I was at dinner one evening with a group of friends who I’ve hung out with since elementary school. While talking about our grown children, one of them said, “I’m a mom, so I’m used to being blamed.” She laughed, but I wasn’t convinced she thought it was funny.
The next week, while catching up with a friend in the middle of an aisle at HomeGoods, our conversation, as usual, came around to our children. She halfheartedly joked about spending time with her adult children and having them again and again bring up her shortcomings in conversation. She said, “I always get thrown under the bus.”
During a long lunch, another friend talked about her son, “I had to finally tell him, ‘I’ll love you no matter what, but don’t call me again until you’re ready to apologize for how you talk to me.’”
My heart ached. I’ve watched these three moms cherish their children, yet they sounded disheartened. I felt a little that way myself. Instead of encouragement, I shared that sometimes I didn’t think I could get it right as a mom either. If I hadn’t reverted to clichés like “We did our best,” I may have ended up crying in the middle of HomeGoods because I’m sorely aware of making plenty of mistakes. I know my friends are also.
After these conversations, I felt kind of desperate for a solution to the shame, blame, and judgment that comes alongside not parenting perfectly whether our children are five or 35. I’ve apologized more than once to my children for being immature and ill equipped as a mother. I’ve changed behaviors that haven’t been healthy in our relationships. I’ve prayed for guidance as a mom of young children, and now as a mom of adult children.
Still, I haven’t felt off the hook. I’ve emotionally beaten myself up for not doing a better job and sometimes my kids join in. I understand their frustration (I wasn’t happy about having imperfect parents either), but it still hurts. For a while now, I’ve wanted out from under the shame of parenting, but never as much as after talking with my friends. I want them out from under it too. I thought about a rally to free moms, a bra burning of sorts except we’d burn, oh, I don’t know, our kids’ stuffed animals or something, but a blog post is closer to my comfort zone.
I’ve also wanted something to share with my daughter who is a relatively new mom of a two-year-old daughter and a four-month-old son. Her mothering is far beyond anything I offered my children, but she still stumbles from the pedestal, that unrealistic place most of us crawl on top of when we begin our parenting journey. Up there, we decide we’re never going to hurt our children like our parents hurt us. It’s a hard fall.
All of these realizations made last week’s conversation that much sweeter. I talked for an hour in a sweltering parking lot with a dad about one of his sons. His oldest boy had recently said, “Yesterday’s conversation was the best we’ve ever had because I feel like you really heard me. You listened instead of giving advice.”
Their conversation brought my friend to tears. Our conversation brought me to tears. I could tell he was forgiving himself and I wanted what he had. That’s when he shared what he’d figured out. He stated it so passionately, I couldn’t help but be changed by it.
“I gave my kids all I had to give. That means they got the best of me and they got the worst of me. That’s the deal.”
I got in my car and, then and there, made a deal with myself. I’m thru shaming myself as a parent. Instead of making excuses for being human (like saying “I did my best”), I’m coming to terms like my friend with my imperfect love, the only kind I have to offer this side of heaven.
I gave my kids all I had to give, the best of me and the worst. That’s the deal. And that’s love.
If you’re floundering as a parent (or in any relationship), I hope what my friend shared helps you as much as it’s helping me. I appreciate your comments.
Credit: Thanks to Kristen Hawley Dutka for the photo of my daughter and her son, truly a portrait of a mom’s love.