My children are brilliant and beautiful. They are talented and have great promise. They are also self-destructive and have the potential for disaster. And it is the last part that worries me a lot. It’s not just because of the possible negative effects in their lives. Of course I’m concerned about that, but to be honest there’s another issue. My ego might not be able to stand it. After all, what do my children’s lives say about the kind of mother I am? How will their choices make me look? What about ME?
Okay, I’m not proud of this admission. I want to be all altruistic and focused only on them, but let’s admit it. We mothers have this conceit that if we just do the RIGHT things (and the right things may vary based on our personal values) our kids will be bright and shiny perfect monuments to US. If we’re just Tiger Mom enough they’ll be valedictorians and concert musicians with doctorates. Or if we offer them enough creative experiences and positive reinforcement they’ll be creative geniuses, entrepreneurs and trail blazers. We’re convinced that if we expose them to our religious belief systems they’ll be pious and righteous and embrace our principals. And of course, tofu snacks and organic whole foods will produce healthy, vibrant vegans who would never put a toxin into their precious pure bodies. And we’ll look pretty darned good.
Except sometimes the offspring don’t get the memo. Tofu squares and daily prayer not withstanding, they follow drummers we don’t hear or at least drummers we’ve heard and want them to ignore. Sometimes they hurt themselves. Sometimes they hurt us. We want what’s best for them and we’re pretty sure we know what that is, but they don’t always agree.
The other night my son came home so late after curfew that it was in another time zone. I was really angry. I wasn’t just angry at him, I was mad at how his behavior would make me look to others. So I gave him an ultimatum: If you can’t come home when you’re supposed to, don’t come home at all. There are rules to follow! If you’re going to live a good life you’ve got to follow the rules! It seems like the right thing to do.
But, this morning, when I look in the mirror, what I see is a woman who doesn’t follow her own rules. I tell my children to do what’s right while I, more often than I want to acknowledge, don’t do it myself. I tell them to avoid addictive behavior and substances, while they’ve watched me lose and gain the same 20 to 30 pounds over and over. I tell them to dream big and work daily to achieve their dreams and yet time and time again they’ve come home to find me sitting in the same place on the couch, glazed eyes moving between the TV screen and computer solitaire, my list of goals having become nothing but notes scribbled on a white board and ignored. This morning I looked into the eyes of the woman in the mirror and I was ashamed. Then Michael Jackson spoke to me. Sort of. The lyrics of his song popped into my head, “If you wanna’ make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”
Because the reality is this: no matter how much I want to, I can’t wrap my daughter in my arms as I could when she was little and make everything better. I can’t put my son in time out until he behaves the way I want him to behave. I can’t MAKE any body do anything. The illusion is gone. But I can look myself in the face and ask the question, “Am I living the life I want my children to live?” and then I can effect change in the only place I can — in me.
So this is the beginning of a 40-day experiment. What if, for the next 40 days I lived the way I dreamed for my children? What if I treated my body with the respect and love I want for them? What if I followed my dreams and aspirations with the passion I wish for them? What if I nurtured my spiritual life with the dedication I want for their lives? What if I were actually to follow my own advice? Will it make a difference in my family? Or just make a difference in me. Either way I have nothing to lose.
Wow. Talk about the Universe hearing a plea. I was doing research on Gullah and your blog popped up. And it was like a light in the wilderness. As the mother of two teenage boys I have recently been introduced to the wisdom of why some animals eat their young. Despite the trips to the museum, foreign travel, tennis, dance, blah, blah blah they haved morphed into creatures I can hardly recognize (or stand). It is agony to sit with friends and have them describe the wonderful grades, exchange programs and Nobel Prizes their kids have while I can barely get a civil word out mine and if they make the bus on time I crack open the champagne. Your honest blog talked me off a ledge. At least for today. Good luck with your 40 day plan.
When I started my blog I had intended to share all the wonderful hopeful and affirming parts of parenthood…then I just decided to share all the real stuff instead. When my son had a particular challenging problem I shared it with my oldest friend. She said her son had been through the same thing but she’d never told anyone. Not even me. I wished she had. I would have felt better to know I wasn’t alone. So — I’m so glad I could talk you off the ledge! Thanks so much for sharing!
All I can say is wow and thank you.
Wow because I just found out we are expecting our second child. Our daughter will be just shy of two when this one is born. Instead of excitement, I’ve been feeling fear that I won’t measure up. Reading this post brought tears to my eyes. I’m not alone in feeling this way. More importantly, I CAN measure up.
Thank you for sharing this. Thank you for admitting to the world the doubts and fears you have. Thank you for inspiring me to do better as a mother. And thank you for a quality show that, even though it is never said out right, radiates God’s love. Gullah Gullah is the only show my daughter requests. She’s 14 months and will point to the tv (or cell phone ; it’s on there, too) and say, “Gul Gul.” Her face lights up a soon as she hears you say, “Hey there!” (She says it too, now.) And thank you for showing children, especially those that unfortunately don’t have it modeled at home, how a husband and wife should treat each other. My husband and I were both so touched when we saw you and Ron singing to each other how much you love each other.
Reading your note brought tears to MY eyes. You validated my need to turn to words and my desire to connect with others. Thank you. And yes, in spite of the challenges of parenting, you will be okay. Not perfect. But that’s not really an option. You love them as best you can and trust the Creator to “work all things together for good.” Thanks so much for you comment.
I just found your blog while I was feeling homesick for those easy breezy preschool years when they danced to Gullah Gullah songs in the living room. My oldest daughter is 18 and twin daughters are almost 17. School is out and they don’t play outside in the back yard anymore. My oldest heads to college in August and has a serious boyfriend–and we’ve had those late nights. The twins are getting their driver’s licenses this summer. I think summer marching band is all that stands between us and pure chaos! And I am happy oldest is helping with the trombone section.
The high school years haven’t been bad, easier then the mean girl years of middle school…but this young adult freedom is scary.
Your 40 day plan is great. I am trying to follow my dreams(romance writer) but I find balance hard–something always seems to get neglected. I’m going to try to be more balanced.
That balancing thing…what a challenge. I’ve found the 40 day thing much harder than I thought. Just heard myself whining to my son about all the things I do and how nobody thinks, “what can I do for mom.” Oops. I guess changing that is up to me. I think I’m PROGRAMMED to focus on their needs first and push mine to the back. It’s a challenge to follow my dreams the way I encourage them to follow theirs. And I think sometimes I feel guilty. Sigh. I sincerely hope you make the time to write. You have a lovely voice. I can hear it in your comment. Sound like a writer to me!