Unlearning

Sometimes I wonder if I will spend my entire adult life unlearning my childhood.

I am very slowly unlearning the cheapness I inherited from my father. I love to shop but I love a bargain even more, and I can’t stop myself from buying something on sale, even if it’s not quite right.  I have done this over and over again and it just makes no sense, but it’s so hard for me to stop.  I finally bit the bullet and spent an unconscionable amount of money on a bedskirt, and it wasn’t on sale and I didn’t have a coupon, and it killed me.  I found about nineteen bedskirts that weren’t quite right but that were So! Much! Cheaper! and it was so hard to make myself buy the perfect really expensive one, the exact one I wanted, but I did it. Yeah for spending money on overpriced bedskirts!

Another thing I am unlearning is my constant second guessing of other people’s emotions.  This is the legacy of my emotionallly abusive childhood.  I am hardwired to guess as quickly as I can what you are feeling, so that if you are about to explode I can head you off at the pass.

And this is what made Blogher so scary and so liberating to me.  Before I took that leap and went off and met a bunch of people I didn’t really know, I spent SO much time not leaving comments and not making contact and not sending emails because I was worried that people wouldn’t like me.  If I did leave a comment and someone didn’t write me back, I would worry about that.  Was it was because they didn’t know who I was and they were offended that I had appeared out of the blue and said “OMG I love your blog.”? Did they think I was weird or annoying?  Did they hate my writing or my blog name or my jokes?

Hundred of bloggers who I know and love have never heard of me because I was afraid of what they would think if I dared to leave them a comment.  And that’s just nuts.

You could drive yourself insane wondering whether people love you or hate you or think you’re weird, and I am going to unlearn that shit right the heck now.  If someone thinks I’m weird or not funny or wants me to leave them alone, they can tell me. Otherwise, I can’t worry about what they or may or may be thinking.  Chances are pretty good it isn’t about me and my lame comments. And if I want people to read my blog,  I have to be willing to put myself out there, and let go of the fear of what people may think.

By the way,  if you ever wonder if you should leave ME a comment, the answer is always yes. Even if I have never heard of you,  I will be thrilled to hear from you. If you read all my archives, I am honored.  I do not consider you a stalker if you take time out of your day to say hi or email me or click on my About Me page.  I am delighted you are interested enough to read what I have written and to tell me what you think of it.

I am also unlearning that fat equals bad, thanks to the excellent comments I got the other day. Those comments made me cry.  In a good way.  I have spent my whole life thinking fat = horrible.  And I am going to try to unlearn that as best I can because unlearning that feels like freedom, a freedom I have never known.  I will most certainly spend the rest of my life unlearning my fear of fat, but just the idea that it’s possible feels like a miracle.

In the midst of all this unlearning, I learned that 18 month olds often go through something called a mini adolescence. and hoo boy, do they ever.  (Maggie, GET READY.)  Eli has been the hardest he has ever been.  He is clingy and whiny and from the moment he wakes up he never stops crying to be picked up.  I tell him that I will never stop loving him more than anything else in the world but that regardless of that fact I cannot hold him every minute and even still, people, I am here to admit that I sometimes hold him while I GO TO THE BATHROOM because the screaming is KILLING me.

But I am also unlearning how I speak to the people I love, to my family.  I needed help, and so I checked out a bunch of books and one of them was a book that I am now going to recommend to every parent I know, and the first chapter is how we allow ourselves to talk to our children in ways that we would never talk to anyone else we know.  Disrespectful and angry and argumentative.  And what it comes down to is that no one wants to be argued out of their feelings.  When you are upset, it does not help to hear why you shouldn’t be.  I read the first chapter out loud to Mr. E and when Eli had a melt down this weekend and I didn’t get to go to the flea market, as I was crying as we drove out of town and I said “that was the only thing I wanted to do this weekend and everyone else got to do what they wanted to do” he said “I would be very upset if that happened to me.” And people. It was the first thing that made me feel better all day. It made a world of difference.  I felt respected and listened to and understood, and then I let it go, because I no longer had to work to convince my husband that my feelings were justified.  And then I remembered how my entire childhood, my mother tried to argue me out of every feeling I’d ever had, and how I just wanted someone to listen and agree with me, and I am telling you, it ends here. Love is not enough to raise a child. Love and RESPECT go hand in hand.

