You Can’t Fix it: Parenting Wisdom From my Mother

Recently, my daughter developed an anxiety-induced vomiting routine.  She was waking up every morning and throwing up first thing.  This happened every day for a few weeks and as it went on and on and on, I became more and more worried and increasingly angry, my go-to emotion.

My husband and I began a series of strategies to try to solve the issue.  First we tried the home psychology route, I looked up some anxiety articles and we discussed strategies for taking her mind off of her worries that were causing her to want to throw up. When that didn’t work, we went the medicinal/homeopathic route, but the peppermint and anti nausea meds didn’t stop her from trying to vomit every morning, even if nothing came out. 

Then my husband tried waking her up when he got up for work at 5am to force her to do complicated math.  His thinking was you can’t really daydream/ go down an anxiety-ridden rabbit hole when you’re doing hard math.  It worked!  But as soon as we left her to her own devices, she was right back to throwing up every morning. Finally, we set her up with the school counselor, but still, nothing was working.  Every morning, around 7:30 am, I would hear my kid barfing at the start of her day. 

I was feeling crazy and beginning to lash out at my daughter, telling her that her condition was self-induced and getting “boring”.  I told her to stop worrying me on purpose and to stop making my life all about her and her condition. I threatened to make her deep clean something every time she threw up. I was desperate, worried and some really ugly things came out of my mouth in an attempt to scare and shame my daughter into stopping her daily vomit routine.

I finally called my mom in tears, confessing everything I had said and done, and she told me some wise things she had learned from being a mother to an addict and a long-time member of the AA and Al-Anon programs.  

  1. Don’t Take it Personal

My mother told me not to make my daughter’s condition about me. She explained that my daughter wasn’t throwing up on purpose to manipulate me or to hurt me, she’s only ten-years-old!  She was dealing with a problem that has nothing to do with me, and I just need to be there for her and support her in her struggle.  She sent me a quote from one of her devotionals:

“How great is the human need for a scapegoat, someone or something to blame for our disappointments….I must realize that every time I feel someone has offended or injured me, at least part of that unhappiness is to  the way I reacted.  Actually I am not so vulnerable to being hurt, by circumstances or the actions of other people, as I think I am.  Much that happens to be, good or bad, is self created.” 

When I decided not to take my daughters throwing up as a personal attack against me, or as a sign of a bad mother who couldn’t cure her daughter, I became a lot less angry.  It was my own thoughts, ironically, that were making this issue so much more negative than it really was. 

  1. Don’t Try to Fix it

The three C’s of Alanon are: I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and I can’t cure it. I was trying to cure my daughter, fix her like she was broken.  And until she was fixed, I could not be happy.  My mother told me this way of thinking is all wrong! She explained that the only thing I can control is my own attitude. I love the three C’s because it gives me permission to say “it’s not my problem.”  As a mother, my kids’ problems have always been my problems too, but as they get older, I am realizing that their problems are not mine to control and cure anymore.  

  1. Love the Kid You’ve Got

I don’t need my daughter to be different than who she is right now.  This piece of advice was so important for me to hear.  I was making my daughter feel like I wouldn’t love her again until she was “fixed”.  But my mother told me to love the kid I have, even if she throws up every morning for the rest of her life.  The advice to love the kid I have reminds me of my favorite poem about parenting by Khalil Gibran:

Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you, they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite. And He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hands be for happiness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves the bow that is stable.

I tried to make my daughter like me, someone who can wake up without anxiety.  But she is not me.  She is her own free soul that I can love without any conditions or expectations. After talking with my mother  I was able to let go of my anger and my need to make everything okay.  I accepted that my kid might be a morning barfer forever-and so what!   I apologized to my daughter for my angry words, explaining that I was scared and worried and trying to fix everything. I told her that this was her fight and her issue and I would love her and support her no matter what.  And she got better! 

Maybe it had something to do with Christmas coming up and her aunt visiting and a new friend at school.  But I bet letting her know that I would love her just the way she is, warts and all, helped a little.  


Featured Image by Thomas Dumortier

For more Alanon Wisdom, check out this book. How Al-Anon Works