Raise Them Up

When I was pregnant with my son, I was absolutely convinced I was going to have a girl. I was going to name her Sarah Marie, and I believed that she would have red hair (like my husband before he went gray) and green eyes.  I was so sure of all this that I was actually shocked when the doctor put my son in my arms for the first time and said, “Congratulations, it’s a boy!”  Not disappointed, mind you…I loved my son completely and absolutely from the moment he was born….but definitely surprised.  And as I rocked my newborn son, a little part of me said good-by to Sarah Marie.

Honestly, that incident should have prepared me for what parenting is really all about.

As parents, we try so hard to make the right decisions for our children; to steer them onto the paths we think they should take and to instill our values and our knowledge in them.  And that’s as it should be.  But sometimes when we do that, I think we also make the mistake of thinking that our children will turn out to be exactly who we shaped them to be, and that they will always share our interests and always do things just the way we taught them.   But they rarely, if ever, follow exactly in our footsteps and sometimes set off on paths we never even imagined.  And that’s as it should be, too.

As a writer, I was thrilled when my son began writing stories for fun when he was about ten years old.  He was very good at it.  On some level, I suppose I even hoped he might grow up to have the commercially successful writing career that had eluded me.  But eventually he stopped writing those stories, preferring to spend his time playing sports and video games.  I remember being disappointed at the amount of time he would spend in front a computer when he could, in my opinion, be doing much more productive things.

And you know what?  That same son is now working happily and successfully in the field of technology.  He may not have taken the path I had envisioned for him, but he followed his own heart and found the path that was right for him.

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Neither my son or daughter turned out exactly the way I had pictured, and neither share every single one of my values and interests.  Instead, they did exactly what they were supposed to do and used the love, experience and knowledge they were raised with as a foundation upon which to build their own lives.  They are changing and evolving into exactly the persons they were meant to be.

My son surprised me, all those years ago in the delivery room, by turning out to be a bit different from what I had expected.  Honestly, both he and his sister still surprise me now and then.  And as their mother, I wouldn’t have it any other way…..

Scary Fast

I was idly scrolling down my Facebook news feed yesterday when I spotted a couple of photos my daughter had posted of my son and herself, all dressed up for Halloween.  They were taken when my children were very young, in the preschool and kindergarten years, but when I looked at the pictures, I was instantly flooded with very specific memories of those two Halloweens.

martha-and-daniel-2I remembered that my daughter’s angel costume had been borrowed from church  (one of the costumes used for the annual Christmas program), and I remembered how grateful I was that my son wanted to be a fireman two years in a row.  I wasn’t one of those moms who enjoyed putting together elaborate costumes for my children, which also explains why my daughter’s ballerina costume in the second picture is nothing more than her dance class outfit with a shirt underneath the tutu to keep her warm.

I remembered how we carved the pumpkins just before eating dinner, so that our Jack-0-Lanterns would be ready for any early arrivals.  I remember how my husband and I took turns being the parent who stayed at home to greet trick-or-treaters, and the parent who took our kids around the neighborhood.  I remember the pumpkin sugar cookies I made,  dying the frosting orange and then adding just a touch of green for the pumpkin stem.  (I may not have been big on costumes, but I put an effort into those Halloween cookies.)  Mostly I remember the barely contained excitement of my son and daughter when the big night finally arrived, and for once, getting a lot of candy wasn’t just allowed, it was actually encouraged.

When my children were young, I was a stay-at-home mom who was struggling to make a go of a free-lance writing career.  Sometimes I felt a bit overwhelmed by the constant demands on my time, the never-ending cycle of laundry, meals, dirty diapers, and trying to keep two very active little people safe, healthy, and happy.  Occasionally I felt isolated and lonely, missing the company of my co-workers and the way I took easy access to adult conversation for granted.  Older women, especially my mom, often told me to treasure the years when my children were young, and warned me that they would be over far too soon.  “In the blink of an eye,” they said, “this will all be gone.”

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I’m ashamed to say that there were times when I didn’t quite believe them, because time didn’t seem to be moving all that fast to me.  But now my daughter is a 30-year old married woman, and my son is a 27-year old man who will be married in less than two weeks.  It seems like only yesterday that they were a little ballerina and fireman, and so excited for Halloween they could hardly stand still.  How can that be?  How in the world did time move so very quickly?  I remember those sweet days of their early childhood so very well, but I guess I must have blinked…..

