Ugh. Yesterday was brutal. It was a lovely day, not too hot – which is great because our HVAC is out. My little girls were full of their adorable little girl mischief – so that was good too, but while I sat in the broken rocker waiting for them to fall asleep at nap time (yes, I actually sit in the room – don’t ask…) things took an ugly turn.
I’d forgotten my book and so I was left with only my phone for entertainment. I popped over to Momastery.com for a little dose of Ms. Melton. I love Glennon Melton. I’m canonizing her just as soon as someone elects me Pope. Oh, and the two of us convert to Catholicism.
She had a beautiful post for Mother’s Day – sort of an open letter to her mom. I made it about a quarter of the way through before I began ugly crying. I’m sitting there all snotty and silently blubbering, praying that my girls don’t look over and catch me, because nothing would disrupt nap time like a big ol’ talk about crying and grown-ups and the nature of regret.
The whole post is a beautiful testimony to the power of a mother’s unconditional love, but the part that just slayed me, the part that has me questioning my entire existence, is this part here:
“And we will always remember that the most world-changing work we can do is this: We can live in a way so that our children will be able to say, Not one moment of my life did I wonder if I was adored. Never, ever did I feel alone. And they will pass it on. They will answer the phone. They will start packing. They will know that when your people are hurting, you go. You show up. Again and again forever. That is family. That is love. That is your legacy. Your legacy is that none of your people will be alone. Not ever. Because you made that rule for us, and then you lived it. We just don’t know any different.”
Am I doing that?
I mean, I know that’s what we all want to do, but am I really doing it? Or am I just intending to do it? Am I planning to do it, the way I plan to teach my kids to ride a bike, but constantly get distracted by bills or laundry or a broken HVAC?
I sat there crying – trying to sniffle silently, and struggling to wrap my mind around this message that my heart was sending me. It was a dense fog of feeling; currents of shame and jealousy and sorrow and remorse and loneliness and despair and powerlessness and fear and regret and disappointment. Now it’s hours and hours later and the fog has thinned a little, but it’s still there. More than anything else, I’m afraid of it clearing completely.
Here’s the thing. I had a challenging relationship with my own mother. I loved her so much. She loved me so much. When she was alive we talked on the phone 3 or 4 times a day. When she died, very suddenly, just months after my twins were born, I was destroyed. I wasn’t done. I still needed my mommy, even if my mommy wasn’t perfect. Even if I was thirty-six years old.
For months I engaged in this bizarre magical thinking where I decided that if I refused to utter, or even contemplate, one single negative thing about her or our relationship, she might come back to me, if not physically, at least in some spectral form. Intellectually, I knew it was ridiculous, but somehow in the little child part of my heart I guess I thought if I was just good enough and grateful enough, I wouldn’t be left all alone. Because, I suppose, that was the unspoken threat of my entire life – that if I screwed up badly enough (and the line was never very clear) I might not be worth the time. My mother NEVER said anything like this to me. In fact, I remember asking her, when I was four or so, what bad thing I might do that would cause her to stop loving me. She answered, like all good mothers, “I will always love you.”
Still, I knew I was a source of relentless disappointment. When I was child, I was constantly making messes, or forgetting homework papers. As a teen, I was constantly bringing home report cards with all As and one B. As an adult, I was always making questionable decisions, and forcing my mother to feel obligated to do inconvenient things. So, while I talked to my mother almost incessantly, I always edited my conversations in order to avoid any topics which might result in a reprimand.
It wasn’t until a friend of mine met my mother at my baby shower, and later pulled me aside to say how sorry she was that my mom was so critical of me, that it occurred to me that perhaps, I wasn’t entirely to blame. And then I got pissed off. And I stayed pissed off for years, right up until the morning of the day she died. The whole time I still talked to my mother daily. Because I loved her. And she loved me. It’s just she wasn’t good at unconditional love. And because she wasn’t good at it, I’m not good at it either. This is my greatest shame.
I swore to myself that I would do better with my own children. I told myself that I would be a soft place to land – an island of refuge, not a place of last resort. But somewhere along the line, pretty early I think, I fucked up. I let the fear that I would do a bad job of preparing my kids for the real world overpower the fear that my children would grow up thinking they were anything less than fearfully and wonderfully made. I let the fear of screwing my kids up overpower the fear that my children would not know that they were completely loved and adored no matter how screwed up they were.
I’m deeply afraid that I’ve taught my children to expect my love and loyalty based on their doing and not just their being.
Lest you think I’m bring dramatic, I’ll offer some examples:
- When my children get hurt because of something irresponsible they’ve done, my first reaction is not to say, “I’m so glad you’re ok. I’m sorry you’re hurt. That’s a dangerous thing to do.” No, what I say is, “How many times have I told you not to rock in that chair?”
- When my children come home from school complaining about “getting in trouble for no reason,” I don’t assume that they are truly baffled by their indiscretion. I assume that they are trying to duck responsibility. I almost always take the teacher’s side – without ever even hearing the whole story.
- When my children fail to do something I’ve asked them to do, or do it poorly, I don’t view it as an oversight. I view it as a personal affront.
There are many, many more examples, but I’m just too raw to delve into all of them.
In short, the last several hours have taught me that I’ve failed to live up to my own standards. I’ve put important things like responsibility and self-control in front of essential things like feeling safe and loved and cherished. I’m raising my kids back-asswards and I want to change. But I’m scared and I’m lost. I’ve never learned how to mother from a place of grace and mercy. I’m terrified that it might be impossible for me. I know it’s going to hard.
But, maybe, just maybe, St. Glennon is right when she says, “We can do hard things.”