Warning: This post is not intended for younger viewers. Ok, I mean my kids. My kids: don’t read it, you wont agree with any of it. You’ll probably feel mis-quoted or call to tell me I got it all wrong. So, save us both the stress and just skip this one. However, you are nearly adults, so what can I really do? Ground you? Yes, I will ground you. Don’t read this. Go back and read Prissy Butt or Fair is Fair, they wont bother you so much. Also, I’ve photo shopped the rock painting photos, to remove Principessa’s name.
Middle Man and Principessa have now gone back to college, and as I anticipated, I am feeling reflective. It was inevitable; it’s just how I roll. Honestly, the entire summer was reflective, but now that I have a little space from them specifically, to ponder some of the complexities of being a mother in the various stages that I’m traveling and try to look at it all a little more clearly. While they were here, a storm tossed us around, and now that some calm has returned, I miss the opportunities we squandered.
I was talking to another mom today about raising girls versus boys, and our rolls as women at this stage in life. She figures she’s in her final third of her life, and I had to admit that I’m probably not far off that either, statistically. Ok, maybe I’m just beyond half way, but that’s splitting hairs. I’ve had this conversation so many times, and each time I take something fresh away, but the general dialogue has common themes. She was saying that now that her daughter is a mother and nearing her late thirties, she thought: they would have more in common, more to share as women (not just mother/daughters), that the playing field might level out a little and she might finally be able to share more with her daughter reciprocally. She thought that maybe now, they might talk more as two women, both sharing equally. Not so. I’m sure there are women out there who will say that they are “best friends” with their daughters and that their relationships are free of competition, double standards, conflict–aside from the odd disagreement … that things are great. (Frankly, as a former social worker, when I hear a kid say “my mom is my best friend,” I shudder… but you get my point).
I know those mothers and daughters (mother/sons) exist. However, personally, I find this whole territory ripe with soul bruising, at times crushing, complexities. Principessa put it so poignantly before she left: “When I’m away, I can see all of your strengths and all of the wonderful things that I admire in you mom. I compare you to friends’ mothers and I’m always glad you’re my mom. I tell my friends how great you are all the time. (sigh) But when I’m home, I just keep thinking: ‘I hope I don’t do that to my kids, I can’t stand that, and I notice all the things that drive me nuts.” Fair. To give her further credit, one day as we finished a long walk along a local trail, she said (and I told her I would quote this): “I want you to know something mom: One of the most important things you taught me in life, is the ability to believe in the unbelievable the magic in the world. You instilled in me that there are things in this world that can’t be explained.” I promptly burst in to tears and hugged her close. If I could give any one of my kids a gift, that might be it: the gift of magic and wonder. It was a beautiful moment with my girl.
Yet, I then stumble back on the list of thing she told me she hoped to avoid, the things about me that make her cringe, or worse. I’m glad she can express this to me and trusts our relationship enough to be honest. But, ouch. I’ve said in previous posts: this summer was a record breaking difficult summer for us, as a family. I should also clarify that this point I’m touching on here, is not just about my daughter, or mothers and their daughters only… it’s being a mother and striving to be the woman that I want to be, and coming out whole in both ventures. I suppose boys are just a bit easier in this particular area, but they certainly bring other bruises. There are conflicts with my sons as well, but my boys seem to be much more direct, honest and less defensive in their reactions and counter-attacks. Middle Man does not generally hold on to things the way Principessa and I do, so while he might say some pretty mean things when he’s angry (I mean OUCH), the next morning he’s all “good morning mom” and it’s done. Not a lot of apologies, but he does move on. I could learn from that; but apparently I’m slow on the uptake in that department. Little Man tends to get very angry quickly (often, more frustration) but then feels badly and is quick to apologize and seek rapprochement. My daughter and I however, tend to skirt around issues more, slip in passive aggressive gestures and comments and walk around licking our wounds for… well, the whole summer!
