As a little girl, I drew paper dolls for my sisters and friends, sketching wardrobes for the perfect children of my imagination. Well, there's fiction and there's reality and real children shatter fantasies about perfect children. Loving real children requires a willing sacrifice of narcissistic fantasies. To love children exactly as they are, we must confront our notions about being perfect mothers with perfect children.
Confronting the Perfect Mother Image doesn't only apply to narcissists. Most of us are uncomfortable when we don't have cookie-cutter-kids. I spent my fair share of time in principle's offices being lectured on better parenting; time with doctors being lectured on better parenting; and time in church being lectured on better parenting. I also endured earnest conversations with friends whose credentials for offering parenting advice were based on their perfectly behaved children. argh
Until you've been confronted by the value-laden language of what it means to be a good mother, you might not realize how judgmental society is---nor how condemning you are to yourself and other women. What a child does, whether good or bad, determines a mother's value and directly affects our self-esteem. When children leave the privacy of our home, they are walking-talking billboards for the family dynamics. This is what people think. My 'behaviorally challenged' kids weren't diagnosed in 1970 because there was no spectrum other than the Bad Mom---Good Mom polarity. (Thus the well-meaning lectures about being a better Mom because obviously, I wasn't). I learned to eat my ego for breakfast, my pride for lunch, and a heavy plate of guilt for dinner.
Its normal for women to worry about what people think. It is not normal for a woman to care more about what other people think of her as a mother, than what her child thinks, feels, and needs. Maybe it's fair to say that the more narcissistic a woman may be, the more she views her children as reflections of herself. She won't be able to eat her guilt for dinner. She'll make her kids eat it for her. Woe be the child who is not allowed to individuate from Mama's expectations.
Neighbors may approve of the Perfect Family and Mother's Day will be dutifully honored by children who fear displeasing Mama, even when those children become adults; however, the great tragedy of the paper doll family is that the child is sacrificed, not parental narcissism.
Narcissistic parents value image over love:
"How well does my child reflect on me?"
|The daughter of 'my' imagination|
Short Story: My teenage kids sat for a studio portrait back in the eighties when they were involved in the music scene. My son was a heavy metal guitarist and my daughter a feminist punk rocker. You can imagine what they wore when arriving for their photo shoot. "The dressing room is over there," the photographer pointed. "Let me know when you're ready."
My son says his sister became indignant and put-the-photographer-in-his-place. "My mother wants a picture of us just the way we are!" The photographer swallowed, took a step backwards and reluctantly took their picture. I'll admit to being slightly shocked Christmas morning when we opened our gifts because this portrait is definitely not a sentimental Hallmark picture. I didn't know quite what to make of it (cognitive dissonance?) and then my heart took over and spoke to-and-for me. This framed photograph reminds me every day of my life, that loving children as they are is more important than a picture perfect image of what we (and society) have determined to be valuable.
Epilogue: A decade later, I was cleaning a deceased Aunt's apartment when several relatives in the living room gasped out loud, exclaiming in horror, "Whose kids are THESE?" They were freaking out to such a degree over a photo my Aunt had kept on her bookshelf that I asked to see the picture. (Sly readers…you're way ahead of me on this story, aren't you?) Those two kids with dreadlocks and nose rings and combat boots and holey jeans and were none other than my beloved punkers. I looked at my husband (who is now my X) and noticed he had shrunk about two inches into the floor. I wasn't sure he'd admit to their pedigree. "Those are our kids." I grinned. "And there's a beautiful story behind that picture!"
They listened to my story about the terrified photographer and how unashamed our kids were to say their mother loved them just the way they were---that their Mom wouldn't want a posed, faked picture. I impressed my point about judging people by their appearances. Unfortunately at the same time, I insisted my husband was my best friend. I hope they've decided I have better judgment as a mother than I do as a wife. hahaha
My narcissism was a formidable foe when my kids were bucking the system, thumbing their noses at society and calling my mothering into question. They challenged me to walk my talk about loving kids for 'being' instead of forcing them to earn my love by 'doing'. What did it mean to raise two teenagers with more rings than a P.T. Barnum circus? Well, the first thing that had to go was my narcissism because I couldn't resolve the contradiction between loving my children and rejecting who they were at the same time.
My kids were h-a-r-d. They confronted my unconscious assumptions. They challenged traditional truths believed to be immutable, passed down from Adam to Eve to me. But were they kind? Were they loving? I decided that as long as my son and daughter were good people with kind and loving hearts, I would learn to love dreadlocks and nose rings.
by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
"Dr. Ginott listened quietly…and then posed this question: What is our major goal as parents?
...[a] woman glibly said, “To produce children who are, among other things, brilliant, polite, charming, neat and well-adjusted, of course.”
Dr. Ginott looked solemn. It was obvious that this last comment had not amused him. He leaned forward and said, “This is how I see it. It seems to me that our large goal is to find the ways to help our children become humane and strong. For what does it profit us if we have a neat, polite, charming youngster who could watch people suffer and not be moved to action?
“What have we accomplished if we have reared a child who is brilliant – at the top of his class – but who uses his intellect to manipulate others?
“And do we really want children so well-adjusted that they adjust to an unjust situation? Too many Germans adjusted only too well to the orders of the Nazis to exterminate millions of their fellow men.
“Understand me: I’m not opposed to a child being polite or neat or learned. The crucial question for me is ‘What’ methods have been used to accomplish these ends? If the methods used are insults, attacks, and threats, then we can be very sure that we have also taught this child to insult, attack, to threaten, and to comply when threatened.
“If, on the other hand, we use methods that are humane, then we've taught something much more important than a series of isolated virtues. We've shown the child how to be a person – a mensch, a human being who can conduct his life with strength and dignity.”"~pages 14-15
Love to all,