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.