Good Enough Mother: How I Hit The Brink – And Found My Way Back!

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Good Enough Mother:
How I Hit The Brink – And Found My Way Back!

(Hey everyone: TeamGEM is taking the last week of 2013 off so please enjoy this encore post. We’ll be back at it in early January!)

Have you ever taken a job for which you were wholly unqualified?

Of course once you got your foot in the door you realized, “Hey, I can figure this out.” You did it for a couple of years and your confidence began to build. Soon you were patting yourself on the back, saying, “I’m pretty good at this.” After a few more years, you’re so good you’re placed in a supervisory role, doling out advice to others while fearlessly leading the way. “Damn, I am JUST.THAT.GOOD.” you think to yourself. Then technology changes, or there’s a software update or worse yet, a new boss with a new way of doing things and before you know it, you’re back at square one. Your confidence is badly shaken and you begin to question whether you have the tools or the fortitude for the job. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the world of parenting.

Something happened to me over Spring Break that shook me right to my Good Enough Mother core. You see, we drove 842 miles from our home in New York to Charleston, SC where we have a little place. In the car, was Casey, Cole, Cole’s buddy, Steffan and the gassy dog, Olivia. The trip itself was nerve-wracking, what with traffic and a tornado (yes, we pulled in to our overnight stop just after the thing touched down a few miles south of us) and what normally would have taken 7 hours, ended up taking twice as long.

Cole-Funny

My son, Cole
(I have no idea where he gets it from…)

But when we arrived at our destination the following day, I actually found myself longing for the tornado after running headlong into the immovable force that is my son.

For the record, Cole is one of the funniest, smartest, kids I have ever known. He has a knack for imitating dialects and accents after hearing them just once and he’s the child who makes you laugh when you’re trying desperately not to (like in the middle of a reprimand). Add to all of that a huge heart; he’s a love bug. Or was. Now, at 13, he’s “smelling himself” as the old folks say, and frankly, that prospect terrifies me. Why? Because the little boy with whom I was so enamored, the one I shared so many of the same physical and mental characteristics with, the one with the same sense of humor and who I communicated so easily with that my husband worried about Oedipal syndrome, is fast becoming someone I don’t recognize.

Looking-at-the-camera

It all came to a head in Downtown Charleston. I was driving the family SUV through the narrow streets crowded with vacationers and students, searching for a place to park. When I got to the top of one garage, not only was there no place to park, there was no place to turn around. Can you say stress? So I asked everyone, well, really barked, at everyone to be quiet, as I needed to make sure I was not going to remove a bumper in the process of getting out of the garage. Everyone zipped it, except you-know-who. Cole began snickering and singing, and sighing and sucking teeth and making just about every other noise in the annoying kid noise repertoire. And it prompted me to do something that was not pretty nor am I proud of; I lost it.

I told my beloved boy, the one I carried for nine months, who looks and acts so much like me, that if he didn’t zip it, I was going to strangle him. Now you know, like I do, that I didn’t mean it. But in the literal world of children, it meant that his mother was going to kill him and she threatened to do it in front of witnesses. But that wasn’t even the nadir because the entire situation went from bad to worse after that…

Related: Bringing Up Baby: Donuts And Disappointment.. 4 Lessons From The Botched Birthday Party

After we found a place to park at another garage, Cole let me have it. When I said, “Wow, what a beautiful day” he replied “Yeah, a beautiful day to threaten to kill your kid.” I ignored the first comment but the snide remarks came fast and furious after that. “What kind of mother threatens to kill her own kid?” he asked incredulously. “You know people get their kids taken away from them for stuff like that.” At that, I wheeled around and grabbed him by his arm and ordered Casey and Steffan to keep walking. And it is there that what I will forever remember as the Charleston Stand-off, occurred.

“YOU-LISTEN-TO-ME!” I seethed through clenched teeth. “If you don’t knock it off, I will call Child Protective Services, MYSELF!” Then I gave him a verbal dressing down. But what frankly scared me, was in years past when we’ve had showdowns like this, he jumped right back in line, picking up the playbook and marching to the beat of the drummer – me. Not this time. There was defiance, a willful disobedience that I have never seen before and I was at a loss as to what to do next. As I continued berating him on the busy Charleston sidewalk, I felt myself losing my temper and far worse, my control.

Cole and I reached an uneasy truce, which ended the argument, for THAT day. Unfortunately the smart mouth and snotty ‘tude reappeared the next day. When I went to grab Cole this time, he flinched; that’s when I decided I needed to change. See, while I wasn’t fond of what I saw in Cole, I truly despised what I saw in myself. I was angry, out of control and ultimately ineffective at getting him to fall in line.

