What I’ve Learned Watching My Children Grow Up… or Lost In Translation

Currently Featured on Huffington Post So please feel free to shoot over there and give me some sugar!

I was a first time mother here, and this little girl just had her first baby!

I was a first time mother here, and this little girl just had her first baby!

“I wasn’t born your mother.” I said this in another post. It seems like a no brainer, but somehow, between the time they exit our stretched-out, forever-changed bodies, until the time they begin to actually look and act like adults themselves, or have their own children, this message is lost in translation. Our kids think we are their parents, and there was nothing before. It’s not hard to see why. We live our lives in a complex dance in which we generally lead, and they follow. We’re not their friends, but their mentors and guardians, their caregivers, their cheerleaders, their parents. By the time they’re adults and starting to see things a little differently, these roles are seared on their brains, and we hope, their hearts. It’s nearly impossible for them to comprehend that there was really a life, or that we were a person B.C. — Before Children.

But we were — people B.C. We were once children, in similar shoes. We grew up and had our own challenges and experiences. We fell in love; we probably had our hearts broken. We went to school and eventually had jobs; we learned to pay bills and navigate life. We loved our parents, or didn’t, but inevitably had our own challenges there. We all went out there and had a single pivotal relationship that led to our role as parents.

I can’t speak to being a father, so I’ll stick to what I know best: I’m a mother, a good mother; but I was not born one. I had an entire life before this. As my three kids: a daughter, 25, and two sons, 23 and 18, venture into the grown-up pool, they’re asking more about how I managed those passages. I was not born a mother, and that fact is coming back to the forefront, as I’m challenged to rely on what I learned B.C.

Inevitably our kids venture out into that big world, and it can be helpful for them to see that we ventured too. Sure, the world has changed a lot since then, but despite any differences, we had to navigate many of the same things. Hearts break the same way; pain is pain. The “real world” can be overwhelming and scary, certainly challenging at the least. Money must be made; bills must be paid, and their lives unfold and take form, just as ours did: bit-by-bit- trial by fire.

Who is more uniquely qualified to advise and bear witness to their journey, than us? We have known them since conception. What mother can’t still recall the amazing intimacy they felt with their babies, even before birth? We, as parents, if we are clear about boundaries and open to truths, care in a way that takes in who they were, who they are, and who they aspire to be… balanced against the razor sharp edge of what we hope for them.

I thought I was in my groove with baby #3, but no one gets out without some scars...

I thought I was in my groove with baby #3, but no one gets out without some scars…

As I’ve entered into this new phase with all three of my children, I’ve discovered a powerful truth that has been exposed over the past few years with my daughter, in particular, but more and more with my sons as well: We all have our own journey, but while we may have traveled the same road for much of that journey, we did not necessarily take away the same meaning, lessons or message. As I hear my kids label and describe their experiences: as siblings, as our children, and as their unique selves, I’m hearing that they were on the same ride, but often translated events and relationships very differently.

An example: I was raised in the Christian faith. I was raised weakly in that faith, at best, but Christian nonetheless. In my 20s, I fell in love with and married a man who was Jewish, and eventually we had three children. When my husband asked that we raise our children in the Jewish faith, honestly, I gave it little thought; I said yes. I took a conversion course, didn’t convert, but threw myself into being the best Jewish mother I could be. We went to temple; we had friends in our synagogue; we celebrated the Jewish holidays, and we raised our kids to identify as Jews. I taught them the Sh’ma (link), the holiest prayer in our faith. To do that, I learned it first, and embraced it — believing that I could not truly teach something that important, if I didn’t feel it. In fact, four years ago as I sat beside my dying mother, in that moment when she was taking her last breaths, I instinctively sang the Sh’ma. My mother was not Jewish, but that prayer felt like the only thing to say in that moment. All of this to say: I believed I was raising my children as Jews, and that I was doing a really good job of it. For the record, I believed in and felt everything I was doing, as a Jewish mother, authentically. It wasn’t forced.

Flash forward 22 years, and our oldest child, our daughter, decided to move to Israel. That would have been hard enough for her father and I, and the rest of our extended family, but because I never converted, and Jewish identity is determined by matriarchal bloodlines, my daughter was not considered a Jew in the eyes of Israel — something required in order to gain citizenship. She embraced her faith fully, and spent some time living in the Orthodox community. Hard does not begin to cover that decision and its impact on all of us.

