As a parent, I have had countless moments when I question whether or not I am getting it right. Am I making the right decisions? Am I failing my children in some way? Am I a good mom?
I don’t think there are many of us who have a good handle on this gig all the time. I think there are even fewer parents who feel they had a perfect model in their own parents. Almost all of us would do things differently in various ways.
Me? I did have great models.
Except, my parents are models for the opposite of how I am trying to raise my children. They were perfect models for what not to do.
When I was a kid, I began to suspect that my parents never actually wanted children. I first arrived in their lives as two lines on a pregnancy test at a very inconvenient time in not only their relationship, but their individual lives. I was not an ideal situation. And from a young age, I felt unwanted. This isn’t because I wasn’t hugged or told that I was loved. I had both often.
But as a small child, my idea of what love is — what it means to tell someone that you love them — was an obligation — sort of an “I’m here. You’re here. I guess we have to,” kind of sentiment. I didn’t think anyone actually loved each other, just like I didn’t think any adults actually believed in Santa Claus. What you felt and what you said you felt, I believed, were two different things.
My parents divorced when I was in kindergarten. I never experienced what every adult kept trying to reassure me of. I didn’t think it was my fault. I knew it wasn’t my fault. My parents made each other miserable. My mother was ambitious, stressed, and angry about how her life was panning out. My father had lofty dreams that were fueled by his own ego with none of the ambition to pursue them, as well as a propensity for self-sabotage. They would scream and fight so much that when playing house with other kids, if I was playing the part of the mother, I would start yelling at whatever little boy was playing the dad. I thought that was how families operated. Getting a divorce was one of the few things my parents got right.
After their marriage ended, my mom won custody of us. My dad fought for custody just enough to make the process a complete pain in the ass without ever really wanting to take on the responsibility of raising his children. He would pop in and out of our lives, disappearing for weeks or months with no warning. I would listen to my mom’s family talk about what a terrible father he was and that he didn’t care about us kids outside of the occasional desire for us to greet him happily with cries of “Daddy!” when he might call or randomly show up for his visitation.
Understandably, my mother remained angry. Her life was nothing like she imagined it would be. She was struggling to raise three children, struggling to support our family while digging out of severe debt that my father had put her in (that propensity for self-sabotage isn’t limited to self when one is married) and struggling to finish her degree so she could get on with having a career. She paid a much greater price than my father ever did for those two lines. She experienced a lot of pain that I think only a mother in her situation can experience. And she projected that pain on me.
I will be the first to admit that kids can be irritating and taxing. I have lost it on my own children a number of times. My fuse can be short, and I am quick to anger. At my most furious and irrational, I have had some really unpleasant thoughts that make me cringe if I allow myself think back on them. But I don’t act on those thoughts because I know what it is like to be on the receiving end of that kind of rage.
I know the hurt and confusion a kid can feel when they’re being difficult about getting dressed for school and their mother reacts by telling them how much she hates them.
I know the embarrassment and shame that comes with spending the entire drive to school hearing about how you have no friends and that no one likes or loves you and all the reasons why. Because it’s obviously all your fault.
I know what it’s like to feel resented and alone when neither of your parents wanted you and one can escape and one feels trapped.
My parents were the best example of what not to do because they showed me how simple it is to get this thing right. You love your kids and you make sure they feel loved.
End of list.
No matter what is going on in my life, I make it a point to show my children every day that they are wanted and loved and that my love for them is unconditional. I don’t take for granted that saying it might be enough, I know it must also be demonstrated each day, but I still tell them both over and over from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep.
I love you. I love you. I love you. They know I mess up sometimes, but they don’t question whether or not they are loved. Ever.
Everything I do for them, I do not do out of obligation, but out of love for them. I wanted them, and I am so glad I get to be their mother. I want them to know this, without question. And I leave no room in their minds for doubt.