Related: Monday Morning Motivation: Rocky Relationship? 3 Signs It’s Time To Let.It.Go!

When we got back home to New York I did two things. First, I came up with a new game plan. I thought about the thing he values the most, which are his electronics and decided to hold them hostage. I explained that every time he answers me with a smart mouth, or sasses back, I take everything, EVERYTHING for one hour. Guess what? That got his attention for more than screaming on the street in Charleston. The other thing I did was apologize. I got my boy in a quiet moment when his guard was down and I told him how much he means to me, that I love him very much and would never really kill him. I also told him I was worried about our relationship and about his smart mouth, which if he’s not careful, is going to earn him an ass-whoopin’ and not by me. As we lay on the bed, beneath the 13-year-old bravado, I saw my baby once again, the head-strong love bug whose motto in all things from mini-golf to life itself, is “I did it my way.”

So where are we now? Well, things are better, much better. He’s clear on what I expect and the fallout if he disobeys. I’m clear on the type of mother/disciplinarian I want to be and the lines of communication are as open as the Autobahn. I feel good about how we settled our little issue. And while this may have been the first time we’ve been at loggerheads, I have no illusions; it won’t be the last. Until then, I’m saving my strength.

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But what about you? Have you ever had a similar situation, a disciplinary issue that had you stumped? What about the changing relationship with your kids, how did you navigate that? And what suggestions do you have for dear, sweet Good Enough Mother? I’ll take them all under advisement.

(Editor’s note: This piece originally ran on April 25, 2011)

Rene Syler is a wife, mother, breast cancer advocate and television personality whose burning desire to tell the truth about modern motherhood led her to create GoodEnoughMother.com . When not spending time with her family or burning something for dinner, Rene travels the country as host of Sweet Retreats on The Live Well Network and Exhale on Aspire.

22 Comments

  1. De

    April 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    you did just fine. oh yes, with me being a single mother to a son, i’ve lost it alright. memories!! thank goodness my son and i both survived the growing pains. but i remember like it was yesterday when i’ve lost my temper at him. but after i cooled down i did exactly what you did. first, i apologized for losing my temper and then i talked to him and explained to him how i felt and what i was trying to get thru his thick skull at that time. you will also go thru the period where they the only thing that they will say when you ask them a question is, “i don’t know”. oh i used to hate those words. i just couldn’t image someone not knowing why they did what they did. but in reality he really didn’t know. so YES!!! it will get better. boys seem to go through this cycle where they are all over you and then they don’t want you around and then they are all over you again. this is a life cycle between a mother and her son. but it’s going to get better believe you me. he will appreciate you more talking to him now instead of later. day by day, minute by minute ,we all still learning and the parental rules but the one think Cole knows is that you do and will always love him.

  2. David Freeman

    April 25, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I did pretty much the same thing to my Mom @ about 13-14 and shdh and left the room. Later on after I got into bed, she came in and walloped me with a 2×4. I kid you not. I don’t recall sassing her until i was big enough to defend myself, and by that time, there was a divorce going on so we had become allies anyway. But I definitely thing Rene’s answer was more efficient than my Mom’s. After all, she kind of missed me with the 2×4 and I just pretended to be hurt. And I understood later I had truly opened my mouth at the wrong time and that she was right to be pissed, which also, is simply another reason I never did it again. (And now I send her $600 a month in guilt payment. So it really is expensive to sass your mom! :-)
    Yeah, this is pretty much a complete waste of anyone’s time to read, but it is true.

  3. Samantha

    April 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Rene, you did what any parent in a similar situation would do. Kids can push you over the edge – we as parents all know that! And it’s always during the most inopportune moments that they do whatever they can to test you.
    Your son is growing up and it’s so hard to watch when you have an image in your mind’s eye of your little baby boy and their actions don’t match your memories.
    It’s part and parcel of parenting, warts and all. We all do the best that we can and the kids turn out just fine, most of the time, guaranteed :)

  4. Will Jones

    April 25, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Cole is 13; that will make him act that way.

    Cole was in front of his buddy, Steffan, who is probably about 13 too; that will make Cole act that way.

    If Coles buddy, Steffan, has a little crush on Cole’s sister (just a guess), that will make Cole act that way.