However, as she went deeper into her journey, I was stunned to hear her tell me, more than once: “You and dad didn’t really raise us as Jews.” By conservative standards, this is true; I can’t deny it. However, over time these comments and her perspective took on a more challenging and painful tone for me. This indictment strikes at the heart of all I’ve done, all I’ve given up of my own family history and identity, all that I believed I had done to raise her as Jewish. How could she say this, let alone believe it? And so, after we’d had a few difficult arguments, and after I’d stopped feeling defensive and hurt, and finished licking my wounds … I began to listen to what she had to say. That was when I realized that the lessons we hand to our children, the messages we believe we are giving, and sometimes the very experiences that we all shared together, are not always seen and experienced the way we intended or believed they were delivered. As she shared her thoughts, it became very clear that my girl had digested some things very differently than I thought I’d served them.

As we began to share more life stories, and lessons, woman to woman, this theme came up over and over again. The stories she’d told herself, or the ways she’d interpreted shared experiences: whether they have to do with faith, her relationship with her siblings, her role in our family, gender issues, how she thought we saw her — countless things, were very different than the messages I thought we were sharing.

How did my endless efforts to infuse our family with Jewish values and tradition, become a life without God or religion? When did difficult, but normal, sibling issues become painful lessons about men and women? When did their father’s efforts to get home and read bedtime stories whenever he could — translation: occasionally — while I did every “Mommy and me” class, drove to soccer/dance/religious school/was class parent/PTSA/chaperone/ad finitum, become “Dad was always doing things with us; you didn’t really like that kind of thing?” That last one landed like a slap across my face, when one of my children expressed it — stated as a fact, without any tangible anger. When did my constant belief in each of my children and their infinite potential translate to a lack of encouragement? It boggles this aging mother’s mind.

And so it had to happen: I had to look at these twists in the road, with my almost adult children, and accept that their interpretations do not always match mine. This has been a jumping off point to begin forging new adult relationship with them. Recently I have listened more carefully to their stories, their versions of our shared journeys, and I’ve tried to sit with what they have to say. I’m working on letting some things go, and speaking up only when the gap seems important. I’m trying to accept that somehow some things were in fact lost in translation. If I didn’t say it right, or they experienced it differently, I need to accept that this is where we landed — right here, in this new reality.

I try not to take it personally, though it’s really hard sometimes. I did tell my girl not to ever tell me I didn’t raise her or her brothers as Jews again. It’s not true. It’s true within the constraints of the new life she has chosen, but it’s not a cold hard fact. I have set her and her brother straight on a few key details that needed setting straight, and I’ve shared the truth, that while they may have taken certain lessons differently than we intended or hoped, the way things truly happened can not be re-written, we simply experienced them differently.

The truth is: her brothers were boys, and they acted like boys. They didn’t always do things the way she wanted or would have liked, and they were sometimes insensitive. But, they also loved her enormously and were there for her. She didn’t always do things the way they wanted, and she was sometimes insensitive as well. No matter how much my middle son has interpreted his role as middle child, as less fair, less, less, less than his siblings, it’s never been true. No matter how much our youngest believes that we don’t have as much faith in his abilities as we had in his older siblings’, that’s not true either. I have favored each of them, at various times in their lives, or in moments when they might have needed it, but I have loved each of them fully and without limits.

Nothing I did as a mother, or my husband did as a father, was intended to hurt our children, or leave “scars.” It may sound cliché, but we all did our best. The fact that our children translated some things differently, the fact the our very best of intentions and our deepest hopes of imbuing our children with certain truths was not always received as intended, leaves us all in a uniquely new world, as we all approach each other on adult levels.

As a mother, the journey has been on a fairly predictable path for the past 25 years (no matter how unpredictable young children and teens seemed in the moment), but now, all bets are off. My daughter is expecting her first child any day, and she too will learn that translating the enormous, complex ball of emotions, dreams and hopes we all have for our children is not always a clear path. We do our best, and hope it all works out in the end. I listen patiently as she explains childbirth to me, knowing that in the next few days, her perceptions may change. I smile when she tells me the latest on how babies should be cared for. Her baby will spit up, and cry, and poop, and eventually smile, just like mine did. In a few weeks, she will have just an inkling of how much I love her, and how much I have always wanted to do my best. It will be joyous to watch her take those first steps down this path.

I was not born their mother, and more than ever before, I am drawing on that fact, my history B.C., to tap into their worlds — where they live now. I am drawing on who I was when I wasn’t their mother, to understand how they feel now, and how we’ll all go forward. We’re not lost, we’re all just working on a new translation.

Update: On August 4th, Smart Guy’s 54th birthday, our first child gave birth to her first child. A gorgeous baby boy. He is beloved and I am a grammy.