Letting Go

I’m really glad my children were all grown up before I ever heard the term “helicopter parent.”  It’s supposed to refer to the kind of parents who are always at their child’s side, organizing things just so, arranging and scheduling every moment of their child’s time and in general doing their best to make sure that their child’s life goes smoothly, in all ways and at all times.  Helicopter parents are a frequent subject of ridicule in the media and on the internet, with no one admitting that they are one and everyone blaming them for all the ills of the current crop of children and young adults.  So I’m going to go out on a limb here and admit a dirty little secret:  I’m pretty sure I qualified, if not as a full-fledged helicopter parent, at least as a drone wannabe.

Martha and Daniel with WhitneyAll I can say in my defense was that I had the best of intentions.  I didn’t want my kids to be the smartest, most popular and most athletic kids in the class, but I did want them to be happy and well adjusted, and spared from the kind of pain I remembered all too well from my own childhood.  And so I stayed too close, was overly protective, was too quick to try to right a wrong, and too often took their pain and disappointments as personal affronts to my parenting skills.  I might not have over-scheduled my children, but I was over-involved in details of their lives that would have best been handled all by themselves.

I know part of the problem was my own personality, as I am a natural worrier and organizer, and not at all the type of person who is able to easily “just go with the flow.”  I think many of us have unrealistic expectations of what we can and cannot accomplish as a parent.  Recently, I read a blog where a young mother stated, “I know that my job is to make all my kids’ dreams and wishes come true.”  There was a time when I would have agreed with her, but now I just wanted to tell her that her job is only to help teach her children how to make their own dreams and wishes come true.

My son and daughter are both in their late twenties, are each either married to or engaged to a wonderful person who loves them, are working hard at building their careers and are busy exploring their own interests.  In other words, they managed to survive my helicopter parenting without any major damage.  And they are patient with me when I backslide and begin to inquire as to whether or not they are exercising and eating right, remembering to lock their doors at night, and in general treating them as if they weren’t smart enough to manage their own lives just fine.

I think the final job of parenting is learning to let go.  That means letting go of the guilt that we weren’t the perfect parent we wanted to be, letting go of the desire to constantly guide our children’s lives, and letting go of the child they were in order to accept the adult they have become.  For every parent, there comes a time when the only thing worth hanging onto is the love.

 

 

One More Try?

My husband and I have been official empty-nesters for almost three years now, and it’s been nine years since we’ve had both of our kids living at home full time, so I’ve had plenty of time to get used to the idea that both my son and daughter are grown up and out on their own.  But planning my daughter’s wedding really drives home the fact that my kids are now bonafide, independent adults, so I suppose it’s only natural that lately I’ve found myself spending a lot of time reminiscing about the years I spent raising them.  I know I was the best parent I knew how to be, and I’m more than happy with the way my son and daughter turned out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t look back and find a lot of places where I wish I had done things differently.

I wish I was more patient when they were young, both my myself as I was learning what it meant to be a parent, as well as with my children.  I wish I had spent less time and energy trying to make sure everything was “just right,” and more time being spontaneous and accepting of the hectic, messy and joyous reality that small children bring.  I would like to be more certain that I didn’t let my frustrations with other areas of my life (too many rejection slips from the editors I sent my manuscripts to with such hope; too much turmoil and too many pay cuts with my husband’s job at the time) effect the way I treated my children, making me more demanding and impatient that I should have been.

Martha & DanielI would have liked to have spent less time worrying about the small stuff:  why my daughter barely talked she was a toddler (she’s been making up for that one ever since); whether my son would ever gain enough weight that his pants would quit slipping down over his hips (that was before “sagging” became a fashion statement); whether they were keeping up with the other kids in terms of their skills and abilities.   And when they were older, I wish I hadn’t taken it quite so personally when the world wasn’t always kind to them, and they didn’t make a sports team, or a former best friend suddenly dropped them, or they didn’t get a good grade on a project they worked so hard on.  It’s never easy for kids to learn that life isn’t always good or fair, but I’m afraid that I made it much worse when they had to deal with my disappointment as well as their own.

In short, what I’d really like is a “do over” for the times that I wasn’t as good of a mother as I wanted to be.  And of course I know I can’t have one, and that regretting the past is mostly a waste of time that benefits no one.  The most I can do at this point is to stop longing for a non-existent “do over” and simply resolve to try to “do better” from here on.  I may not be able to erase my past mistakes, parenting or otherwise, but I can learn from them and use them to help me become the kind of mother, and person, that I really want to be.   I may not get to have a “do over,” but I do have, and will always have, the chance to do better.