It was just my 18-year-old son and me, sitting alone on the couch watching mindless TV, when I blurted out the question. He’s leaving for college soon, and I’d thought about posing the question to him a lot recently, as I’m feeling I need some sort of validation for the last 18 years of parenting. Although the question is a loaded one, and his personality is such that I knew his answer was going to be rife with sarcasm and unintended dishonesty, I went ahead and asked him anyway.
I took his hand, looked him square in the eyes, and blurted out, “Did you have a happy childhood?”
“What? Mom, are you serious? What kind of question is that?” and a huge smile spread across his face.
“I just need to know,” I said.
“Um, don’t think twice about it. Of course I had a happy childhood. It was the best! This is a stupid question. Where is this coming from? Why are you asking me this now? And why do you doubt yourself so much?” he answered.
He was right. Why was I asking him now, and why all the doubt? Well, I was asking him now because I finally thought he was capable of an honest answer. You really can’t ask your 3-year-old, “How’s Mommy doing with the whole mommy-ing thing these days?” And when asked, your tween will just give you an eye roll and stomp off, and your high-schooler will answer with a grunt and a “Whatevs.” But your young adult about to leave home? Thankfully, they’re finally sincere and honest enough to give it to you straight.
For the first time, I truly believed him, but was shocked as to why he didn’t think I doubted myself. He’s lived in this house for 18 years and witnessed to more mothering meltdowns than I care to count. He’s seen me at my utter worst, heard me sobbing and saying things like “I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I don’t want to mother anymore.”
Being the oldest, he’s seen me lose my patience countless times with his younger siblings, literally spending entire years sleepwalking through his childhood. He’s heard his father and I fight about a growing family in a seemingly shrinking house; argue about school choices, extracurricular choices, and proper disciplinary consequences; and more than once watched us both go to bed angry and wake up even angrier.
He’s seen me pace around late at night with endless worry and wake up even earlier with increased anxiety. As the firstborn child, he was our primary experiment in child-rearing — every decision we made about his upbringing was untested and unproven. And yet here he is, the smart, funny, and well-rounded college-bound young man I raised, having to tell me I succeeded as a mother, when all I had ever thought was I’m failing.
“Mom?” he said, “Did you hear my answer? My childhood? You did good, Mom.”
I didn’t respond with why I doubted myself, or why I spent years questioning my parenting, or even why I felt the need to ask him that question in the first place. Instead, I sat back and let the words he said to me wash away 18 years of “What the hell am I doing?” and replace it with “You did good, Mom.”
That day? The one where you finally feel appreciated and validated? Moms, it’s coming, I promise, but don’t allow yourself to wait 18 years to feel it. Because although your kids may not say it or show it, look at the good humans they are becoming and trust that you’re doing good, because truly, you really are.