Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Problems with parenting from a distance

I would just remind people reading this on blogger, that I am not going to be cross-posting here much longer.  My new address is over here and if you leave a comment, that is where they will be responded to.

With a great deal of excitement, I am trying to finish up as much of my classwork as I can and get everything ready to go pick up the boys this weekend.  I will only have them for a week and unfortunately it is the week that ends the summer semester, but that is just how it goes.  I have to honestly say though, that I am really not looking forward to having a rather complicated discussion with eldest.

This is not because the conversation is overly intimidating.  While it is a little bit, that doesn't bother me, especially as I have a pretty solid grasp on how such a conversation should go.  What is less than thrilling about it, is that the timing is off.  Eldest has recently been having a lot of emotional difficulties lately - has actually been having them for a while, but more recently they have become rather more frequent and have been coming at a point where he is more cognizant of them.

Unfortunately, he is also very confused by them.  Take a discussion we had a couple weeks ago:

Me:  How are you doing today?

Eldest: I'm having a bad day papa.

Me: Are you feeling sick?

Eldest: No, I don't think I feel sick.

Me:  Did you get in trouble this morning?

Eldest: No, I'm just really upset right now.

Me: What are you upset about?

Eldest:  Nothing really, I'm just upset.

Me: Are you angry upset, or sad upset?

Eldest: I forgot.

Me: Are you feeling better now then?

Eldest: No, I'm still really upset, I just don't remember if I'm mad or sad.

That was pretty much that discussion, because he had to get ready to do something with momma and youngest.  And it was most definitely not a satisfactory discussion.  Even had we been able to continue, it is really hard to discuss emotions over the phone like that.  It's hard enough with adults who, for example, might call a crisis hotline.  It is really hard when the person you are talking to is eight years old.  It's hard for him, because he needs that responsive body language and because he's talking to his dad, it is a lot easier if there is physical contact.  And it is hard for me, because without seeing his responsive body language, I am entirely dependent on his words to break it down.  Definitely not the ideal.

Of course the other problem, is that he doesn't want to spend what time he has talking to me, talking about being upset.  He wants to hear how I am doing, how school is going and what I am working on.  He wants to tell me about what he is doing, or just did, or what new and exciting invention he really wants to make.  He wants me to read to him or tell him a story about when I was an eight year old - or a story about when he was a baby.  He wants me to explain something to him, that he is wondering about - wishing, if looking it up is necessary, that he could snuggle up to me and look it up with me.

The problem with having this conversation this next week, is that it is unlikely to happen when he is actually feeling upset.  He is barely able to contain his excitement when we talk on the phone at this point.  He is very unlikely to have any significant episodes of being upset, at least not early in the week.  And later, when he is feeling upset, knowing he will have to go back to TN before very long, he is not going to have any confusion about sad or mad.  When there is a palpable, concrete reason for him to be upset, he has no problem distinguishing - mainly because context makes it pretty clear.  So that won't help us in the context of having this discussion.

That is the crux of the problem.  These are conversations that really need to happen in the moment.  It is a lot like punishing a child for misbehavior, several hours after they misbehave.  It is pretty ineffectual and takes a lot of work to make it work.  Even then there are no guarantees.  About the only thing that I have going for me here, is that eldest has been talking about this issue with his therapist.  So we will have at least something to work from, tenuous as that will be.  But any which way we look at it, it is not going to be easy to deal with.  While I am no stranger to having complicated and difficult discussions with eldest, until he was taken 600 miles away, I was always able to deal with complicated discussions at, or close to the time they were relevant. 

This is important and it is coming at a time when I am not in the best form for dealing with it.  As eldest has grown, he has been inexorably moving away from being quite the momma's boy he once was, to increasingly looking to me for certain types of support.  That isn't to say that he is ignoring his mother altogether, just that he seems to be thinking that a lot of problems should be dealt with by me.  While I doubt he will ever be focused on gender the way most boys were when I was growing up, he has definitely become increasingly aware of it - and increasingly focused on me for emotional support and for understanding his emotions.

Ironically, I have been dealing with a severe bout of depression (when overall, life is actually pretty fucking good) and a new medication and don't have the best grasp on my own emotional content at the moment.  But that doesn't matter in the scheme of things, because kids can't wait for their parents to be ready to help them face their problems.  They need us when they need us - and that is that.  That is also probably why we fuck up so often, we don't have the luxury of waiting until we've got it all figured out, or we're feeling up to the task.  Thankfully, unless we really try, most kids are resilient enough to survive our fuckups and work it out in the end.

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