What I Did Right (Maybe)
"Raising children is an uncertain thing. Success is reached only after a lifetime of battle and worry." - Democratus
"Like all parents, we just do the best we can and hold our breath and hope we've set aside enough money for our kid's therapy." - Michelle Pfeiffer
"I just flew by the seat of my pants and hoped for the best." - Grandma Bean
I recently had the great pleasure of attending my daughter's work conference, Playtopia2014. This brings me to the portion of the year when people tell me what a wonderful daughter I have and how she must have been raised right, and which makes me feel wonderful and like a fraud all at the same time.
I have said before that I was an immature Mom and that I grew up alongside my children. I discussed this recently with a good friend and as I went over a laundry list of my perceived mistakes and shortcomings, she said, "Carole, look at your children. They weren't raised by wolves! You must have done something right." It's true; they are hard working, funny, loving, responsible and compassionate people, who are terrific partners to their spouses and the absolute best parents to their own kids. I decided instead of looking at what I think I did wrong, and how I could have done it a different way (and no doubt just made different mistakes) I would look at ways in which I might have made a positive difference in their lives. It is easy to sit down and make a list of what I might have done wrong.....much harder to reflect on what I maybe did right. But here goes:
It Takes a Village
It was wonderful listening to Debra McNamara speak at Playtopia. I so related to all that she had to say, especially about "bridging" where you turn your children over to other members of the family or care-givers who can fill in the area's where you might not be strong.
I wasn't a "playing mom" and felt inadequate in many areas. I am told by my Mom that I was an "Old Soul" from a very early age and although I grew up with a terrific work ethic, I don't think I learned how to be playful. So as a Mom I swallowed my ego, and I exposed my children to people who were positive role models, and who could give them what I couldn't. This was difficult.....sometimes I had to swallow my pride on a daily basis to give them what they needed. I sent my children all summer, every summer, to stay with my parents at their Lake home. My son and his grandfather had a particularly close relationship. They spent many hours together, sitting in a boat on a lake, fishing and passing the time. (I found out later that my father also taught my son some very specific cuss words, but never mind.) My parents helped me give them what they needed and from this time my children also learned how to get along with a different generation and how to relate to older people. Today at family gatherings there doesn't seem to be the same generational interaction. All the children are on devices and seldom connect with the seniors in the family. One of the things I am most proud of is how kind my children are to the elderly.
There are two stories I tell about this. The first is when my son was about 13, and he borrowed my Mom's bike one evening to ride around the lake to see his friend. Instead of riding the bike home, he and his friends rowed a boat across the lake, leaving the bike behind. I was very upset about this and sent him on foot, in the dark, back to his friend's house to retrieve his Nana's bike. Every ounce of my being wanted to drive him to pick it up because he was afraid of the dark....but I didn't. He needed a lesson in being responsible. (Did I feel guilty? Hell yes! I still feel guilty! But he can't remember the incident, so it was either not a big deal or it is buried deeply in his psyche and one day he will snap and beat on me with a bicycle.) The second story involves my daughter. (I'm not going to say which daughter, but um, here's a hint.....I only have one. Sorry Baby!) When she was about 16, she once came home shall we say, a little intoxicated. (In much the same way as a fluffy kitty is a "little cute".) I put her in the bath, put her to bed, woke her up every hour through the night to make sure she was okay, then at 6am I woke her up and made her go to work at her weekend job at KFC. Oh yes, I did. She spent a day frying chicken in hot grease and came home very sick. I thought about this many years later when I was working in an ER and a young girl was brought in unconscious from an overdose of alcohol. She had a party at her house while her parents were away and it got out of control. The home was trashed, with hundreds of thousands of dollars of damage. When the girl regained consciousness her family didn't want to take her back to her home because "she will be upset when she sees the mess." I can tell you, if that had been my child, not only would she have been taken home to be upset by the mess, but she would have been handed a broom on the way in, and would not have left again until the mess was cleaned up. Consequences.....they will learn it eventually, better they learn at your knee. I did that.
I was a working mother. Not only that, but I worked shifts and stat holidays. We had to fit in family celebrations around my shifts. As well, they had a mother that worked in a field where she often had sad stories to tell. They learned compassion and how to think of others. I taught them that if they were going to compare themselves to people who had everything, then they also had to compare themselves to people who had nothing.
Because I was immature, not all of the decisions I made were based on, shall we say, good common sense. My children were there during one of the worst times of my life. For a period of time, they were the only reason I got up in the morning. They held me together while I set out on a different path in life and they were the reason I stayed on the path. They saw me and they stood by me, on my darkest days. They witnessed first hand that a person can fall apart completely, but move through the pain and come out the other side, stronger for the bending. In my mind, resilience is the single most important quality to instill in a child. I provided the catalyst for that.
So there you have it. I did the best with what I knew and to quote Maya Angelou, when I knew better, I did better. So for now, I will join in on the praise of my great kids.......because no Mom could be prouder.