I was out with some girls the other day and we were discussing our kids, as moms do. One of the girls was worried about an incident she had with her children, and the impact it would have. Another one of the girls, a woman whom I always think of as a calm voice of reason, replied, “Let’s face it – you were going to mess them up anyway!”
And I laughed because it is so true. We, as parents, are going to do our absolute best to raise our children according to our values and we, as parents, are going to do our absolute best to shield them from any hurt along the way.
But we are only parents. We can’t control everything in their lives and protect them from all. Least of all from ourselves.
I’m a prime example.
I was unpacking from our recent move and I came across the journals I keep for my boys. (I periodically write to each one. It gets less and less over the years. But my plan is to give them to the boys when they become adults.) I unwisely opened it up and read.
The random page I opened up to was harmful. It brought me back to 2011. I was planning for my then youngest child’s birthday party. I need to confess something before I go any further. I don’t do parties. I don’t entertain. I host nothing. It is WAY TOO STRESSFUL. I can clean my house beautifully for any such event. But put me in the kitchen to prepare and anything I make is a total disaster, even if I have successfully made it a million times before. And then put all those people in my house, for me to entertain, and well, I don’t like that idea. 😉 Graduation is not going to be fun! (And it is most certainly going to be traumatizing for all of my boys!)
So on this such day, I was trying to cram all the party planning and preparing in to one evening – the day before the party. Because I am a busy, working mom. I didn’t have time to prep a little each day. Those days had other such priorities. I was baking an awesome cake and getting everything ready the night before, after I had finished work, just as I always do.
It was, of course, a disaster. I enlisted the unwilling help of my oldest, who was 13 at the time. The journal talks about how I felt that night. I felt like I was the only one around the house that did anything. I was feeling like my family needed to step it up and help out more. I was worried because he spent his days playing XBOX, and didn’t know how to properly do things such as babysit his then seven-year old brother, clean house, mow lawn, till the garden, pick the vegetables, etc. I talked about how gone was the loving, sweet boy and in his place was this crabby teenager.
He must have complained, did a crappy job, or something. Because the journal talks about how I made him feel like he was no good, worthless, useless, and I was so so sorry. Because I loved him. And never wanted to hurt him.
I remember chewing him out for not helping. I must have said some pretty awful things, because I remember collapsing on the floor in tears at three o’clock in the morning. The rest of the house was asleep. I bawled because I was certain I was the most horrid mom ever. I let the stress of the event get to me and totally took it out on my oldest. Who probably deserved a talking too, but not the screaming at that he got.
I wrote about how I was an awful mom, never getting his laundry done for him, missing important events, like getting the money in for picture day. I was obviously having a hard time balancing work and family life, and the stress of it was getting to me.
I swore I’d never forget this awful night. I swore to myself that I would always keep it under control. I’d be a better mom.
But I did forget about that night. I didn’t remember it until I read it just recently. And so I asked my oldest, now 17, if he remembered it.
Yup. He remembered it. He said it was awful, probably one of my worst “freak out moments”. (Apparently I have a lot of them….) And he laughed.
And that was it.
It was probably more traumatizing to me than it was to him. Kids are amazingly resilient. They can bounce back from almost any trauma. All it takes is a couple of people in their lives that show them unconditional love and support. A couple of people that are steady rocks, there for them always. A couple of good quality relationships.
I knew this from my own training as a social worker. But you don’t look at it that way as a mom. I think, as moms, we should stop trying to protect our kids from everything – especially from ourselves, because, let’s face it, if anyone is going to mess them up, it is going to be us.
So let’s admit defeat at the get go, and instead of trying to be perfect, let’s work on damage control. Let’s assume we are going to mess our kids up. Greatly. Instead of trying to avoid that, let’s spend time building resiliency. Let’s establish that relationship. Make it a good one. Tell them how much we love them each and every day. Hugs and Kisses. Ask them how their day was. Eat supper together. Watch a movie together. Play a game. You know the drill. Give kids your time. That’s all it takes. The rest will be remembered, but will pale in comparison.
Oh, and by the way, I’m an older and wiser mother now. I was so worried at that time that my son was not learning how to be a responsible adult, that he didn’t know enough basic household stuff. He spent his days avoiding us and hanging out with his friends.
Now he spends his days hanging out with us, every chance he can get. He can balance the responsibilities of work, school, college classes, athletics, friends and a girl friend. He is absolutely amazing with little kids. And he is almost ready to be released in to the world (he heads off to college next year). He was just going through a crappy little teenage phase at the time, that I managed to overlook somehow. I was much easier on the next two when they hit that phase!
Live and learn with the first one, right? 😉