, a likely fact that had Finn been born at term and lived, i would not have conceived three weeks later and gone on to have Oscar. even had Finn been born when he was but lived, i doubt we would have limped home from the long NICU stay and turned around and made ourselves another baby. maybe. but not likely. so factually, Finn's death was largely the catalyst in our decision to have Oscar. but do i see him as some kind of gift from Finn? some cosmic consolation prize?

ludicrous, to me. not just illogical...because if Finn had the omniscient power to direct souls into corporeal form, one would think he might have been able to do better with his own...but kind of offensive in terms of what it suggests about people with multiple losses or infertility after loss, like you said. but like someone else said, some people say dumb things to make themselves feel comfortable.

none of this says much about how i parent my dead child. i'm actually working on a piece about this for the GITW site...but let me condense to say that i am in many ways not the parent i want to be to either child. Finn is easier and yet infinitely harder, because the occasions in which i get to feel like i am parenting him in any way at all are so few and thus the sorrow and sense of loss and failure always a scar.

slouching mom said...

what bon said. if he'd been able to direct things so masterfully that he might bring you another child somehow, one would think that he'd have had more control over his own destiny.

ugh. people just don't think before they speak.

The Town Criers said...

I find the whole line of thinking bizarre. You may have had this child regardless or not at all but who can know how your would have behaved in the future if the past was different?

This is our over-riding parenting philosophy: there are no rewards and no punishments. If you get ice cream it was because we all felt like eating ice cream (as long as we haven't had chicken for dinner!), not because you did something right. And if you do something wrong, there is a consequence directly tied to the event, but no punishment.

zarqa said...

Boy, do I love the way your mind works! But I must admit I'm a little confused by what you are asking.

I, too, would have looked at the nurse blankly and asked quietly "what do you mean?" Invariably the explanation would not have been satisfying but at least I could have just dismissed it as "something stupid people say" instead of trying to look for meaning. Maybe my daughter wouldn't be here if her brother had lived. But much more likely is that had her brother lived, she would be a little sister now with a live big brother. As for angels and stuff, I like to think that I'll see my son again one day. That's the last vestige, the thinnest sliver of "belief" or "faith", left in me actually.

My daughter is 10 months old so like a PP said, I'm a mom, but I can't say that I'm a "parent" yet. I guess I've got ideas on how I want to parent. How I want her to be strong and brave and social and loving and trusting. How I go about that is a daily thing, I guess. The only way I can parent my dead son is to love him now and forever.

christina(apronstrings) said...

tough question-how to parent a child that is not living. i have no clue.
i cannot stand all that 'god blessed me' crap. because clearly god wouldn't bless a crack addict with a baby and take ours. so naive. and what a dim witted sense of faith. my mom recently said "That she had asked the lord to take her aunt" because her aunt was dying of cancer and in a lot of pain. i had to bit my tongue not to say 'geez, it blows that you didn't think to ask him to save her from cancer."
in the end, i think comments like that, and that of the nurses, is because they have to make sense of the things in our lives that are so horrible. the unthinkable. it makes their lives livable.
but comments like that bother me too.
however, i do think people th

STE said...

Oh, there are so many things to respond to in this post, I'll likely be back for more after I post this. But I, too, am often stuck for a response. What that nurse said? It took me a few minutes to figure out what she meant by that. Did she really mean that somehow your dead child was responsible for the one now growing in your belly? Those are the kinds of things I can't let go of later, what should I say, what would I say, how could I have responded to that in a way that could have communicated how inappropriate I found that without alienating her?

I pre-analyze, re-analyze and seem never to be ready with a food response. And so, I'll be back.

STE said...

I meant "good" response. Or maybe it's time for a nosh.

Anonymous said...

This one is easy...I want to be the parent my grandfather was. He unconditionally loved all of us, never raised his voice, never showed disappointment, supported everything we did. I was devastated at the idea of making him unhappy although he never would have showed it if we did. We all felt that way about him. He made us all feel safe, loved and never judged. If I can give even just a little of that to my daughter I'd be eternally grateful.

Momily said...

Often I feel like I'm working on creating the type of home and being the type of parent I never had, while still trying to remember and incorporate the things I did like in my own childhood.

If there's a common theme between how I parent my living children and how I think of those who are not with me, I suppose it is the fact they are important to me, they matter, and they have worth greater than I feel capable of expressing - though I try.

Like you, I also would not want to place an inappropriately heavy... weight/task/request on the shoulders of my children. I have read posts of yours in the past where you mentioned struggling with the concept of your daughter comforting you. My daughter is such a little nurturer that even though I don't want her to feel in any way it is her job to cheer me up when I am sad, the fact is that it is so much a part of her nature that she can't help but to try. I suppose I'm learning the lesson from her that we comfort each other no matter who the adult is.

Our hope was always to have two children...but I don't think of my losses in terms of, well but if they were here the two I have would not be...thinking like that turns me upside down a bit. I don't thank them for not being here so that my two others could be...I just don't feel that's how it works. Regardless of the children I have here with me, I feel an ache for those who are not....and I guess my real problem with statements such as your nurse's is that they seem to discount the worth of the child who was lost, as if they didn't matter or were here only for the purpose of leaving again.

