This past weekend I drove to Phoenix to visit my adult daughter Courtney, it had been almost a year since I had gotten to see her in person. Weekly zoom calls, while a great replacement had just not been the way I wanted to be with her on her birthday!
I did everything along the way to protect myself, packing food for the trip so I wouldn’t have to stop, wipes, hand sanitizer, masks, etc., etc. I also took Blue, my Great Dane, with me. Packing for this weekend felt a lot like packing to go anywhere when I had infants. I also found that I couldn’t draw on my well-honed packing skills since almost a year of not going anywhere had left that whole process a little out of my range of muscle memory.
When I was 9 years old, my mother had made me oatmeal for breakfast as she frequently did and she sat with me while I ate, it was our time before she woke up my little sisters. I always thought that perhaps it was our way of sharing a moment of peace before the mayhem started. On this particular morning however, she told me that she was leaving my father, she was leaving us girls, and she needed me to step up and help. But those words weren’t the worst of the conversation, it was what she said next. My mother told me that she had never really been that person who I knew her to be, that she had been acting the whole time, doing what she thought others expected of her. She needed to go into this new life to find herself.
With those words, I lost my mother, at least the one that I had known, that was also the last day that she and I would ever live under the same roof again. She went on to find herself but who she seemingly found was not someone I wanted or even felt that I could have in my life.
I remember it was during this time that I began to think that I was never going to have children, I never wanted to hurt someone the way that I had been. My high school boyfriend, who eventually became my first husband, in those early years of dating we were both just trying to figure out how we could build a stable life, so we didn’t talk about children much.
After we married, my grandmother saw to it that we both understood that children were the next step in the process and expected. My then husband was an obvious and joyful yes, I said yes and kept my fears to myself. I asked myself all the time, could I do this? Could I be a loving mother, a present mother and still have the career that I wanted? How could I avoid doing what my own mother had done? Frankly, I wasn’t at all sure that I could do it. But I also knew that when I decide to do something, I had always found a way to make it work and I would apply that to this, so I did.
Of course, the day I gave birth to my daughter each one of those worries melted away and over the years I have not been the perfect mother. For a long time, I thought my job was just to provide the things that were needed, it was a hard lesson for me to realize that both my son and my daughter actually cared less about the things and more about me being present.
I was not taught how to be a good parent, there was no class in school. I did not have a good example for how to be a good mother, I had quite the opposite, but I hope what both of my children know without a doubt is that I love them, I am here for them and I will continue to make my own happiness a priority so that I can be a positive example to them and be a positive force in their life.
Since their father and I divorced in 2001, I have had other long-term relationships and the consistent thread throughout that time has been the fact that those partners have seen my children as being in competition with them for my time to a certain extent. This wasn’t something I saw in the beginning; it has taken time for me to see it. To be honest I am a bit baffled by it, because I see and experience the relationship with my children differently than I experience a primary partnered relationship. I am not sure that I will ever understand why this happened since at this point my children are grown adults with their own lives and certainly require much less of me, but they also don’t require zero of me and I hope they never do. Thanks to Covid our weekly zoom calls have built a really solid relationship where distance had weaved its way in, and we are now more in touch and closer as a little family unit.
Whether I was supposed to have children or not is no longer a relevant question for me, I did, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Watching my children grow, learn and become independent, expressive adults has brought me a great deal of joy. I now just see my role as their mother to teach them the life lessons that I have learned along the way, making that information available for them so they can take a “short cut” past having to learn that lesson the hard way if they choose. Finally, this mother as teacher role is one that I feel ready for and qualified for and for that I am grateful, it has removed a bit of the pressure I had been putting on myself to get this motherhood think right! I am also grateful that despite my ill-equipped, flailing at motherhood up to now, my children seemed to have survived it.
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