Life doesn’t always go as planned. Shocking as it may seem, I never saw myself becoming a mother. I just didn’t think I was “Mom” material. Moms seemed to be these incredible martyrs who always put their kids first and set aside their own needs and ambitions. I knew I was too selfish to be a Mom. Most of my early life was spent on a stage and I loved (insert jazz hands) being the center of attention.
Given that my Mom was only 17 when I was born, I also never expected to live most of my adult life without her. Of course, no one thinks about their parents dying until it happens. Whether your parents are 30 or 95, loosing them is a defining moment in your life. Since mine were so young when I was born, I just assumed they would be around for a long time. Sadly, that was not to be as they both died prematurely.
So here I am…doing the best I can…raising three kids without a Mom to share these joys and struggles. Some days I feel like I have it all together and I think that I should write a self-help “how to” book; but most days I feel like a complete faker just powering through high on caffeine and the Holy Spirit wishing I had written that stupid book the day before to inspire me today!
Over the last seventeen years of raising children, I have often felt like a not so hip rap star with a tune that goes something like this (DJ spin the record one time)….NO…STOP….DON’T …QUIT….NEVER….EVER. As I lay down my microphone at night, the noise in my head falls below the decibels of yelling, and I begin to actually hear my thoughts. YIKES!
It is then that the Mom guilt kicks in and I worry about the negative scripts I am setting up in their heads. Did I encourage enough here, did I push too hard here… am I making them independent enough? I think all of us struggle with this. However, when you spend eight hours a day undoing people’s negative thoughts as a mental health therapist you actually get to see where you could really screw up your kids!
So of course, the next day I awake refreshed and speak perfect words to my kids…. WRONG…I usually begin with a repeat performance of my rap concert from the day before and probably all the while wearing a very embarrassing pair of Mom jeans. YES!!!!
Recently when feeling like I was failing at all aspects of my life, in lieu of cleaning my house or doing work I was woefully behind on, I was doing some mindless internet surfing. I came across this quote from poet Erin Hanson that I had not heard in years. The quote reads:
“What if I fail? Oh, my darling, but What if you fly?”
Immediately the tears began to flow, as I heard my Mom ‘s voice echo in these words. I had honestly never thought about flying…the daily goal was to avoid complete and utter failure. How wonderful to be reminded of that voice that believed I could do more than just avoid failure.
As a child, I had no fiercer ally than my mother. She was the most encouraging and influential person in my life. She did all the things that us therapy people would tell you to build self-esteem in children. Whatever I wanted to try or be within the limits of what our family could do, she supported it. However, like all Moms that encouragement was sprinkled in with some very good rap concerts herself!
My first love was medicine. I watched Emergency, Marcus Welby and my PJs were MASH scrubs (I know you are jealous). In middle school, I made a sign that I proudly hung on my door (throwback fact using a dot matrix printer for my generation) that read: Quiet, future pediatrician at work. My entire high school career was dedicated to getting into college with the goal of medical school.
So, you can imagine the reaction from my father after two years of college when I announce that I would like to change my major from pre- med to ummmmm…get ready…DANCE. After a deep lecture of life instruction on how difficult it is to live out of a cardboard box my father stormed out to work in the garden or tinker on a car…anything but deal with me.
Before you write my Dad off as this evil Ogre, he grew up with a single Mom in poverty and he had worked very hard (often two jobs) to afford us better opportunities. So I know now that he feared those struggles for his daughter, but hey…I was 20 and blinded by the lights on Broadway! (more jazz hands)
After he left, I turned and braced for round two from my Mom. It was not what I expected at all! She told me I had my whole life to do many things and that I should work in something that brought me joy. On a side note of wisdom she said…but only if you major in dance education. The education degree eventually opened the door to counseling…Mama does know best!
As my Mom’s battle with bipolar disorder raged over the next 15 years, it eroded her sense of self-esteem as well as her hope in the world. Our once vibrant mother who tackled nursing school with honors while raising two children barely had the confidence to get dressed. Just like Alzheimer’s eats away at the person we know and leaves a shell, so can many other mental health issues. Unfortunately for me and my sister, we were also the ones on the receiving end of many hurtful comments, negative letters, and heartbreaking events. Due to her mental illness, our mother died to us years before her physical body left this earth.
These midlife years and raising teens have brought many challenges for me and how I long for the mother who was my cheerleader. To call her and hear her say…hang in there….and that I am doing a good job. To ask her advice…hey this is what I am thinking about doing…what do you think? To text her and share how her grandchild did the kindest thing.
Greater still to sit with her over a cup of coffee and apologize for being a know it all sixteen-year-old who now knows that she knew absolutely nothing! And to give her that greatest piece of information ever…her wish has been granted….I have a child just like me!
Take heart my mother friends, or anyone who is pouring into the lives of children, it is indeed true that the sum is always greater than the parts. We will not “ruin” our kids over one decision or momentary anger. We are working to create a big picture and most of the stuff we beat ourselves up about will not even matter.
So what if we blow it here and there…it is the big picture that truly counts. We are doing better than we think and our constant presence and positive words will go far and will outlive our earthly bodies. We may not know the impact of our encouragement now but no matter if we are here or not, our voice will ring true at that moment when it matters most.
In case you were wondering, nope, I never made it to Broadway. Heck, I’ve never even been to NYC (gasp!) but I had a Mom who believed that I could try and that was all that really matters in the story. The complete Erin Hanson poem goes like this:
There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling,
What if you fly?
Oh, how wonderful to think of the freedom my Mom felt to be released from her mental health struggles as she flew to heaven all the while knowing that she had instilled in us a sense of worth and left us with the ultimate gift of faith.
This Mother’s Day give yourself a real gift…judge yourself less, slow down, stress less, enjoy more, and stop beating yourself up. At the end of the day, we are the best Mom’s for our kids. After all, that is why God assigned us the ones he did.
As always, may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.
The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.