Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hindsight's 20/20...and Messy...and Beautiful: A Second Chance at Parenting: My Messy Beautiful

This post is part of  Momastery's Messy Beautiful project.  I am honored to be a part of it, because dear Mudders, it's ALL messy and beautiful.  Isn't it?

I was a horrific parent.  Ok...that seems harsh.  Let me try that again.  I was a self-centered, misguided, terrible parent who did happen to have good intentions but just didn't know how to implement them.  I guess that's more accurate. I mean, I was a screamer and a squeezer (not the good kind either--the one where you're in public and they are doing something you don't want them to do and you can't say anything out loud but you want them to stop so you squeeeeze their little arms and then they just scream or cry or carry on louder...Yeah...THAT kind of squeezer).  Often my shoulders slumped when they walked into the room, their giggling made me anxious, I even called my sons names sometimes--nasty, awful, cutting names--and instead of praising the good, I jumped all over EVERYTHING they did wrong and glowered down upon them with a sermon that they'd eventually tune out, which in turn would cause me to get louder, which in turn would cause them to talk over me or put their fingers in their ears, which in turn would make it so I would simply-go-ballistic--feet stompin' hand slammin' "GOD-WHY-ME--ballistic.  This kind of parenting was also coupled with a fierce drive to make sure (that besides my unpleasantness) my sons never ever experienced anything at all out in the world that would make them feel uncomfortable.  Homework not done?  I'd write a note excusing them.  Forget their band instrument? I'd leave work to bring it to them every single time.  Worried that they might not play enough during Little League?  Let's just have their step father be their coach for every team, every year.

The list goes on and on.  Why?  Why did I think my children shouldn't experience hardship?  It would be easy for me to blame it on mom-guilt.  After all, the kids got the short end of the stick when it came to family; a nutty mom, an every-other-weekend-father-who-wanted-to-be-their-best-friend-"Hey"-let's-watch-rated-R-violent-movies-"cause-your-mom's-rules-suck kind of guy, two sets of grandparents with their own deep issues, and step parents who loved them but...well let's just say neither of them were perfect either.  (After all--what kind of people would marry into THIS mess?) However, if I was being honest...and let's face it, I am...I'd have to say that all that entitlement was because it was easier.  It was so much easier in the moment to appease them.  It was so much easier to give in so I didn't have to hear them yell and carry on, fight and throw themselves around.  (Where DID they learn that THOSE behaviors were acceptable any way?  *Blink Blink*)

I bet that I don't have to tell you the results of all that poor parenting, but just in case you honestly can't imagine, let me illuminate you.  Both children a few years back left the raving lunatic house of their mother for the house of their father; a house with no rules and where anything goes. After that, one son dropped out of school after being caught with drugs, ended up on probation,has failed numerous drug tests and unless something drastic changes, his future doesn't look at all like the ones mommies dream of when they hold those newborn babes in their arms all pink and hopeful.  The other son, I am happy to say is working through his "stuff", but years ago, ended up in places and situations that he never dreamed of either.  His future, back then, looked nothing like he nor I dreamed about.  It was clear that I helped contribute to the downfall of my sons, and if I let myself go back...if I let myself remember all my mistakes, the weight of the guilt sinks me into a dark abyss--black and bleak and painful.

Two decades later, I am not that mother anymore.  Don't get me wrong, I have my moments just like all other moms, but I know better now what works and what doesn't work.  I guess that is one of the good things in having two sons and then two decades later having a daughter. (You heard me...two decades...almost).  I get the benefit of hindsight.  It is hindsight and a brush with death that helped me decide to "get-it-right" this time, and do a whole overhaul on what makes me tick.  I am proud of the mom I am now, but at the same time there are moments--guilt-dripping moments--that almost suffocate me BECAUSE I am a better mom.  

Let me explain.  For every wonderful, happy, appropriate response or moment or gesture that comes from my daughter, there is this deep soulful satisfaction in me that I am finally doing SOMETHING right in this thing called motherhood.  But...but...there is also this feeling, sometimes in the far reaching corners of my mama-mind, sometimes closer still.  This feeling is a mixture of regret and guilt and sadness and responsibility and agony.  It is the feeling that reminds me that I DIDN'T do this kind of parenting with my sons, and perhaps if I had, they'd have an easier road than the ones they are traveling now.  (Ok, who am I kidding?  Not PERHAPS...they'd DEFINITELY have an easier road.)

