Once upon a time, I was “the perfect mom.”
Seriously. I did nothing wrong.
Then, one day I was running through the city museum with a pack of small children following (including the beaming face of my own child), when a light bulb went off.
Who was this woman? She wasn’t real. She was an actor on a stage.
I haven’t been perfect ever since, and I’ve been okay with it… mostly.
The year my ex-husband and I split, I was an emotional basket case. I thought I was in control; in reality I was wrecked.
So, completely focused on everything except the ones I love the most, I lived my life for me. To be honest, that was the first time in my life I had ever lived for me.
It was an experimental phase, for sure. I learned so much about myself and the world at large—focusing on my growth, healing and self discovery, but leaving very little time and energy to focus on what my children needed from me.
I assumed that they would handle the divorce as well as I would, but I was in denial about how well I was dealing with it. Sure, I had my great parenting moments. But, if there were a highlight reel of the shittiest moments of my mothering experience, they would all lie in that year.
I had a tendency to be hypercritical with my oldest and intolerant with my youngest. I ruled by fear. I spanked too much and listened too little. I have yet to forgive myself completely, and I’m secretly afraid they haven’t either, though they’ve given me every indication that it wasn’t as bad as I remember.
I am still making up for the ghosts of parenting past.
I do have a tendency to be too hard on myself, expecting perfection instead of accepting my human frailness. But, I also want to be honest and clear. I know how the subconscious works with these things. That year left an impression. How deep, I can’t say. But I do know, whenever either of them exhibits low self-esteem or depression of any sort, I look back at that year and wonder if that’s where it started. Do I take too much personal responsibility?
Perhaps I’m just acutely aware of how a challenging relationship with mother can wreck a child’s self-esteem, because I’ve been there. As a child, my relationship with my mother was wrought with challenges. It wasn’t until my 30s that we started developing a healthy relationship.
But we’ve worked hard, and are now incredibly close. Unfortunately, I still catch myself on the snags that occurred long ago. I have only recently broken through some serious self-esteem stuff (with the exception of this parenting thing), and am still working on deep, core abandonment and shame.
The one thing I need to work on is self-acceptance, which includes forgiveness.
I’m getting there. I’ve put a lot of effort into my parenting skills and the growth of my relationship with my kids. I recognize my weaknesses, but haven’t really given myself enough credit for my strengths. Instead, I have allowed myself to feel that every comment or attitude is a direct result of my general inadequacy.
It doesn’t help that my ex can be extremely critical and judgmental at times—traits which my children seem to be developing as well. We’ve all been there… measuring people with our invisible rulers, saying, “That’s not how I would do it.”
Fundamentally, I am the only one that can change this. If I develop this within myself, it doesn’t matter what my ex thinks. Then, the times my kids lash out wouldn’t bother me; after all, it is a part of their growth too. But I would also have the self-respect to have better boundaries about it all.
If I truly knew my worth as a parent, it wouldn’t bother me whenever I felt someone getting out his or her invisible measuring stick.
I heard myself tell my daughter that I didn’t have to stay and listen while she projected her negative feelings about her dad on me, trying to bring my emotions to her level last night. I felt, “Ahh, yes. I am learning.” And this thought was enough.
Self-love doesn’t all come at once, but layer by layer, things can get healed, loved and accepted.
I have learned much and I also have much to learn.
Michelle Edwards is a perfectly imperfect mother of 3, mystic poet dreamer, massage therapy instructor, Reiki master, and Alchemy Life Coach. She loves to dance, talk about divine relationships of all kinds, hang out with her crazy loved ones and make jewelry.
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Assistant Ed. Caroline Scherer
Ed: Bryonie Wise