From the time I was a little girl, I have known a few things about drinks. Red wine is best served at room temperature, white wine can be chilled, and you don’t need to eat dinner to have an after-dinner drink (or five). I know, too, how many drinks it takes to cross the line of decency and kindness and enter into the world of manic lies and broken promises. These important life lessons were brought to me by mom and taught to me alongside the ABCs.
My mother is an alcoholic. She is not a bad person but makes catastrophically bad decisions due to the cloud of booze she resides in. For a long time, I dwelled on the crappy things I was learning from her about drinking, believing her to be a bad person and worrying that being a bad mother was in my DNA. I even delayed having children until I knew I was ready to be the best mother I can be.
Now that I am a mom myself, I find myself reflecting on my relationship with my own mother. Her disease continues to cause our relationship to be a strained, disappointing shadow of what we could have. However, I found that though her alcoholism taught me some inappropriate lessons, it has gifted me with unexpected wisdom that I cherish in my daily life.
1. A mother doesn’t have to be the woman who gave you life. I am blessed to have more than one mother. I have the woman who gave me life and brought me into the world. She is my biological mother, but does little to fill the emotional connection a daughter seeks from her mother. Fortunately, I have two women whom I cherish and who step up and fill those shoes. They revel in my triumphs, bestow their wisdom, and love me the way I imagine my mother would if she were able and the way I hope to love my daughter. Because I have two of these ladies, I am blessed with double the wisdom to learn from and double the love for my daughter.
2. Being called “Mom” is earned. I know you are a mother by genetics, but being a mom is earned by more than DNA. I intend to earn my title by showing my daughter love and support even when times are difficult. So far, I have stuck to that vow and feel like I have earned being called “Mom.”
3. I know what not to do. Parenting is confusing. I won’t tell you I know how to be an amazing mother. I won’t tell you it’s easy. I will, however, tell you I know exactly what not to do. Normally if I am having a parenting quandary, I wonder what my mom would do, and I do the exact opposite.
4. I treasure the opportunity to have mother-daughter bonding experiences with my daughter. Missing out on these things with my own mother showed me how important it is to be there for my daughter and her milestones both big and small. I find myself relishing the little moments with her and not wishing away some of the hard stuff because I am just so happy to give her what I didn’t have.
5. I have the gift of perspective because parenting my kid is easier than parenting my parent. Growing up with an addict for a parent, I often found myself in the unfortunate position of having to parent my parent. No matter what my daughter throws at me, it can’t be tougher than the challenges my mother threw at me when I was still growing up myself.
6. I know I am strong and capable. Motherhood didn’t challenge my sense of self the way it does for so many other new mothers. I know what I have survived and know that parenthood is nothing I can’t handle. This knowledge allowed me to handle the transition to motherhood in stride.
My mom’s disease taught me how to make lemonade out of life’s lemons. I hope to pass on that same wisdom and optimism to my daughter because I know my pluckiness has served me well. I just hope to teach her those lessons without a drink in my hand. Unless that drink is lemonade, of course.
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