    It kind of sucks for boys with the whole manhood thing. Girls get periods (not saying that they’re happy about them, but they get them!) which means they can make a baby. This is a pretty big signal that they’ve stepped out of little-girl-land and into young-women’s-world. Boys get a couple of tufts of hair and a boat-load of questions. We look for something that makes us feel like we’re becoming men. Defying a parent, arguing back, and/or making them “lose it” feels powerful to a boy. To him, that situation put him on Buff’s level (it’s weird, but true). But when you threatened to strangle him (especially in front of his friend) you took his power and made him a little boy again, and that probably stung.
    He’s 13, he’s confused, and he wants to prove he is a man. Sadly, a mom coddling him is gonna do about as much good as a mom strangling him. LOL. It’s time for someone to explain to him what being a man means, and how to prove he is one. And a mother can try, but from a boy’s perspective, it’s kinda like a man trying to explain to a daughter what it will feel like to give birth.
    And your son is one of the lucky ones, because someone cares what he’s going though. This is a huge problem in families, communities, and in society as a whole. We have boys demanding their respect with violence, proving there endurance with drugs and alcohol, showing their masculinity by father multiple children, and looking for “surrogate fathers” in drug dealers and in street gangs. As important as the GEM’s of the world are, we’re gonna need to start recruiting GED’s real soon or face some really ugly consequences.

  5. Rene Syler

    April 25, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    @Will: whew, thank you. Everything you sid here makes perfect sense and looking back on the events of that day, that is EXACTLY how they played out. You are a genius re: 13 year old boys. Where were you last week when I needed you :)

  6. Tamara Walker @MomRN

    April 25, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Rene, I’ve definitely had some of those “not going to win mother of the year this year or any other year” moments. I think almost every parent has. Mine have been with my oldest child, who can be very stubborn (hmm, wonder where that comes from, LOL) and has very strong opinions and isn’t afraid to express them. We’ve had many go rounds that I’d like to forget, but we’ve also built a strong foundation of open communication which has carried us through those turbulent times and healed the rifts. Teens aren’t easy to deal with, and while they can drive us nuts trying to test their boundaries with us, we need to remember, there have been other times they’ve tested boundaries (remember the terrible twos?) and we’ve survived and adapted as parents. :)
    Kudos to you for apologizing to your son and having a heart to heart with him about why his behavior bothered you so much that you lost control. When our kids understand what we are thinking, feeling, and worrying about as parents and how their behavior impacts us, they can better understand where we are coming from and hopefully it will make a difference in how they behave going forward.
    Thirteen is a HARD age, for both genders, and it is a time when they want so much to be independent and “grown up” but they still secretly want to be little kids sometimes too. I’ve seen too many parents gradually push their kids away as they enter their teen years, and that is sad. Yes, they need some independence, but they still need us as much, if not more than ever before to get through what may be the most confusing, turbulent years of their lives.
    Hang in there, Mama!

  7. Victor Hogan

    April 26, 2011 at 12:41 am

    I agree w/ WIll WHOLE HEARTEDLY!!! Good, stuff, man!

    LOL @ Strangling him.. I don’t mean to be insensitive. But, I can DEFINITELY relate. As a dad of 2 boys(13&7) and 2 girls(12&4)… I’ve been there more than a few times. My favorite term was/is… “I’m gonna drop kick you, BOY!”(I’m usually messin w/them when I say it. but, they know to chill out)

    Children grow up, they test the waters to see how far they can go and how much they can get away with. WE DID IT! The funny thing about boys is they LOVE their mothers but they’ll test them in a heart beat once they reach a certain age. Right around the same age as your “baby boy” and mine.

    I have countless stories of dealing with my kids. I’m not one of these parents that don’t believe in handing out spankings. But, what I don’t do is discipline out of anger. That’s when you cross lines and no one learns or gets better as a result. I always talk to my kids before and after I discipline them… without yelling. No one likes to be yelled and will usually tune out. Its all about learning the lesson and growing from it. good, bad or ugly. Butt whippins are nothing more than consequences for their actions. I tell my kids all the time… You can do whatever you want to do. You can completely ignore me and do ur own thing and I can’t stop you from doing it…. HOWEVER, they’re will ALWAYS be consequences or rewards for your actions. The choice is always theirs! The greatest gift God gave mankind is freewill. But, with it comes great responsibility. Who am I to take that away from my children?

    Our kids will try us and make choices(good, bad and ugly). Its our job as parents to act as bumpers to keep them on the right path. So that when they become adults they’ll be responsible, intelligent men and women.

