Some conversations I’ve had over the past several weeks with my mom and with friends about their moms/stepmoms has left me wondering what my children will say about me when they are grown and on their own, and even one day (many decades from now, God willing) after I’m gone.
I am certain they would not say now, nor will they ever say, that I was the perfect mother, best mother, ideal mother. And I’m OK with that–I’ve never claimed to be anything but imperfect. I’m sure as they get older, they will tell stories of some of the embarrassing and terrible things I did, and they’ll laugh or shake their heads.
But what I hope they would also say is this:
I love them 100%. My heart expanded at the birth of each of my boys, and as they have grown, so has my love for them. They are among my very greatest blessings and joys. And my love has never waned, even when I’ve had to discipline them, gotten angry, or been disappointed. I hope they know with certainty that there is nothing they could do to diminish or change my love for them.
I love their dad. I’ve heard it said that the best thing a dad can do for his kids is to love their mother. It goes the other way, too. My marriage existed before children entered the picture, and I intend for it to last long after they’ve left the house. Thus, I’ve cultivated a strong relationship with my husband, their dad. I’ve made time for date nights, shared in his interests, and shooed the kids off to play when we needed time for adult discussion. When my boys consider a spouse, I hope they will recall how mom and dad love each other, enjoy spending time together, and make each other a priority–and I pray they will seek the same for their marriage.
I am their mom… and many other things, too. I have proudly worn the title of Daniel and Adam’s mom and have lived into that role the best I can. I’ve gladly worn baseball photo pins, bejeweled my wrist with bracelets beaded by clumsy little-boy fingers, and even answered to a young friend who addressed me, “Hey, Daniel’s mom.” But I have made a point to maintain an identity of my own, too–making time my own interests and pursuits, both professional and personal. I think it’s important that my boys know that as wonderful as motherhood is, the role of mom alone does not define me. I am many things–writer, colleague, singer, volunteer, leader, friend. I hope this example will prepare them to understand one day that the woman they marry can be many things in addition to “wife” and, if they have children, “mom.”
I’ve helped without hovering (well, without hovering too much). Knowing when to step in and when to step back can be one of the toughest decisions as a parent, whether the kids are toddlers or teens. I hope that my boys will say I did a healthy combination of both (at least that was my intention)–giving them freedom to spread their wings and to learn from their own mistakes, but offering guidance and support when needed. When they were little, that meant stepping away from the climbing wall to let them scale the height on their own, but also swooping in to tend a scraped knee when their ambition exceeded their ability, then encouraging them to try again. As they’ve reached the teen years, it’s meant giving them latitude to manage their own time for school, extracurricular activities, and social time–and offering suggestions for how to better apportion that time, or removing some activities from their plate, when grades started to slip. I have tried to be a steady presence for them without being ever-present.
I’ve insisted they learn to do for themselves. Since the kids were in middle school, they’ve done their own laundry. And when they want to eat between meal times, they are expected to fix their own food. I even made one of them iron his shirt the other day (the nerve!). I work from home in order to be available to the kids, so one might wonder why I don’t take care of these things for them. But one day, when my boys move out on their own, they will need to know how to wash, iron, cook, clean, shop, etc. Better to learn it at home, where they can receive some instruction and coaching, so they enter the world prepared. I believe their future college roommates and future wife will thank me, too.
I’ve made mistakes, but I’ve learned from them. I’m hoping neither of my boys has kept a mental record of all of my parenting foibles (or maybe I should line up a counselor for them now). I have raised my voice and spoken harshly to my children. I have forgotten to do something they needed. I have expected more than they could give developmentally. I have set boundaries that were too rigid and given more leeway than was wise. Thankfully, none of my missteps has had dire consequences. But from these mistakes, I have learned to say, “I’m sorry, I was wrong.” I’ve learned different/better ways to react and respond to certain situations, and how to avoid them altogether. I hope I’ve shown my boys that it’s possible–and wise–to realize you’re doing the wrong thing and change your behaviors or decisions accordingly. Since they have continued to love me despite my shortcomings, I hope that means that as a result of my mistakes, they have learned a bit about forgiveness, too.
Not a perfect mom, clearly. But I hope and pray that my boys will think of me as being a good mom–or at least good enough. And that they will discard any bad examples I’ve set and perpetuate the healthy ones.