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Throw me a morsel; Help Me Reach My Goals! I’d love to see the Tales From the Motherland Facebook page reach 800 likes in 2015. Have you stopped by to spread some fairy dust? Follow me on Twitter, where I’m forced to be brief. Most importantly, if you like a post I’ve written, hit Like and leave a comment. I love to hear what readers think. Honest, positive or constructive feedback is always welcome. Click Follow; you’ll get each new post delivered by email, with no spam.  If you see ads on this page, please let me know. They shouldn’t be there.  ©2014  Please note, that all content and images on this site are copyrighted to Dawn Quyle Landau and Tales From the Motherland, unless specifically noted otherwise. If you want to share my work, please give proper credit. Plagiarism sucks.

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Dawn Quyle Landau, Honest observations on many things, Love and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to What I’ve Learned Watching My Children Grow Up… or Lost In Translation

  1. Congrats on the baby and Huff Post! My grandkids, who are being raised Orthodox , ask me if I’m Jewish. I tell them yes but I don’t observe in the way they do. They don’t get it yet of course. One son is so afraid of his kids being exposed to non-Orthodox views and lifestyles, we hardly see him. Very sad. It’s a tough road this parenthood thing! You’ve done an amazing job!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Lisa. I’m so sorry that it’s been so much rougher for you. You and your husband are wonderful grandparents and it’s sad that your son’s children are missing out on that, but tragic for you. I know how hard it is, and my heart breaks for you– really! (( hugs )) my friend. I’m really grateful things shifted on my end!


  2. Carrie Rubin says:

    Wonderful article as always, Dawn. Much of what we do and say in this world gets lost in translation–whether it involves our kids or others. It all come down to perception. How someone perceives something is what matters, even if it’s not what we said or did. As Dr. Phil says, ‘Perception is reality.’ This can be frustrating, especially when it comes from our kids as you’ve shown.

    Congrats on the new grandbaby! That’s wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, Carrie. Perception is 9/10ths of the law, or something along those lines. I’m grateful that my kids and I are willing to keep working the program… we love each other, and despite bumps, we’re working on keeping strong bonds. Thanks for your sharing your thoughts.

      And thanks, yes, we are all so thrilled!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s all vey complicated isn’t it? congratulations on the newest addition to your wonderful family.
    You express what we all feel so well, Dawn– a clear perceptive view. Enjoy your time!


  4. Valery says:

    Just beautiful. Your kids are so lucky (and I’m sure they know that, whether acknowledged or not!) My 23-yr.-old will sometimes surprise me to pieces, in comments to others: bits of my own words and views, that I never thought he cared about or paid attention to. Just 2 weeks ago he asked me to proof a map he posted on FB (we are not “Friends”). Yeah, I peeked a moment at his page and noticed that he referred to “my parents”, meaning me and my husband – his step-father. Have to admit that I got a little choked up to see how much he really does care and appreciate us.

    Sometimes the details may be lost in translation, but the heart of the matter is your love for them. That will endure as a constant and comforting presence in their lives forever. And now that gets passed on to the next generation!


    • Valery, it’s such a wonderful thing when we get those sweet moments with our kids– when we connect, and they see us as individuals (with potentially good advice) and we see them with equally good advice. It doesn’t always happen, and generally takes a long time, but it’s so wonderful that you have shared that with your son.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and share your thoughtful words. It means so much. xox


  5. Happy day, dear Dawn….a day with a grandchild is a day filled with sunshine. All good wishes for mother and baby. 😉
    I loved your post, Dawn. And I can relate to it so much. I also have three children…and even though they are all children from my husband and me, they are as different as the sun, the moon and the stars. They have different memories of events that took place…and they have different perspectives on life even though they were raised in the same house with the same parents. But of course, we are not the same parents to each of our children, since WE are different at each moment in time…and they are unique individuals, requiring different responses. So even though I felt I was being consistent, in truth, I probably wasn’t.
    I do believe, though, that if we did whatever we did with the best of intentions, aiming to provide them with the tools they would need to navigate life, then we did good. And they, as they raise their own children, will take a bit from their experiences as a child, a bit from their observation of us as their parent, and a bit from their unique self.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vivian, it’s always wonderful to find your wise words in my comment section! I have so often said that my husband and I put the same ingredients in the bowl, and got 3 uniquely different cakes– each wonderful and good, but so different! Thanks for taking the time to read and share your insights; it’s much appreciated.