  8. Vanzell

    April 26, 2011 at 6:12 am

    Every parent will or should have a “lost it” moment, even if it I’d just an act to define the boundaries of the parent/child relationship, especially a mother/son relationship. Will hit the scenario dead on, but your losing it did what you really needed it to do and that is to remind a child(son) that they(he) have(has) lines that they(he) should not cross. Your follow thru was excellent and just a important as “losing it”. Every child should know and exercise the utmost respect for their parents and adults unless that respect is being taken advantage of by a seedy adult. At that point, I encourage a child to “lose it”. But it is our job to remind them of their place, with room to grow up, by almost any means necessary.

  9. Rene Syler

    April 26, 2011 at 6:18 am

    @Tamara: thanks honey!!

  10. jwana

    April 26, 2011 at 9:21 am

    Rene,
    I almost came to blows with my 16 year old son on Easter Sunday!!! Easter Sunday, the day we are supposed to be recognizing that Jesus rose for US!!!…The night before he had been willfully disrespectful to some guests I had in my home. So the next day I confronted him. Needless to say I was not prepared for what came next. He became defiant and I became angry. It got so bad that he said he would rather kill himself than to live with me. At that point I realized I was scared because my anger had gottent the best of me and the situation had spiraled way out of control. And like you being the parent that I am I had to take a close look at myself and my actions and then I found a queit place and time to come back to center and then I pulled my boy aside and apologized to him for losing my temper and set things right with him. This parenthood thing ain’t easy. I did not, however, excuse his actions and on his own, without me prompting him, he apologized to my guests. That meant he had to do some research to get phone numbers and make the calls himself. I was really proud of him for doing that. He really is a good kid and I really did actually tell him I may not be the best parent in the world but I am Good Enough for him. Thanks Rene!!!

  11. Nicole

    April 26, 2011 at 11:32 am

    I have many of these breakdowns. Don’t let it get to you. We all have those days. It’s how you resolve the issue that matters. You 2 having the talk after and you letting him know how you feel is most important. My kids know that I love them more than anything. Yours know the same thing. Like Will said it’s growing pains.

  12. Teresa

    April 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    Rene omg i loved it, i have a 12year old daughter that has pushed me to the limit more than i can count I thought i was gonna lose my mind on several occasions where i’ve left my own house in search of myself before cps/brazoria took both of us away lol. not funny i know but, kids now days have NO FEAR!! they are more fearful of losing there electronics and not having friends come over than they are of there parents sometimes!. I would not have never even attempted to look at my mum crazy let alone talk back. Thank you for that article I,really enjoyed!

  13. The Broke Socialite

    April 26, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    And what is wrong with any of this? I think you’re too hard on yourself. Cole is surely “smelling that old tail (My Grandma Pinkie ca. ’83 when dressing down my mannish cousin, Nigel).” I had no problem with instilling a little fear in The Boy. Whether it meant bopping him in the mouth, restricting him from TV/Video Games or taking his car when he came of age. I’m not friends with children; I tell them what to do. They WILL respect me and it’d behoove them to make that process as easy as possible. Let me tell you one thing, I am closer to 40 than not and RIGHT NOW…RIGHT NOW…my mama will knock me in the mouth if I get too fresh and DARE me to say anything about it. The Boy had to take a trip or two to the municipal jail to see where he would end up if he didn’t respect authority. When he realized there is a place for delinquents? Enter The Choir Boy. Cole will be just fine. He has no choice. He is not in charge.

  14. m.e. johnson

    April 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Rene, I’m gonna say it: I told ya so.

  15. Dawn Brady

    May 4, 2011 at 8:12 am

    my son is only 11 and has been giving me this kind of grief for about 2 years now. It really manifests when he is over tired and I have handled it very poorly most times. I give you a lot of credit to put it all out there for others to see they are not alone in their feelings of effing this parenting stuff up royally at times. My son will not act out in public, he would DIE of embarrassment, he can’t handle that. But, behind closed doors when it’s just the family…he is certifiable. I am slowly figuring out how my reactions to his actions play into the scenario. I break every parenting rule in the book…I am inconsistent, I get angry, I get physical (grab him by the arm like you did), I don’t follow through, I curse, I pretty much do everything wrong. Problem is, I can’t figure out what works with him at all and I blame myself. (I know all of the above doesn’t work, and those things come AFTER the gentle reminders, the kindly asking please, the reasoning, the negotiating, the raising my voice, all the other “Mother of the year” attempts)
    Thanks for sharing your stories…all of you, I hope I can put some of what you all say into action and get through this period of his life. He is the sweetest boy, smart as a whip, kind and loving…all the girls LOVE him, he’s very popular, teachers love him…he’s a fine young man in society…he just saves his venom for me. Breaks my heart since we used to be joined at the hip from the second he was born

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