And while we’re at it, I am going to unlearn my slavish devotion to what the experts say you must do and must buy and must have to raise a child.   I read this post by Arwen awhile back and damn, did it speak to me. I so agree with what she had to say.  Your child needs your love and respect, not a $350 car seat.  YOU are your childs parent and you know what is best for him or her.  I need to unlearn my lack of faith in my own parenting and my own instincts, and I need to unlearn my desire to please everyone else.  And with that being said, if we don’t come to visit you for, oh, aproximately 18 years, it’s because I have learned the hard way what my child needs and what he needs is to take two naps a day in his own bedroom and I know that’s inconvenient for the rest of the world but that’s just how he is.  Polite Elizabeth is being unlearned, as we speak, because everyone else’s needs are coming before what I know is right for my child and I just can’t have that anymore.

Finally, I am unlearning some of the judgment I’ve been carrying around for 18 months. Remember when I said that one of the hardest parts of parenting for me was how heartbreaking it was to hold baby Eli in my arms and wonder how my own mother could leave me when I was 16 years old? And here I am. I love that child more than life itself, and yet, I get it now.  I am no more capable of walking away today than I was a year ago, but I understand how you could need to. I understand why you would.  I am unlearning heartbreak, I think, as I learn understanding.

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26 Responses

  1. Sadly, you probably will spend your entire adult life (or at least most of it) unlearning your childhood. I learned that when I went to the leader’s training in April. A lot of people I met were 50+, and had been on their journey for decades. And still have things come up for them all the time. It was discouraging as hell. I just want to get over it and move on. But it looks like I’m going to have to change that mentality.

    Good luck. Half the battle is recognizing the issues, and it looks like you’ve made a good start.

  2. Good for you! The thing that broke my relationship with my mother, past the point of any repair was the fact that she could never recognize that I deserved respect too; it was only a one way street with her and that is one that I was unwilling to drive down. Eli is going to have a much better relationship with his mother than either of us ever had a chance at, which I think is pretty brilliant.

    *HUG*

  3. I love to shop but I love a bargain even more

    Girl, I STILL talk about (and HAVE, are you kidding?) the Giorgio Armani navy blue viscose wool trench coat I got at the Macy’s Closeout in Dayton, Ohio in 1994. Original price: $1050. How much did I get it for?

    $200, BABY! At that price, I had to buy it. It would have been a crime against shopping to not do so. And I have an amazing full-length coat perfect for those brisk fall or spring days to show for it.

  4. Cheers to unlearning. Thank you for this brave post. I feel a similar way about leaving comments, especially when the post may be about something I have no expertise in – like parenting. I’m not a parent yet, so I feel awkward adding my 2 cents, because who I am to comment?

    It took me a long time to recognize that a former boyfriend made me feel like my emotions were never valid. When you’re with someone for a long time and they treat you like you’re a drama queen and your negative emotions are irrational and therefore don’t matter, you start to believe it. And it took me a while to realize that it was just repeating a pattern I had with my dad, who would yell at me for getting upset as a child.

    It took a lot of work (and ending that unhappy relationship) for me to accept and respect my own feelings again. And when I met Jay, who has never put me down for feeling something, it got so much easier.

  5. I raise my glass to you. That scene you described? Emotions and Mr. E and frustration and mother? I have experienced *exactly* the same thing. And had to unlearn a lot of the same resentment and rage and frustration etc. I’m right there. With ya.

  6. Soooo…all that stuff I just wrote you in that email. You are SO already all over it, sweetheart. You’re on your way!

    Everyone else can line for a ticket if they want it. You get to decide if they deserve one.

  7. What a lovely post – good for you for moving past your past. Your blog is a constant source of inspiration to me and will probably be even more so when I have children.

  8. You are wise beyond your years, sweetie.

    It’s a hard lesson to learn that your kids need love AND respect. I think sometimes that my parents are learning that still with me. And I’m learning it with my kids everyday.

