When my oldest daughter was two, my sister asked me how we were doing through “the terrible twos ” and while I was a single mother and my little one had already taught me many lessons on mothering, I certainly did not think her behavior was terrible in any form or fashion. Then she turned three, and I got the same question. I had the same answer. “You are good to go” , said my sister, a mother of three children herself. Then my daughter turned 4 and we moved from Mexico to Seattle as I was invited to be an assistant professor at the University of Washington. I was head over heels with the move, the offer, feeling professionally strong and even more so as a mother. She was young, I thought, she will go to preschool, make lots of friends, learn English and adjust in no time. I had traveled a lot myself and lived in different countries: piece of cake. We both basically did quite well for the most part; the deeper adjustment came knocking at my door her freshmen year in high school.
She is now in college. And I am yet to feel adapted, let alone “normal.” I got married to a wonderful American man, we got dual citizenship eventually, had another lovely daughter. Still not feeling integrated. I still have culture shock. I still have first-daughter-adolescence PTSD. I was not ready… The Mother in Chief within me I was so proud of, a role model to my friends was not ready. I did not see it coming. Or did I?
When I was training to get PCI certified, we tested ourselves as to which kind of parent we were. I was pretty balanced, said the test… But “you will have a horrendous time as a mother of adolescents because you take things very personally” — or so I remember “the curse.” Because I had no idea what that meant, no further explanation on how to not take things personally, I took it as “just information”, probably shoved it down my subconscious and proceeded as usual. And, oh how right “the curse” was.
I read and read books, articles, scientific publications, pamphlets, Dan Savage’s column, got therapy, found other professionals to help us, tried to reach out, understand, ask… But while being a Parent Coach myself, I did not hire one for this process. I have a very talented, compassionate and supportive psychotherapist, but her work is medical; very different from that of a Parent Coach. I naively thought that I could coach myself.
The advice we heard day in, day out was: do not take it personally and you will all survive.
I believe I could have endured her adolescence… had we lived in Mars or something. It was being merciless on her; the whole pot of her life history being stirred and boiling, the good and the bad, the painful and the joyful. Mine just next to hers, each day trying to do the best I could, yet dumbfounded about what it meant to be a teenager in Seattle. Everything up until then had seemed so ‘universal.’ I still trusted myself, bruised and all, but then it was not about my survival, but hers. What was she being exposed to while she was at “school?” Vodka in the classrooms? Where are the teachers? What do they say? Dealers outside schools? Did I hear teens dying, shooting people? Gangs and school girls invited to prostitute themselves? No, we were not living in Tijuana’s red zone, and neither had we chosen her school lightly. There is no way one can sugar coat it, this is no stranger danger bad joke or a TV show. I had to claw away at the environment like a giant, mad and confused bear while at the same time try to understand the route we were taking. Nature? nurture? Can you imagine what my daughter was going through herself? Is this alien just to me because I am not American? No ‘normative experiences’ to accept here, no “phase” to endure. The environment was being personal with me; we had to set a limit. No more. I had to make the toughest choice of my life so far. I felt isolated, judged, misunderstood, and for the most part defeated, ashamed and abandoned to my perceived meager devices all that year. Neither Mexican, nor American. She is alive, beautiful and thriving, but it came at an unwarned and untold high price: her bond to me was violently severed. It has taken every day of three years to redefine and reconstruct even in the midst of her still being a teenager and my own limitations. But we both try, and try hard because it is personal. As for me, I am no longer ashamed. I also feel wiser thanks to my yoga practice, the support of my husband, my therapist, my family and a few friends, but I will always be in pain.
After four-plus years, I believe that hiring a Parent Coach could have made a difference. Even my therapist suggested it! My daughter would have had it rough, no doubt; the environment may have been exactly the same — unfortunately; the professional advice or lack there of we got could have been exactly the same… Yet I believe my internal milieu could have been different, and perhaps the corollary of my decision would have not been as charged with self-mutilating emotions. I think I waited too long, I thought I could parent coach myself, and in the middle of the storm, hired at least three very wrong professionals.
A Parent Coach is not a friend, a therapist, or a problem solver. A PCI Certified Parent Coach® co-creates with you, yet is not a co-parent or life partner, will not make decisions for you, does not hold your hand but would try her best for you to not feel lonely or isolated, she will empower you to fearlessly show up in your childrens’ lives, inviting you to grow and honor each phase of your life. She will insist that you take care of yourself. Nourish the mother so that she can nourish the child. I now know that “the curse” was more than “just information”, it was an invitation for self-awareness and such awareness is at the core of parent coaching: discovering, dreaming and designing your preferred destiny. Mine is still in flow: my second daughter is almost eight and I will be hiring a PCI Certified Parent Coach® in five years for sure!
Copyright 2015, Maritza Rivera Gaxiola, Ph.D., All rights reserved. Used with permission.