The thing is, (and it's this way with most mothers,) the KIND of parent I was or I am doesn't change the fact that I love all three of my children...all three.  I love them ferociously, and whether past or present, I raised them with good intentions--GOOD INTENTIONS.  Mamas, isn't that true of all of us?  There isn't a mom on the planet that consciously says to herself, "I think I am going to blow this parenting thing so bad that my kids end up on drugs, have no self esteem, end up in jail, or any other mama-nightmare that might exist."   It's just that as a new mama in my twenties I parented using the model that I knew, and well we now know how that ended up.

So now, after years of work, (and probably years more), my daughter reaps the benefit of the massive mistakes that I made with my sons.  They were the guinea pigs of her success and oh how it hurts to admit know that...but at the same time, for her sake, I am grateful for those mistakes.

A few weeks ago, my oldest son was over for dinner.  His 4 year old sister decided to scream and cry and carry on about not liking what was on her plate.  She worked herself up into a frenzy, and while he was sitting at my right, I reached out with my left hand and grabbed hold of my daughter's hand and said, "How can I help you calm down so that you can talk to me about what's bothering you?"  In between sobs she eked out, "I...I...I need a hug!!"

As she climbed up into my lap and I wrapped my arms around her, I could see my son gaze at me from the corner of my eye.  I knew what he was thinking, "When I was little, she would have forced me to eat that.  She would have screamed at me.  She would have sent me to my room without anything to eat."  All of this was the truth.  All of it.

As I whispered to my daughter some solutions to the big bad dinner problem, simultaneously my heart soared for being able to calm and reason  with her so that she saw me as a problem solver, and yet,  ached with the knowledge of the incredulousness and "why not me" feelings that my son was experiencing.

Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."  This is a mantra that I live by now and so, later that night, after dinner, I did what the old mama would never do, what many mamas that have made mistakes don't do; I said sorry, and I was, I so sorry.  Sorry for not being able to be the kind of mom I am to his sister, sorry for contributing to a young life that was filled with chaos and sadness, sorry for not figuring it all out sooner so that my sons knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the love that their mama feels for them.

 "I'm a different mama now."  I said shyly, guiltily, proudly.  He nodded, paused...then swallowed. Oh the many tangled ugly thoughts that must have been in that swallow, but I pressed forward.  "I am sorry that I wasn't this kind of mom when you were growing up."  He shrugged his shoulders and fidgeted in his seat and I took that as a sign of discomfort and stopped my apology there.  But as he was leaving a few hours later, I reached up, put my arms around his neck and leaned in for the rarely-allowed-because-I-am-twenty-and-too-cool-for-that-mama-kiss.  Standing there awkwardly I tried again, saying, "Even though I didn't do the best job parenting you as a kid, I can at least do it now.  I love you."

Then, my 6 foot mountain of a son hugged me tight and said, "I love you too, mom."   After the front door closed, the tears flowed and I sat on the couch feeling that mixture of pride and guilt, and sweetness and agony.  My daughter climbed into my lap, wiped my tears and said, "Don't cry mommy.  He'll be back.  He has to come back.  You are his mommy.  We are his family."

And she's right.  We are family.  One messy, beautiful family.


  1. thank you for sharing this.I can relate to a lot of it. Cheers to you and yours.

  2. Thank you for being so honest about motherhood. This is a good cautionary post. I understand the guilt you must be feeling. Know that every day is new chance to get it right!

  3. WOW, so powerful and I, too, wish I had done better with my two sons. I got better as time went on, but man, oh, man, I wish I had gotten better sooner.

  4. I love the rawness of your piece. Beautiful, Momma.

    1. Thanks, Karin. I have been feeling "messy beautiful" putting this out there in the universe, so I appreciate the comment. Rests this busy mind!

  5. My mom was "that" mom. My love for her is strong and though I was misguided for a few years, I have survived, because of, in spite of, and in honor of "that" mom. Hold your head high, you are the proud mom of 3 wonderful children and it is NEVER too late to be "the" mom you always wanted to be, to all of your children. Practice makes perfect.

    1. Renee, my mom was as well. And funny was her behavior and my view of it that made me want to change and do better. So in a strange way, I guess my strength and who I am today as a mom is a little bit because of her. ;)