Monday, September 04, 2006

What makes a good mother?

On one of my lists, we've been talking about whether or not we were/are good mothers. We've discovered that none of us lived up to our own expectations.

I always thought, growing up, that I’d be a great mother. I was wrong. I didn’t spend my days down on the floor playing CandyLand or Barbie with my daughters, or Battleship with my sons.

Well, okay, I did once in a while, but in my mind a great mother would do this all day, every day. And somehow, along the way, she would keep the house spotless, the laundry washed, dried, folded, and put away. Dinner would be on the table at six on the dot, perfectly cooked, perfectly balanced nutritionally. The kids would get baths every night and would go straight to bed with no fuss after the perfect mother read them two bedtime stories. And she would never, ever forget to make them brush their teeth.

That my children’s teeth have fillings is a silent testimony to the fact that I wasn’t a great mother. Somehow, in spite of my less-than-perfect mothering, the kids turned out all right. Except for the baby, of course, who is totally gorgeous, exceptionally smart, independent, caring---and thinks it will take the rest of her life in therapy to undo the damage I did. I look at her and think, if I’d had half the strength of character she has at that age, there’s no telling what I might have accomplished.

My kids deserved better. But then I stop and think. Did it ever occur to them that maybe mom yelled because she was stressed because they all had things they needed me to do, and that there were three other children and a husband who had their own demands and expectations, and I was trying my damnedest to hold it all together, and there were times when I felt like I was being pulled apart, like I was going to split into a half-dozen pieces?

And on top of my children’s problems I kept trying to solve, I had my own problems. I’d had a bout with cancer that made me worry and fret until I descended into depression no one else recognized. Then my father came down with lung cancer and the depression deepened. He passed away, and I felt like I'd lost my anchor. It was at the worst possible time for my youngest kids. They needed their mother, and she didn't have enough emotional fortitude to pull herself out of the mire to meet their emotional needs. All I wanted was for the world to go away and leave me alone.

So, does all that make me a bad mother? I never sold my kids into prostitution like some mothers have. I didn't scald them in the bath, beat them senseless, starve them in a closet. I did try to make sure they went to good schools, tried my best to keep them safe, instilled in them a love of reading, tried to control their television exposure as much as I could. I took them to church (at least until the depression got too bad), even started my own Christian school to give them the best start in life that I could. When they were little I worked at jobs where they could be with me instead of establishing myself in a career that would have kept my husband and I out of the mess we're in now. I loved them more than life itself and at any point would have given up my life for theirs if necessary.

I've prayed for each of them since before they were born. No, they haven't always made the right choices, but they've always known that the choice they were about to make might not be the best one. And when they made the wrong choice, they fixed it. They backed up and started over, sometimes at great personal and emotional cost.

Yes, I have a lot of regrets. I regret not spending enough one on one time with them when I had the chance. I regret not listening when they needed me to listen, not give advice. I regret missed opportunities. But I don't regret the people they have come to be. They're wonderful, bright, witty, mature men and women. None have ever been in jail, they aren't thieves or drug addicts, they respect others, they study hard and do well in school.

So was I great mother? Maybe not, but that's what we decided on the lists. We might not have been the best mothers, but we did our best with what we had to work with, and the kids turned out all right.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your article really touched me, I'm not a mother yet, well I'm 35 and time is probably running out, but if I ever am blessed with kids, i hope I try my best like you obviously did, that's all anyone can do in any circumstance isn't it. Do what you can...