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.
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),...now 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 that...to 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 AM...so 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.