Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gillian: in retrospect

I was just happily telling KH the other day: I think my relationship with Gillian is improving a bit .

It's true. For one, I no longer dislike her so intensely.

That sounds like a terrible thing to say, but at one time in my life, I actually disliked Gillian very, very much. The resentment, the anger, the frustration all boiled up to form a very potent dislike which bordered on the H word.

People are always shocked when I say this. How, they demand, can you say this about your own daughter?

But why not? All the stuff about unconditional love etc. That sounds really noble, yes. Yet, human relationships and human dynamics are rarely built along the lines of platitudes like 'unconditional love'. We interact with different personalities, push different buttons. If there is one thing I've learned from all this, it's that mothers need to give themselves permission to feel human - not supermom, loving all etc. Children are all individuals and so are we. Love requires effort. And for Gillian and me - it required more effort than I thought.

It was not always like that.

When she was born, she was my everything. Ask anyone who knew me then. Lavished with love and attention. She could do no wrong. She was charming, so adorable. Then when the ADHD-dyslexia surfaced, as she hit P1, everything that I loved about her disintegrated.

Coaching her in school work was hell on earth. IS hell on earth. I still shudder when I think of those days. And I shudder to think of the monster mother that I was. Did I cane her in a morass of frustration and anger? Oh yes. Many times. Yet I recall the first time I caned her in anger, I also hugged her in remorse. But after a while, what was scary for me was not about the fact that I caned her, but the fact that I no longer felt any remorse. I felt nothing but intense, vicious dislike and resentment.

And because I felt like this, behaved like this, I felt unworthy as a mother. Tainted. What was wrong with me? Why did I treat my daughter like this? One, whom not so long ago, I had loved and cherished as a baby? Where did that girl go? Why did she turn out like this? Why did I turn out like this? I struggled with the belief that it can't be normal for a mother to dislike her child so intensely.

Her schoolwork was the catalyst. It is very very hard coaching someone who has trouble with the retention of facts, someone who finds difficulty in logic, sequencing and processing. She had difficulty in every area of her work - english (reading), maths, chinese etc. She was disorganised and messy. Her handwriting (and this is still so today!) was illegible and untidy. You could teach her, say, addition of fractions today and maybe she would get it (if it was a good day). But the next day, she would make the same mistakes, display absolutely no memory of what was taught the previous day and totally no understanding at all! It was bizarre! But so stressful.

Socially, she had problems too. She was so impulsive (thanks to the ADHD) that she would get carried away and play would end up rough (with someone else in tears) or she would be bossy, rude and demanding. She had trouble making friends. Still has. Girls found it hard to be nice to her because she could be so prickly. Even the cousins she adored viewed her with caution, leaving her out on occasion. Lying became a problem, taking someone else's things without permission (sometimes money) became a problem. Cheating is still a problem!

Other people outside the family saw a different side to her. They saw the side where she took care of her siblings, she was always forgiving, ready to share. They saw her as caring, loving and affectionate. By nature, she is an optimistic, happy-go-lucky girl. You could give her a big scolding today and by dinnertime, she'd gotten over it. It just slides right off her back! She does not harbour anger. I think she just wants to have a good time, to have a good life but (and herein lies the danger) wants it the easy way.

Funny thing is, I always felt that God answered my prayers. I had thought long and hard about what gifts to ask for her back then, she being my first child. And at last I came up with happiness. I asked God to give her the gift of being happy. Doesn't matter if she is rich or poor, smart or dumb, but give her the gift of finding happiness in her life.

I guess He gave me what I asked for.

It was, still is, a struggle to parent her. And as I said, I disliked her. I disliked myself and my behaviour. I also felt misunderstood - people (my friends, colleagues, parents) just did not understand how hard it was. They saw one aspect of her behaviour, saw my response and judged me on it. They could not see where I was coming from. And they could not comprehend the possibility that her character and mine could just rub sparks off the wrong way.

It was a tough couple of years.

I don't know exactly what was crunch time. But I knew that I was very down about it all. My blood pressure was rising and I felt hopeless and helpless - as a mother. So KH decided to leave his job - a very well-paid one - so that he could spend more time at home. The money was great but the job meant frequent travelling, long nights at work, weekends shmoozing on golf courses, conference calls from home etc. The kids hardly saw him. So he gave it up. Not many men would do this, so I realise that I am blessed.

Net result - he took over coaching Gillian. I distanced myself. I concentrated on the younger kids. I still did not like her, I still resented her. But in recent months, I think I have reconnected with the key role I started with - mothering. Not a coach, not a tutor, not a life-planner - just a mother.

I can never undo the past. The regret will always linger. And we're not out of the woods yet - we still have trust issues to work on. But I feel more optimistic now about myself as a mother and my feelings for her.

Maybe because she is growing up, and the maturity makes impulsivity less of a problem? Maybe taking a step back has helped me see her as a person? Maybe I am mellowing? Who knows?

I think I have come to terms with the ADHD etc, and what it does to her. I have come to terms with her academic standard and what this means for the rest of her life. I think that what she needs from me, as a mother, is just to BE - not fix it. We listen, we give our opinions and the wisdom of our life experiences. But we can never fix our children's lives the way we want it to be.

Which brings me full circle. I said in the beginning: love requires effort. Maybe when we have to work so hard for it, keep reconstructing it, that we really see the depth and breadth of love. I've learnt that emotional distance does not mean that one no longer loves. But keeping an emotional distance helps to heal. Gillian and I have some way to go before we can even be considered 'close' and there will be ups and downs along the way - with teenhood round the corner and those challenges, there will definitely be rocky bits.

But today at least, I feel optimistic. I no longer 'dislike intensely' my girl and I feel better about myself as mother. And that's a start right?

1 comment:

Joanna said...

wow! so I'm not the only one that resents her kids at times. Thanks so much for sharing this part of your journey. I pray that things will go more smoothly for you. :D