Parenting Perspectives: Keeping an open heart in the midst of rejection

My Parenting Perspectives column from May 14, as printed in The Forum …

My husband, Craig, is ready to leave for work, but can’t quite shake the 24-pound weight clinging to his ankles. Once again, I peel little Owen off his “Da Da,” to screams and shrieks and slaps.

“What’d I ever do to you?” I ask my toddler rhetorically, after unsuccessfully trying to soothe his cries.

It’s a near daily scene in our entryway, and the rejection of my precious son stings fresh each time.

Sure, we have wonderful moments throughout each day, when my little boy reaches for my hand, crawls in my lap or lets me cuddle him. But they’re hard to remember when Owen pushes me away, pulls my hair, or swats at me like he does inanimate objects he believes tripped or bumped into him.

Our daughter, Eve, favored her daddy early on, too, but never outright rejected “Ma Ma” the way my son does.

I’m sure just a phase. “This too shall pass,” I repeat to myself as I’m sure have other moms stuck in frustrating stages.

Still, it stings. And it’s gotten me thinking about rejection. How at some point or other, all kids reject their parents somehow, knowingly or unknowingly.

I remember once when I was a teenager, my mom listening to polka music on the radio. She grabbed my arm and tried to teach me the polka, step-hopping around the kitchen. I rolled my eyes and shook her off.

How I wish my memory of that were different, that instead I’d welcomed her embrace and danced across the linoleum with her.

Mom doesn’t remember that particular incident, but recalls walking down the street with me until I quickly got 10 paces ahead of her, like I didn’t want to be seen with her. “OK,” she thought, and let me stay ahead of her.

It’s necessary, I guess, for children – toddlers and teens alike – to push away their parents as they grow into independent people.

But how do we deal with that rejection as parents?

I have a favorite quote about parenting, something I saw on a sheet of scrapbooking vellum as I put together Eve’s first album. “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”

I loved it, because I thought it referred to the sheer amount of love a parent feels for a child.

Now, as a second-time parent who hasn’t even started her son’s scrapbook, I find different meaning in it.

It’s saying a parent’s heart is no longer his or her own. No longer can I shield mine from heartbreak. I’ve already given it away.

Those pudgy little hands can – and will – rip it in two. Those tiny feet can – and will – stomp on it.

I’ll need to endure it while not hardening my heart. To keep it tender and loving, for when my child’s hand once again reaches for mine.

Sherri Richards is a reporter for The Forum and mom to 5-year-old Eve and 21-month-old Owen