I am an emotional doormat and the worst part of it is, I’m struggling not to hand this obvious bad habit down to my children.
How did I realize I was handing being an emotional doormat down to my children? It started off as such a small thing. My son had built a tower out of blocks in his preschool room and another child strolled over and knocked it down. Right when that little cardboard tower hit the ground, I issued the same statement I always say.
Did you like what just happened?
I looked up into the face of my son’s preschool teacher who was making her way across the room to talk to him. She got down to his level and he shook his head.
You need to tell your friend how that made you feel.
What was happening here? I sat completely taken aback.
I watched as my son stood and, with the help of his teacher, walked over to his classmate and explained how the tower being knocked over had made him feel sad. Then, miraculously, the two boys rebuilt the tower together.
When I was walking to my car, I combed over this little exchange over and over again, replaying parts of it until suddenly I came to a huge realization. I had made a huge mistake. I couldn’t believe that I was a 34-year-old woman learning right along with my three-year-old son in the confines of a preschool classroom.
Without meaning to, I was teaching my son how to be an emotional doormat.
I wish I could say that being an emotional doormat is something that my children are simply genetically predisposed to. I wish I could blame it on our DNA construction or heritage. But we all know I can’t. I can only blame it on the fact that I haven’t done the mental work needed to lift this monkey off my back and in turn am depositing said primate directly on my children. This is nothing more than bad parenting and I need to face that fact.
Where did my inclination to become an emotional doormat come from? Who knows. I don’t have enough money to pay a therapist for the number of hours it would take to solve this profound question. My kids might need to go to college at some point. I would suspect that some of my behavior has to do with the usual suspects: being a girl and then a woman, and being perpetually taught that women are to be seen and not heard and that it’s not cool to make a fuss, and that disagreeing is not feminine. It makes my stomach turn to think that I fell into that trap, but here I am, and the saddest thing is the trap wasn’t even covered with leaves, I willingly walked right into it.
And here I am, a mother, not even letting my children try to go around the trap, but tying them to a rope and lowering them down into a pit of being agreeable and not defending themselves. By doing this, I’m dooming my children to a life of some of the mental misery that I have endured, thinking that they are always in the wrong, thinking that there is something wrong with them, feeling as though they will never fit in, feeling inadequate or not smart enough, and the list goes on and on.
The simple act of not defending yourself can spark an internal monologue saying that you are not worthy of being defended.
One of the worst and best parts of being a parent is that your children will constantly hold a mirror up to you, reflecting your good parts and, equally, reflecting your unattractive parts as well.
My unwillingness to stand up for myself is one of those qualities they have reflected that I have begun to try to erase.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog about a subject I was feeling aggravated about. School Book Fairs. Remember that? Normally, being the emotional doormat that I am, I will vent to my husband or those closest to me but not make anything more public. But this was something I felt might resonate with other people, so I wrote a blog about it. And then something incredible happened. I began to get comments on my post… and not all of them were in support of my ideas. I read comments like, “This is ridiculous,” and suggestions that I was being a weak parent. This was one of the most commented on posts that I have written and while I was told comments were great the blog, I felt terrible. My feelings about the comments were actually affecting the way I viewed myself as a writer, as a parent, and as a person. Some might think this is a complete overreaction to some comments on a parenting blog. Those people would be right. It was.
But my reaction comes from being someone who never stands up for my own beliefs for fear of offending anyone, from being someone who avoids getting into any kind of confrontation for fear of hurting another’s feelings, or having someone think negatively about me, or worse, being shown to be unintelligent.
There were times I grappled with the idea of telling the owners of the blog to pull my post from the site. My fear that I might have taken the wrong stance on the subject was driving me crazy. But then I sat. I sat and thought. It was two o’clock in the morning and I sat on the couch in the silence of our small apartment and thought about how I really felt about the subject and the comments. It was then that I realized that even though I felt bad that some people were saying negative things, their comments weren’t changing my perspective. For one of the first times in my life, I mentally didn’t yield to a few people saying I was wrong. I never wrote the email to our owners to take my blog post down. I began to mentally welcome more comments, for or against my position.
This is a small step for Meredith, but a big step for the future of my children.
I’ve had to sit with myself a lot since becoming a parent, as we all do, and ask what values I want to instill in my children. Being an emotional doormat isn’t one of them.
I want to teach kindness, good manners and competition. But I’m slowly learning that along with those things, I want to teach independent thought, emotional strength and above all else, confidence. As I go through this incredible journey of self-reflection through my children, I am learning (as I hope they do) that kindness and confidence don’t have to be separate entities and whether or not we are male, female or non-binary, we all need to feel that we are heard and validated.
Agreement isn’t always quite as necessary, and lack of agreement doesn’t need to be terrifying.