Every morning, I wake up to a poster that says: “You are the best mom in the world.”
The poster was written by my two older children, on a morning when they woke up before me and didn’t only make me breakfast in bed, but also made me that poster with a huge smiley face on it. They perfected their signatures and placed it next to my face, tapping me on the shoulder with innocent smiles to wake me up to my surprises.
But being a parent is all about those moments.
As parents, we make the most well-intended decisions, and they are not always the right ones.
We make investments in the wrong aspects of our children and our losses cannot be made up for. We do everything right. Everything. And it’s still wrong.
We give our absolute all, and it is not enough. We do everything for them, and one day it appears as if it has all been for nothing.
Motherhood can be the most thankless job we’ve ever signed up for, and the payoff are the gems we find in ourselves, not in your children or your relationship with them.
Our children love us more than anyone else on the planet, and still they make us feel unloved. If someone would’ve told me this, I would not have believed them. I would’ve chalked it up as all in good parenting.
I can’t say for sure what I was expecting from motherhood. I was pretty certain it just boiled down to good parenting. Good parenting meaning listening. Really, really listening. Seeing the person behind the words and positioning myself empathically where they are when they speak them. Good parenting meaning an example of authenticity. An example of creating a whole lot, out of a whole lot of nothing and holding their hands though the process of our own growth, having faith that they picked up on every lesson and challenge we’d had to go through to get us where we’d got.
Good parenting, to me, seems pretty easy. It’s honest vision. I see you. I hear you. I honor you. I respect you. I love you. Unconditionally. It’s communicating “here is how we become,” not scolding them with “this isn’t what you’re supposed to do.” I got it.
Being with my children was always my number one priority. I was raised by a “corporate” mother who geared me up for a cold reality that one day, I would be facing the real world. The corporate world. A world, even from age five, I was 100 percent certain I wanted no part of.
All I ever wanted was my mother, and though she gave me what she believed was best, all she could give me was an uneasy sense that the day job she left me for every day may or may not be the thing that puts the roof over our heads next month.
Determined to give my children what was missing from me, I vowed to give them a mother. Not a paycheck with an empty promise that maybe one day we could connect over tea.
Leaving my kids to work was never an option. Every job I had, I was either able to take them or work around a really brilliant schedule where they were provided for by me or family. For two years, before I got on my feet as a single mother after leaving my children’s father, I uncomfortably moved back into my parent’s home. I woke up every morning at six, got the kids ready for their school day, which was also the place of my work, worked an eight-hour day, dropped them off with my mother, and went to graduate school classes until 10 o’clock.
Every decision I ever made was in pursuit of keeping my own sanity through what felt like the hardest times of my entire life, and in pursuit of bettering the lives of my children. Every decision that was made was made for us.
My 12-year-old son has my intuitive alarms going off, letting me know we’re reaching the metamorphic phase when he’ll be pushing his way out of the cocoon to become the butterfly—but expanding inside of the cocoon isn’t only confusing and terrifying, it physically hurts. As part of a means to guide him, I sat down with him and made him write his life story, and we dissected all of the meaning and stories he made up about life, based on the story he told me.
Some of the lessons he made up from the stories of his life were “don’t get connected to people or things because they always leave,” “if you show people who you really are they won’t like you,” “you never really know who someone is, it’s easier not to trust them so they can’t let you down,” you know…the same stories we’ve all likely made ourselves believe at some point.
One of his main stories though was that he spent a lot of his childhood living with his grandparents. When we dug deeper, he presented me with a revelation I never knew about my own son.
I’ve lived with him, made 12 and a half years of history with him and never knew one of the biggest parts of his story was that for two years, he didn’t have his mother by his side. It was always me, always us, and for those two years of busting my ass to ensure there was an “us” again, I became the absent mother. In my decision to become and to give something greater, my sleepless nights, long days, my incessant prayers for reprieve, came to an end when I bought us our own place when I was 25. But not without an expense. It was an expense he paid for. An expense I didn’t expect I’d be a part of making my own kids cash in.
In my experience, I was doing all I could to raise two people I loved more than the entirety of my life. In his experience, the mother who had been his island, was off in some distant sea and his grandparents were his unsteady rock to stand on, awaiting his island’s hopeful return.
There is one thing we cannot protect our children from. Themselves.
We cannot write the story of their life for them, even though we give them the pen and every experience we believe will be the best for them to write about. We cannot erase for them what they have written. Nor can we discredit the lens in which they have experienced their history through.
What we can do is ask them to share their story with us, remind them that they are not a string of events that happened to them, but they are the essence of the spaces between. We can clarify with love, the story we were writing when we stood side by side and watched the same exact thing go down. We do not have to agree, but we can share.
The stories we share are only seeking to be heard so they may be transformed from their silent longings for connection to a heart that gives them room to recreate themselves. All our children want is to know who we are in the process of directing, guiding, enforcing teeth cleanings, and healthy habits. They want to know the person that sees them off from their launch pad and opens the door inviting them back in after they’ve spent a day flying in foreign places, unsure how to navigate a world they’ve yet to connect to.
We are not our stories, but we can use our stories to express who we’ve become through them, and encourage them to do the same.
Yesterday, my son taught me that a mother, even the best mother in the entire world, which is all mothers who show up in all of the ways they best know how for their children, will do her very best, and it will not be right. It will feel like a failure, like it was all for nothing, and still…it will be enough. Because standing before them is a child who is enough. Unbroken but, uncertain and always, enough.
Like siblings often do, my son and I wrote on the same paper of life experience but from a different angle. I was doing the very best I could to position myself to be more available for my kids by pursuing the career path I was on, and in doing so, I became unavailable. The story that stuck for him was the confusing years when I was unavailable. Not the months of me ripping out floors, living at the pizza shop next door because it’s what we could afford during the transition on our own, or the first few nights in his very own bedroom that wouldn’t be taken from him, but the years before that when I was gone in attempts to get him those things. His story is valid. In asking him to write it, I learned about him and the essence of his story. This provided the forum to share my lens of our joined story and ideally, fill in the gaps in the spaces between them so we both know ourselves a bit more from sharing them.
We cannot protect our children from their story, but we can encourage them to write it so they gain the recognition that the pen has always been in their hands and that the paper was their experience. Without saying this at all, it is a subconscious invitation that they may write another one if they don’t find themselves in the one they’ve already written.
I gave up my certainty that the outcome of children is all in parenting. Today, as I’ve asked my son to do, I’m addressing the story I’ve written about motherhood and making some wiggle room for life to demonstrate that the one thing I didn’t account for are the stories they make up about themselves and what it means to be alive, based on my choices in parenting. Those are the unspoken stories that stick. Those are the stories that give us a whole purview of our children that we neglect to uncover.
I’ll be over here, uncovering them, so he can find himself somewhere in the story of his life thus far.
Author: Stacy Hoch
Image: Kourtlyn Lott/Flickr
Editor: Katarina Tavčar