    I sure am glad you leave me comments now, it makes my day that much better. And I just love reading what you have to say, it’s important and interesting and I’m a big fan.

  9. Are you sure the adolescence doesn’t start at 15 months? Or maybe the onset of molars? I think molars are going to be the death of me.

    My parents didn’t argue me out of my feelings, they just sort of always made me feel stupid for HAVING feelings. I come from some tough unemotional stock, yo, so I must have been a shock for them! I have a great relationship with my parents, but talk about unlearning stuff. And now they sometimes say things like, “Yeah, that WAS hard” or “I had no idea how sad you were when that happened”, which makes me think the unlearning doesn’t end.

    And I so wanted to leave a comment on your being “fat” post, but I still can’t articulate my thoughts. Sigh.

  10. What a great post! My parents were pretty wonderful but my mom was (and is) an incredible tightwad. It has taken years for me to unlearn those habits and be more generous and my children (grown) still tease me when I regress and act like Nana! I love being able to help them financially and buy things for them and for my little grandson. It is so freeing and gives me so much pleasure!

  11. You are such a fantastic writer, I can’t believe I didn’t discover you until just recently. I also have a child that chained me to the house for naptimes (and everyone else could just take a flying leap off a short pier) and eventually that ended. Kudos to you for ignoring all the other “advice” I’m quite sure you’re getting (with eyerolls behind your back) and following what your child is telling you! I so remember the eyerolls.

  12. I love watching break-thrus come to life on someone’s blog. Barriers coming down, and awareness coming out. You’re doing just fine Elizabeth, just fine. Eli has a great mom, one who because of where she came from, is able to be a better parent to him now. Even on the hard days.

  13. I think I’m living in your opposite universe right now! I was the girl that constantly bought things wtih out regard to price or even if they fit! I’ve now left a very lucrative job and am constantly watching money and prices. I can’t believe the change! I think both sides of the spectrum are really hard – I just sort of wish I had been living life like you a bit more!!! I’m learning a lot though, and I keep telling myself that’s what counts (not that I haven’t purchased a new piece of clothing in seven weeks.

  14. I really loved this post. Unlearning is hard work, but good work.

  15. Wow. Great post. I’m in this process, too. It definitely takes a long time and a lot of work.

  16. God this post is good.

    I had to unlearn that not all men cheat. When your father cheats from the moment your memory is formed, it’s hard to remember that some men were raised differently.

  17. Unlearning our childhoods is the work of a lifetime. Just don’t forget that while you’re in the midst of unlearning yours, not to accidentally give Baby Eli something he’ll need to unlearn himself. (That’s what my folks did, so… just a heads-up.)

  18. I loved this. Thank you for reminding me to always respect my children. Sometimes I have trouble remembering that.

  19. Just so you know all men DO cheat… at Uno. Really. It’s super-hard not to.

  20. Wow, great post!

  21. As a brand new mother, I really appreciate the idea of providing love AND respect for a child. I hope I can put that into practice everyday with our little one as he grows. Thanks for the excellent post.

  22. There are so many times that I log on to the internet feeling defeated and alone…and reading your blog lets me know that someone else out there understands. You are amazing, this post brought me to tears with its honesty and truth.

    Thank you so much for putting it out there.

  23. I too am unlearning things. I cannot believe I found your blog today. You are saying all the things my heart has been feeling-really!!
    “You could drive yourself insane wondering whether people love you or hate you or think you’re weird, and I am going to unlearn that shit right the heck now.”-I am totally working on this one!

  24. I’m leaving you a comment, I’ve never heard of you, and I thought your About page was wonderful. Also, unlearning is a life-long process I think, but the re-learning – that has been both my biggest challenge, yet most fun adult task.

  25. oh my god. beautiful post. chock full of good things that I really needed to hear today (and every day, for that matter). Thank you. (And I am TOTALLY being a stalker and reading back in your journal!)

  26. Hi Elizabeth, I’m one of the crazies that has been reading through your archives. So much of what you said here really rang true for me. Respect between parents and children? What a novel idea! But one so many parents have a hard time grasping.
    Thank you!

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