So many emotions and outcomes to navigate through! I just find this whole mother thing such a complicated ride. The love we feel for our kids is so beautiful, and big and all encompassing, that it’s hard to see the forest for the trees some days. When the trees are little, you can see through or over the forest, but it’s harder to actually move through the crowded underbrush that small trees make. Little sunlight and lots of bushwhacking. However, when the trees are bigger and you can move through the forest easier, you can no longer see through or over and it’s so easy to get lost. Bet you wondered where I was going with that? The responsibility for raising human beings is enormous and it’s just plane scary some days (weeks, months, years even). Their survival, their well being, is so compelling, that it’s difficult to always see around the issues. Add to the equation, what you bring in to the woods with you and the whole thing can be so much more complicated. I’ll say it: I didn’t have great modeling and I’m sure that plays a significant part in my personal struggles. BUT, it seems to be a twisty path for plenty of other competent woman who I talk with, so I’ll reframe from extended self flagellation here.
Principessa and I have had a wonderful relationship for so long that it was truly a shock to find myself in conflict with her for so much of this summer. She was abroad for an entire year, and our our skype relationship was good; we missed each other but spoke often and got along well. You “younger parents” (those with younger kids) may laugh at me now, but one day you’ll have a skype account too, and you may meet boyfriends, room mates and more, via the internet too! Whole life events may play out without ever actually having live contact, and then you’ll get it. Anyway, we both missed each other terribly at times and it never occurred to me that we would have anything other than the slightly bumpy re-entry that parents expect when partially grown kids arrive back home from college or time away. I even painted our local I5 rock to herald her return, a rad move for this mom. Still, since Middle Man was due back from his first year at college around the same time, I knew there would potentially be a few more stumps on the path, than usual. A few bumps: manageable, right?.
NOPE, endless fucking mine field all summer and I’m apparently one of those giant rats who finds every land mine… only I’m the rat that steps on them. Add to that mix the fact that I was already in the midst of my own personal struggles: figuring out what I want to do when I’m really grown up, figuring out how to feel excited and positive in a role other than the one I’ve played for most of my adult life: “mom” (not my real name), and then working through all the emotions that go with seeing my own mother fail and get sicker and sicker. I might as well have painted a big sign that read: Kick me, I’m down, and put it on my back, ’cause that’s how it felt. Oh woe’s me.
Oh to have that time back and just get it “right”. All those clichés about how fast it all goes are dead on. They’re little and then they’re not and in each stage, I wish I could be more clear and get it better. It doesn’t matter that I knew there would be bumps this summer, or that I understand that my daughter needs to separate and that might involve some bruises, that my son means nothing personal when he’s out all night… However, it’s hard being a mom and not feel some of it’s personal. We’re so close to the subject. Again, it’s all so compelling, that to look away and wait it out, is nearly impossible. This all feels like amazing, sweet, difficult, terrifying, new territory for me– a journey I have little or no reference point for, based on the examples I grew up with and the models I looked to. I wanted to be a different parent than the one I had and I’ve felt so much responsibility to make up for all the things I longed for as a kid. And it’s just not possible. There are far too many places that I can pause and judge myself too harshly, when really all of us moms are just trying to do the very best to see our kids through to happy, competent, grounded adults… even if we’re not entirely sure about our own status there sometimes.
More and more I know that it’s my connections to other women that really sustain me and help when I feel the most uncertain, the most lost in the woods. Lunch with a friend, a good cup of coffee and a chat, the times when another mom , another woman, says exactly what I’m feeling and I realize that I’m not alone in it. It’s so easy to look at other moms and their kids, compare, and find myself lacking. How wonderful when I hear that this is how lots of us feel, and most of us are just working it all out too. At this rate, by the time I’m a grandmother, I should be pretty kick ass!
Join the conversation; are you raising teens, young adults? How’s it going? Have you found your groove, or do you still stumble? Share a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading!
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