How well do you trust your instincts? People say we should, but do you? It’s not something I’ve thought about very often, but knowing I’m going to raise a little girl has made me think about how I’m gonna teach her this stuff. I’m better in some areas than others.
In some ways. I suck at following my instincts when setting boundaries. Like most children of addicts/abusive fathers, my boundary-setting skills and senses are weak ’cause we’re not allowed to contradict. I remember being presented to the perpetrators of sordid rap sheets of sexual assault and incest because they were my uncles or grand-fill-in-the-blank. I was shoved in their direction to hug or kiss them, and was REALLY uncomfortable about it. I did NOT want to be near those people, particularly as I grew older and learned what they were capable of.
With this in mind, I’ve been reading articles lately, often on A Mighty Girl, about making the problem with a child kiss and hug someone they don’t see often, like a grandma that the child may not remember. The argument is, if the child doesn’t want to kiss or hug the person, they shouldn’t have to but could be offered an alternative they feel comfortable with, like a fist bump or wave. That would suck for grandma, but would allow the child some autonomy. Clearly, grandma is family and (in most cases) safe and even beneficial for the child to know and have in her life. But grandma might be a stranger to the child. In my own case, grandmothers weren’t even nice strangers, but cold and sometimes cruel. Maybe it depends upon the family, as so many things seem to.
In other ways, I’m awesome at it.
Given my seven year career working with homeless addicts, I feel my instincts (at least homeless and addicted people) that are pretty spot on, and I listen to them well. They allow me to do my job. I was also (before Cohiba) an avid Couchsurfer (a travel community in which you stay with locals. I’ve done it for years in different countries and I love it.) I think it helps sharpen one’s instincts about people, or rather, lets you practice listening to your instincts, for better or worse. I’m pretty confident about that.
An area that I’m doing better in is food. I read an article about some jerkwads policing a little girl’s appetite, and then I thought about the many insidious food comments that people make every day, usually without meaning to be judgmental. “Oh, you’ve brought salad; you’re being good.” or “Do you know how many calories are in that?” I grew up in a household shadowed by an eating disorder, and I remember dinners of my youth being “meal plan,” that is, a set amount of starch, protein, fiber, etc. This was good, in a way, as I learned about balanced meals. But, it also meant that food was a really big deal and carried emotional baggage.
Pregnancy changed the way I eat. Before, I was trying to control my weight with diet and exercise, so I ate what I thought I should – a lot of vegetables, very little fried food – and I controlled WHEN I ate. Contradictorily, whatever I had on my plate, I finished. Waste not, want not, after all. Since pregnancy, all bets are off. My tastes change all the time – peanut butter was okay for awhile, but not anymore, eggs are still okay if I don’t smell them. Don’t even come at me with salad, and if I’m not fed regularly I hurl. At the same time, when I’m done eating, I’m done – keep stuffing me at your peril.
But weirdly, I feel like I’m getting to know my “food instincts,” maybe for the first time. Okay, maybe not getting to know them, but listening to myself when it comes to food. And its working for me: she’s growing, she’s healthy and we’re good. I think the key for that will be to take her outside and active a lot, which is perfect ’cause I love being outside.
What about a maternal instinct? Will I have it? I hope so. Will I listen to it? Like many of the instincts above, it will probably take practice.