I have tried to write this post a dozen times and each time I fall short or end up deleting the whole thing. I am not sure that there is anything more openly vulnerable then examining your own parenting. Without even asking for others opinions, we are often judged by strangers while we try to parent a screaming child in the grocery store or we compare ourselves to those Pinterest parents who we believe epitomize the "perfect parent" thereby minimizing our own abilities. That does not even speak to the fears that we are going to get it so wrong that some agency is going to show up at the door and document our poor parenting or worse. Parenting for me has become a practice of managing anxiety and stress so that my little people can thrive and grow.
I often wonder if my parenting would have been as influenced by anxiety had Flynn not died. Of course it is almost impossible to know, my memories of parenting my oldest as an infant and toddler seem skewed or intangible, like I raised him in a dream and not anything reflecting real life. I suppose that is what grief does, it doesn't just mess with the days, weeks and months following the death it takes all the memories that occurred throughout your life and warps them until you are not sure if you can trust them. In my heart I want to believe that I was a calm, unprovoked parent with my oldest. I assume that I trusted in my abilities and allowed him to learn through exploration, testing his abilities through practice and wondering around his environment. There is a big part of me that wonders if that memory is true, is that the grief or it's residue - anxiety?
When Flynn died it not only changed me as a person, it changed me as a mother. I was coping with a constant underlying anxiety - like a hum below the surface of my skin. Anything and everything could provoke it to agitation and being a mom became a series of "don't do that", "get off that", "you will hurt yourself" and flat out "NO"(when picturing this you should see me as nearing tears or screaming because that is how anxious I felt). While my fellow moms tell me that they also parent with fears and concerns for their children's safety (to which I have no doubts), I am unsure if it is indeed similar but I have no real way of knowing. This is in no way a minimization of what others experience in the parenting relationship or to say that as a bereaved parent I fair worse. What I know of parenthood comes from a place of bereavement and a perspective painted by failure. Regardless of the circumstances of my child's death, being a mother comes with one major responsibility~ keeping your child alive and my child died. So now here I am responsible for my other little ones and parenting becomes an exercise in trying to figure out whether every situation my children approach is really as dangerous or life threatening as my anxiety believes it is.
A friend, who is also a bereaved parent, described her experience of parenting as the hyper helicopter parent and I really appreciated the term as it encapsulated how out of control this style of parenting FEELS. Let me break this down - Hyper by definition is an adjective to explain being overstimulated or obsessive and the Helicopter Parent has been described as the parent who is overprotective or excessive in the life of their child or children - so the Hyper Helicopter Parent is obsessively overprotective. I want to give an example of what this may look like from my own parenting but that feels a bit too vulnerable for the World Wide Web. What I can say is that once in couples therapy Landy turned to me and said that he felt like I would not let him parent because I believed that he might let our children die and that I did not trust that he would do whatever it took to keep them alive and safe. Sadly he was not wrong but what I did not say in the therapy session was that I didn't even trust myself with that responsibility and there is the Hyper Helicopter Parent at work.
Watch for my next blog about the impact of the Hyper Helicopter Parent on my children.