Even if I had a dozen children, I would always mourn the loss of those I carried for far too short a time. They were my babies, I wanted them, they are gone and far too few people were touched by their little lives for me to feel comfort from ideas that they were making the way for someone else.

I think sometimes people want an answer that is neat and can be tied up in a little bow, when in fact the truth is painful and had to swallow.

Magpie said...

I think I parent by the seat of my pants.

Such a weird comment from that intake person. Just odd.

c. said...

My struggle, when it comes to parenting, is incorporating the things I thought my parents did right, while finding a different way to manage the things I felt they didn't do well in terms of rearing us. What I've learned from my own experience is that parenting is hard. I second guess myself all the time, more so since the stillbirth. I don't know what I'm doing most days but it is my hope that my kids can one day say I was supportive and kind and loving and strong - the most important being the loving part though. We'll see, I guess.

As for parenting my dead child...I have no idea how to do this. I figure, apart from memoralizing him through my blog, I am failing terribly at it. Combined with my own perception that, in not being able to save/help him, I've failed him already - it's a hard reality to bear some days. Looking forward to reading more responses to this.

Snickollet said...

I honestly had no idea what that intake nurse's comment meant. The logic was that foreign to me. I had to read the rest of your post to start to understand it.

As for the parenting (of living children), I love what Anon. said about her grandfather:

He made us all feel safe, loved and never judged.

Sounds so simple, yet I find it to be incredibly hard to do.

kate said...

I can't answer now because i am having my own parenting issues and i am supposed to be on blog break anyway. I just wanted to say that that was a flabbergasting comment from the nurse and i would have frozen too. I think your response to her was entirely correct and probably the 'awww' means that she will not say it to anyone else.

janis said...

Like Kate I feel that F parents me, and not me him. I feel he is an old old soul, and I do not understand him.
As for parenting, as someone said, unconditional love, believing totally in my children, being fun and trusting.
That nurse's comment? sigh. another one of those DHAC.

Lori said...

I read this post several times, but have had trouble coming up with any coherent answer.

I do think the nurse's comment was odd, and her response back to you even odder. I hate it when I feel like people are looking at me as though I am just misguided or being stubborn. On the other hand though, I really don't see anything wrong with actual bereaved parents who feel as though their dead child played a role in bringing a new sibling. I think that most of the time those are sentiments that people come to as a way of coping, and if it brings them some kind of comfort- that is fine with me. I know you probably feel the same way, Julia.

As far as parenting... I guess I have a hard time seeing what I do for Molly and Joseph as parenting. I love them. I miss them. I try to honor their lives. But I suppose one of the losses I have always felt, is the ability to truly mother them. I only felt that when they were still here, in my arms.

My living children... I just do the best I can. I try to know them as individuals and do what I can to reflect back to them their best selves. The more kids I have had the privilege to parent, and the older they get, the less I think there are any hard and fast rules for any of this.

skichick1968 said...

Comments like that always makes you wonder what actually goes on in a person's brain. Do they really think that we should be grateful to have lost a child so that we could have another? Do they actually believe that the loss of a child was "meant to be"? Or do they say such things because they don't have the right words? I am truly grateful for my two healthy, active and spirited children but I am not happy by any means for losing the others! I mourn the future that will never be, treasure the ones I have, and pray that I don't have to face that awful reality ever again.

Beruriah said...

I have taken forever to comment on this one because I can't quite think of how to answer. The nurse's comment was obviously a comment from someone who desperately wants to believe there's an order to the world. Ah well. If it gets her through the day but she should keep it to herself. I hate when medical people try to impose a world view. Well, I hate it when anyone does but esp medical people since they have me in a vulnerable spot.

Parenting Natan. I'm struggling right now.

As for Samuel, well, I seem to be naturally very different from my parents so far in that I am crazy affectionate. Parenting him right now seems to involve infinite hugs, kisses, and exclamations about how he's the most wonderful baby ever and I love him endlessly, and responding as if his giggles and smiles are the most fabulous thing I've ever witnessed (which they are, actually). But I will take a lot from my parents' example. They never ever pressured me academically, let me follow my own lead. And I have done so much better in that vein than the kids I know whose parents paid them for A's or tried to mandate homework time. Yet I realize that right now I have no idea if that will work with Samuel. Gotta see what his personality is, I guess. And of course it backfired a bit on my mom since it's quite clear she thought I'd be rich. The lie of the American dream is laid bare, I guess.

thrice said...

I've heard mothers of living children comment that had they not have had THAT misscarriage, then they wouldn't have had THAT living child. And OMG, I have flinched at those comments, from the mothers. I can't imagine what I would have done, other than drop my draw onto the floor.

I would like myself to parent individually, giving each child what his different needs. Easier said than done.

Natalie said...

I would be completely thrown by a comment like that too. I don't think I will ever think that because of the loss of my first child we got the second one, whenever it happens. I just... I don't think seeing Devin like that is right.

How do I parent him? Gosh I don't know. I try. I try to do everything "normal" that I can... talk about him, put him in my siggies, display his photo in my house. I take good care of his tree. I wish I could do more.

niobe said...

I can't say that "parent" as a verb has much meaning for me. I have one child and he happens, for the moment, to be alive. Then there are the twins, who, as it turned out, never really were my children after all.