It has recently come to my attention that I am a terrible mother. Listen, I had suspected this for awhile. (Insert lengthy list of examples of my ineptitude here, including but not limited to the fact that my kids won’t wear matching socks or sleep under flat sheets or read for pleasure.)
I have spent twenty-four years urging my kids to be more like me only to discover that not only do they not want to be like me, they don’t even like me.
(Not all my kids. Some of my kids. And not all the time. Some of the time. But still.)
That hurts. Also? They can’t talk to me because . . . I am scary? Something like that. I am impatient and I don’t listen and I have no idea what it’s like to be them. In fact, one of my children reportedly described to a friend how unsupportive I am and that friend expressed horror that my poor child has to live with a mom who does not support said child.)
(I mentally tick off the myriad ways my entire life has been devoted to taking care of and supporting these kids, starting with diaper changing and ending with the dinner I just prepared tonight. But what do I know?)
I don’t want to defend myself because what’s the point? I know I am imperfect.
I am constantly accused of thinking I am perfect which always makes me roll my eyes and wonder if ANYONE has been paying attention to me my whole life because if they really understood me, they would know that I am painfully aware of my shortcomings. I know I am not perfect. I have never claimed to be perfect. I have aspired to perfection but fallen flat on my face.
The irony is that I have spent a life in doomed pursuit of perfection and I literally call myself a “reformed perfectionist” because I have found the effort to be an impossible dream, a crushing, depressing impossibility. And yet my whole life, people have said, “You think you’re perfect!” and sometimes, they dub me, “Little Miss Perfect.” What is happening here?
Obviously, I cannot paint this picture in vibrant colors because of privacy concerns. Of course there was an impetus, a lit fuse smoldering until the whole thing explodes. Of course. If we were having a cup of tea, I’d tell your face all about it.
The details are the most interesting part of any tale of woe, but I can’t use identifying information here. I need to protect me and I need to protect them (even though I am so unsupportive and such an awful mother).
I was thinking tonight about my own adolescence. My parents–including step-parents–did not care one whit about my precious little feelings. I had bad days, bad weeks, bad months and even a super depressing ninth grade year, but no one once asked me why I was crying or why I looked sad or if anything was wrong. (Well, there was a church lady who hired me to babysit and taught me to play three guitar chords and showed me that some families danced around their living rooms. She saw me.)
I carried my heartache in a brown paper bag. I would have liked to foist it on someone else, but it was mine to carry. And so carry it I did.
Now I have a bigger bag and I seem to carry everyone’s heartache in it. Is this what it means to be a mom? I lug around the angst, the disappointment, the confusion, the sadness, the rage, the fear in this giant bag. I carry it, worrying, stumbling under the weight of it. It keeps me awake at night and buzzes around in my head during the daylight.
But I am coming to realize that I shouldn’t be carrying around my kids’ feelings. They need to hold those emotions in their own hands. My part is to listen without interrogating. (That is SO hard. I have questions, so many, many questions.)
And then, I need to back out of the room without agreeing to hold their (mental) stuff.
A child’s sad feeling is sad, but it’s not mine to carry. Feelings are fleeting. Feel them and then move on.
As I have told them for years, you are responsible only for yourself. (I am responsible ultimately only for myself.) You can’t change anyone but yourself. (I cannot change my kids.) I cannot fix everything. (Although I can replace a doorknob, in case you wondered. I am handy.)
I am beginning to grasp the truth that we have only this moment. Tomorrow has its own set of troubles that we can’t do anything about today anyway. Yesterday already happened and we can’t change anything in the past.
Sometimes, I reassure myself that “right now, everything is fine.” The kids are in their beds. The house is locked tight. My husband is snoring in our room which hums with the white noise of three fans. The cat is curled somewhere in the dark and the dog is sprawled across the hallway, guarding me from intruders.
Whatever happens tomorrow will happen. But for now, right now, everything’s okay.
(Even if I am a bad mom.)
Feelings will come and go. How you respond to your situation is what matters. You can choose your attitude and reaction. (These are all the things I tell my kids who think I have no idea what I’m talking about. I want to force them to read Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. But they don’t want my advice or help.)
Actually, one of my kids, a 19-year old, texted me earlier this week and described a situation he was having with his health. And then he said those magic words every mother dreams of: “What should I do?”