There is so much that is complicated about being a mother and about being a daughter or son. As a kid you don’t really have much of a grasp of your parents as people; they’re just your parents. This last year and a half I feel like I’ve been focused on nothing but thinking about parenting; my mom’s and my own, the parenting going on in the world around me. The other day I was talking to an old friend who mentioned somewhat flippantly that he thought his mom had a cold heart. I was taken aback because this woman seems like a great mom, I know she’s a great mom, she would happily throw herself in front of a bus for any of her kids and they are lucky to have her. I was taken aback because from an outside perspective it is completely obvious that this woman adores her children, particularly her first born son. But, it got me thinking about how some of the things we do as moms we do because we love our kids and our kids will interpret them as they will; there isn’t a lot of control we have over that. Sometimes when you are a mom, especially a single mom, you don’t have the luxury of coddling your kids. Sometimes when there are more of them than there are of you there isn’t always enough of you to go around. Sometimes your kids go without something, which sucks, but it is part of life. Sometimes you forget to hug them because you are working on clothing them. Sometimes you seem mad at them when you are mad for them. Sometimes you don’t whisper in their ear that they are the most amazing, beautiful, intelligent person you’ve ever met and you have no idea how you are lucky enough to parent them because you get distracted by how you will pay the electric bill this month. Sometimes there isn’t the right time to tell your first born son that he fills a very special place in your life, a place that no one else can. Sometimes you watch your daughter with her daughter and you hope it will be easier for her. These things are hard but they are an integral part of being a parent. Those of us that are working in a two parent family and have the benefit of having a parent at home are really lucky (although it doesn’t always feel like it, thank you vodka). I wanted to do everything for Aidan because as a child I had to do a lot for myself. Thank God I got knocked up with twins and had to go on emergency bed rest or my son would be permanently disabled. He was 8; I had to shout instructions on how to make a peanut butter and honey sandwich from the couch. Parenting is all about finding the happy medium. Not too hard, not too soft. Not too much like your mom, not too different. Praise just right, discipline correctly. Parenting is hard, hard work. My mom used to say, “You need a license to catch fish but any asshole can have kids.” It is very true.
I have spent a good portion of time thinking about parenting things that my mom did wrong and how I would do them better. But, and this is a big BUT, there were huge portions of my mom’s parenting that were perfect, amazing genius and now that I am a parent, I know they came at no small cost to her. It is a strong woman who can set the ground work for complete, brutal honesty with her kids because you know the seven million things that will be flung back in your face. I flung at least seven million things in her face, usually more than once. I told her that I would never parent my kids the way she did, she should have slapped my face. My Grandma was a fantastic grandma, but the older I get the more I think she wasn’t the best mom. I think she was emotionally unavailable for her kids and I think that was really, really hard on her daughters. I think it probably informed a lot of her parenting decisions. I think she made a conscious decision that honesty was the best policy and just powered through regardless of personal emotional harm. For her, I imagine that honesty was more difficult in her relationship with me than with my brother. Their relationship always seemed so much easier. My mom was like some kind of emotional first responder, she ran towards me when everyone else was running from me for their lives. She either loved me very much or she was completely crazy. My mom and I are similar in a lot of ways but in the drama department she couldn’t even compete with me. For me, everything is big. For my entire life I could talk to my mom about anything that I wanted to; even the things (and specific boys) that made her crazy. She also let me talk to her about her. If I didn’t like how she was behaving, I told her and she let me. She would call me on my crap, but I always felt heard. It didn’t mean she would change her mind every time, but she listened to me. A few weeks ago I was talking to Aidan, he was upset about something. He said, “You know what Mom? You are really cool. Not ‘Hey Mom, buy me meth’ cool. But the ‘you listen to me and talk to me like a person’ cool. Thanks.” That is the best compliment that one of my kids could give me; I work really hard to listen to them because it was the single most genius portion of my mother’s parenting skills. It’s early to tell yet, my own daughters are young, but I imagine that my relationship with them as young women will be harder than the easy relationship I share with their brother. I think my own mistakes, hopes and dreams will probably get a little wrapped up in what is going on with them and their relationships. I’m going to work really hard to be a good listener for them, to keep it separate. This is definitely an area where I will rely on what I learned from my mom, I hope I can do as good a job being emotionally present as she did.
My mom kept a running dialogue going from the time Erin and I were small about our bodies, our feelings, and as we got older, about what choices those combined factors may cause us to make. She always wanted to think of those things ahead of time. I was gifted with an easy going, comfortable conversation about all aspects of a sexual life and of the appropriateness of being a sexual person. As I became an adult my mom was often inappropriate, her sense of humor was fantastic. But as kids it wasn’t like that; she answered questions, but more importantly, she modeled being a sexual, whole person in an appropriate manner. She also made sure I could ask anything and felt comfortable doing so. The easiness of that aspect of our relationship landed my mom with a herd of my teenage friends coming to her for help, advice or support that they couldn’t find at home. I am trying to be that brave with my own kids. I have to give her a lot of credit, she had to sit and listen to all of my tween (although back then we just called it “kids”) drama; the longings and musings of my early teen years and then the firestorm of drama and emotion that were my late teens and, oh my god, the line of inappropriate men in my twenties. Through nearly all of it my mom was a champion. I don’t think I was aware of it at the time, but I certainly am now. How often must she have thought I would be the death of her?
My mom was a baby boomer, one of the first women in a new generation born between 1946 and 1955 these women grew up in post WWII America, the world was a very different place for them than it had been for their mothers. My mom didn’t have to stay in an unhappy marriage (or three…), she could work and be a single parent. While I don’t think anyone should be lauding divorced, single parenting as the way to go, she was certainly in that first generation of women to actually be able to do it. She parented us alone; she kept a roof over our heads alone, and rose to a career as vice president without benefit of a college education. In a way, her generation is the only one to be able to do that with any amount of success. Not that it was easy then, but just the cost of living increases alone over the last 30 years make it difficult to own a home alone, take care of your kids, find and manage a career that affords a living wage with which to do those other things; my mom did that.
Parenting is in large part a juggling act, it’s hard; the pay sucks, the hours are horrible, people vomit on you. It is 99% crap with 1% return. That 1% is phenomenal; it is the reason we reproduce, it is what gets us parents up out of bed in the morning. I’m going to try really, really hard to kiss my kids before I sit down to pay the bills and to stop typing when they are talking. I often stop what I’m doing and tell them what I think about them as people, I’m going to keep doing that, I will try to do it more. What I hope from my kids is that someday they will look at me and know that I tried to do my personal best every single moment. That even though I screwed up and they find themselves on a therapist’s couch, I loved them fiercely and I tried to make sure they knew how to be good, happy, loving people. That even though I was occasionally crabby or distracted that I consider the act of parenting each one of them to be the single greatest gift of my incredibly blessed life.
I would like to take this moment and thank all of the Cheli Harpers, the Marge and Debbie Leonards, the Cindy Ruzickas, the Colleen Wilsons, the Leah Wrights out there that are doing it virtually alone, the ones that did it in the 70s and the ones that do it now. You are warriors, your children are lucky to have you; I hope that they know it.