I ran across a conversation amongst some parents on social media the other day about “how they were dealing with the fact that their children didn’t turn out as they’d hoped”. It was perplexing and after reading the various insights, I had to take a moment and pause. So, I asked myself that question, and here is where I landed:
I have had three babies.
One of them is already in Heaven, which of course is not what I’d “hoped” for her. Although I was only blessed with her physical presence for a literal handful of fleeting hours (“handful” meaning that she literally fit in the palm of my hand), there have been moments that I’ve actually thanked God for getting her out of this wretched mortal world the rest of us are shackled too sooner rather than later. Let’s be honest folks – regardless of the hope, joy, beauty and laughter there truly are to be found in this temporary Earthly home, “humanity” is not for the faint of heart and it takes an immense amount of courage, faith, and suffering to survive it.
So, yes, I’m thankful she never had to endure the gauntlet of simply existing. I know where she is now. She’s safe, loved, and treasured beyond comprehension by a Love even greater than mine, and for that I am truly grateful. I believe that when I myself get to the brighter side of all this grey, she’ll be there waiting for me right beside my husband, who too is eternally safe and free from the suffering he knew here on Earth.
Then, there are the two still here with me. If I’ve learned anything in my journey thus far, it’s that as their mom, nothing is more crucial for their mental wealth then my unconditional love and acceptance of them just as they are and just as they aren’t.
Due in part to the extreme dysfunction of my own childhood, wherein my parents (who were also raised in dysfunction) perpetuated the “works and deeds” system of parenting cyclically bequeathed them, I spent the first 39 years of my life void of a reflection in the mirror. “Love, affection, praise, and reward” were earned, not freely given, and even the smallest perceived failure or disappointment in their eyes would often cost me everything.
I cannot tell you how many times they “washed their hands of me” over the years for screwing things up and falling short of their expectations. I was guilted and shamed for “not being good” too many times to count, which eventually cost me my sanity, and almost cost me my life. Meanwhile, here I am. I’ve made peace with my past, my present, and my future, and am fully connected back to that elusive younger me who was missing from the mirror all those years.
This is how I deal with the fact that my children aren’t turning out “as I’d hoped”: I DON’T, BECAUSE THEY ARE! Their mental health and happiness are all I ever hope for. Their lives are their lives, and the only human beings they need to be accountable to when setting their personal achievement bars is themselves! No matter how high or low they set them, they will never be failures in my eyes. If they want to grow up and sell lemonade from a bus, so be it, as long as they’re selling the BEST damn lemonade they can possibly sell and they sleep peacefully at night after doing so.
I believe with every shred of my being that the moment these kids became a part of my blood and bones, my job as the mother who was blessed enough to be blessed by their presence on my path was to relearn and reteach “life” according to their own unique terms and being and to prepare them for flight on their own unique paths – not mine!
My kids don’t owe me a single thing – not even love and respect. Do they love and respect me? Indeed, I think they do. Yet, as oxymoronical as it seems, both love and respect are the consequence of free will and cannot be forced or commanded. My babies are not extensions of me – they’re their own, autonomous beings. I want them to love and respect me because they want to love and respect me, not because I demand it. They ‘re people, not machines, with thoughts and feelings of their own. The best that I can do is to keep freely giving what I “hope” to receive in return, regardless of their reciprocation.
There is nothing they can do or say that will keep me from being proud of them, and all I ever ask for is their best in all they do, that they grow from their mistakes, learn from all of mine, and treat themselves and others kindly. Neither of them is perfect, and each has had some challenges courtesy of their own dysfunctional childhood and me. It took me a minute to pull my head out of my own ass, get the help I needed to become whole, and stop acting like the consummate victim. But I did, and they know it, and we are all in this thing together separately.
At the end of the day, my job as their mom will be a true success if they learn to see themselves in their mirrors as the impeccably flawed masterpieces they are – lemonade stands and all. My son is a KING in the making, and my daughter a warrior QUEEN just like me. All three of us are battle born SURVIVORS who’ve “gotten” to learn the hard way that nothing here matters without true and unconditional love and acceptance, which they will always have from their mom, and we ALL have from our God. I will always love them as they are – nothing more, nothing less.