Warning: naughty language below!
At the tender age of 21, I became a mom.
My friends were spending their 20s living in dorm rooms, proudly displaying valid ID for their first legal drinks, traveling the world, and falling in and out of love with weekly regularity.
My days consisted of working, sleeping and vomiting.
The party had ended.
I had left home at 18 with the intention of creating a new life and leaving the chaotic mess of my childhood and adolescence behind. When I found myself unexpectedly pregnant at 21, my family was spread out across the country, none of us living in the same state. I was confronted with a hard truth, I was going to have to figure this out on my own. I vowed to create the childhood I thought I should have had, for my daughter.
Fuck. Talk about unrealistic expectations.
I embarked upon an anxiety laden, OCD fueled regiment of schedule and routine. True, schedule was good for my baby, but it was also essential to my sanity. I fell in love with being a mother, every milestone she reached was a small personal victory. I was the one who could soothe her tears, make her laugh, and ensured her safety. I controlled the world she lived in, and as far as I was concerned it was always going to be a bubble of happiness and security.
When she was happy and secure, so was I.
When my son was born four years later, my grip of control grew even tighter. I struggled to balance the level of attention my daughter had become accustomed to with the needs of a newborn. Any parent who has ushered that second child into the fold knows that two is most definitely harder than one.
The oldest no longer received my undivided attention, and I felt guilt over the fact that my youngest would never have it.
As they grew, so did the list of potential threats and expectations to meet. What if they didn’t do well in school? What if they fell off the monkey bars and broke an arm? What if they made the wrong friends? What if they didn’t make friends at all?
What about child predators, bullies, and sleepovers with parents not as vigilent as me?
The need to control all of these factors—plus a million others—to ensure that my children were always safe, emotionally fulfilled, and developing on target (or even better, advanced) took over my life. My self worth became entwined with the imagined expectations I had of parenthood and what it meant about me if I didn’t meet them. I lived with a constant feeling that my parenting skills were being judged, that it was never good enough.
That is a lot of pressure to put on a kid. And a mom.
My self worth is not my children’s responsibility. It is mine.
Managing a million details of my family’s life became my identity. My name slipped away and became simply, Mom. The loss of Jen led to the end of my marriage, and the journey of single parenthood.
As I began to reclaim my identity, merging a person I used to know with the Mom person who had become, I began to feel whole again. I remembered who I was. It was like seeing a friend I hadn’t seen in 12 years, and asking why she had ever stopped hanging out.
In reclaiming myself I began questioning my parenting style. I feared I had become a helicopter parent, and I didn’t like some of the unintended consequences.
Was this really the right way to do things?
I decided it was not, and here are five reasons why:
1. It was about my fear and insecurity.
Motherhood is a contact sport. The competition between other moms to be the “best” is real. Fears about my inadequacy as a mother fed my need to over protect. How other people saw me as a mom influenced my parenting style. The fact is, there is no “right way” to parent and we are all just doing the best we can. Group hug ladies.
We’re all good enough.
2. Playground rules are harsh. But they are real.
Sometimes kids need to learn “why” in real life. We might be appalled at the idea of letting our kids figure out their disagreements themselves but the truth is, this is a skill they need to have.
The thought of our children fist fighting or being bullied (or being the bully) is harsh, but it is a reality. Of course I want my kids to have positive conflict resolution skills, but I also want my kids to be able to stand up for themselves even when I am not present. If they act like an asshole, someone might call them on it, with their fist. #HarshTruth
3. I would rather them make mistakes now while I’m here to help them through it.
Hovering over my children ensuring every homework assignment is turned in, every project is of advanced quality, and monitoring every interaction they have with their friends teaches them nothing. It keeps them from maturing. I should not be constructing more than half of a seventh graders science project on my own. Hands off, here are your supplies, get to work.
The older kids get, the more they interact with the world on their own. As my kids have become teenagers this has included honest talks about sex, drugs, and drinking. I have shared with them some of my own experiences and mistakes. I have allowed them to see me as a person.
I want them to know my opinions and expectations, but if they fuck up, I will always be there. Never be scared to call me.
4. Failure is part of life.
It’s true, it’s how we learn. One of my favorite phrases to say to my kids is, “figure it out,” because I know they can.
They might fail at first, but they try again. I’m not always going to be around to tell them what to do. Over the last five years my kids have watched me try and fail at many things. They have watched me struggle financially, get laid off, and moved with me to a different state only to fail and return.
Failure happens. The important thing is to never let the fear of failure keep you from following your dreams.
5. You can’t keep what you love safe by keeping it in a cage.
It is a great big world out there, bad things can happen to anyone at any time. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want my kids to see the world. I want them to experience life.
I don’t want to keep them from following their path and becoming who they truly are. I want to give them the skills they need to keep themselves safe while encouraging a curious spirit. I want them to be free to be who they are, even if it takes them far away from me. I don’t want them to be scared of life.
I still worry about my kids all the time. I check their grades, enforce curfew, and regularly confiscate cell phones. I still ask a lot of questions, and they still roll their eyes at me.
The difference is, I trust them. That trust outweighs my anxiety.
“The best way to figure out if you can trust somebody, is to trust them.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
It is through my life as a mother than I have overcome many of my own fears. My evolution from nervous helicopter mom to laid back free range parent of teenagers came with many growing pains. In raising my children, I have raised myself. Many of the lessons I have tried to teach them came through example.
In doing so, I learned to believe in myself, know myself, and not take myself too seriously.
I’m excited to see who my children become in life, but I’m excited to see who I am becoming as well.
“It is not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children will do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it myself.” ~ Joyce Maynard
Author: Jennifer Dowdy
Editor: Renée Picard
Image: Garry Knight/Flickr