  6. Pingback: What I’ve Learned Watching My Children Grow Up… or Lost In Translation | ugiridharaprasad

  7. hbksloss says:

    Beautiful and hard, just like parenting. Aren’t there always several versions of anyone situation? Your memories, their memories, and how it really went down, which is forever lost to our individual perceptions. It is good to correct misunderstandings, but in the end our kids’ versions of stories will be told and retold to our grandchildren (of we are lucky enough to get done, like you!). Would the stories I tell of my growing up be the same versions that my parents would tell? What about the stories that they told me of their childhood? And now that my mother has Alzheimer’s, and her stories after gone, my versions become even more important. It is the way of life. Ah.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So true, Heidi! There are so many ways that the “truth” gets perceived and worked, and no one version is really “true.” It is all seen through our own lenses and filters. Thanks so much for taking the time read and comment; your thoughts are always full of insight and compassion. Thank you.


  8. Psychobabble says:

    CONGRATS! Yay for August baby boys!!!


    • How wonderful to see you in my comments M! I’ve missed you. 🙂 Yes, August boys are wonderful, aren’t they? In addition to your yummy 1 year old, this baby was born on my husband’s 54th bd, and my youngest turns 19 on the 23rd… a good month indeed! Our new baby is now named Amitai Shelev (like mommy – the m, + thai).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. sara says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post ever since I read it a few days ago, Dawn. Lovely post by the way ❤️. The part where your children remembered the occasional time when their father came home to read them a story over your day in day out efforts affected me. Of course we don’t do this mothering gig for kudos, but it occurs to me that we could dial it back a little. The mother who is always there, who always provides, who makes it all happen, becomes like the ever present background in our child’s life. Like wallpaper or oxygen, just taken for granted. It’s a fine line I think between a good mother and a drudge. I feel the pull of that line all the time.
    Anyway Dawn, congratulations on your beautiful grand baby – he is truly Divine.


    • Yes, yes, yes Sara! I think we too often become white noise in our children’s lives… a wonderful, supportive white noise, but easily ignored, nonetheless. And while I agree, it’s not about the kudos, it’s hard to play such a demanding role, over so many years, and feel unappreciated. In no way do I intend to make it all sound negative; it’s not! But it’s something to think about. I often tell younger mothers, to really balance what you put out to your children/spouse/family vs what you do for yourself and the things that fill you back up. It is SO easy to feel spent and resentful as they get older and begin to separate from you. As always, thanks for your compassionate, wise thoughts; they mean so much.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. meganaronson says:

    Congrats on being featured on HuffPost! I went and liked it there, and here, and liked your Facebook page because I know what those LIKES mean for a blogger as I’m one myself! (P.S. Love your call to action at the bottom of your post to get people to like you!!! Ha!)

    I posted this on your HuffPost page but wanted to post it here, too, to give you some sugar all over the place! 😉

    I like the message behind this piece, best summed in your final paragraph, “I was not born their mother, and more than ever before, I am drawing on that fact, my history B.C., to tap into their worlds — where they live now. I am drawing on who I was when I wasn’t their mother, to understand how they feel now, and how we’ll all go forward. We’re not lost, we’re all just working on a new translation.”

    I also loved the line about how your daughter will soon know how much you love her. I feel like I’m just beginning to understand how immeasurable the love of a Mother is, for myself to my own children, even.

    I grew up with a full-time stay at home Mom who had very old-fashioned values of woman-does-housework, man-leaves-house-makes-money. I appreciated her values, although mine are very different from hers now. When I was younger, I had no concept of what she did as a Mother/Homemaker. She gave up trying to include us in much of any housework when I was very young – it was just too much of a battle. So, I grew up just believing fresh laundry randomly appeared in the drawers magically right when you were starting to run out, and home-cooked dinners materialized on the table effortlessly every single night. She never let it show, that it was all work, or maybe I just wasn’t paying close enough attention to who she was outside her role of Mother. Now, I know firsthand, with four small children under the age of 8, how much work it all is! Ha! I’m lucky if dinner materializes on the table, and if you’ve got clean napkins to go with – that’s definitely magic!

    I try to let my daughter, who is 8 now, see the truth of Motherhood. I grew up playing with baby dolls and fantasizing about a large brood and a white picket fence fantasy of marriage and motherhood. Reality was a stark contrast to my ideals. My daughter, on the other hand, will tell you promptly and without inquiry, that motherhood is hard work, that her Mother struggles with four kids, and that she only wants two kids when she grows up! (Very typical, super-responsible first child, she is!). I used to feel sad that she saw me “struggling” with Motherhood, but then I reminded myself that the best gift I can give her is honesty and truth, authenticity and transparency. Of course, she still only sees so much, but I’m grateful for my courage to allow her to see what is real and true. I’ve had a stint as a single Mother she witnessed, and now one as a Mother of four with postpartum depression and anxiety (PPD/PPA) – she understands my recent struggles have been exasperated by the PPD/PPA, but she also knows Motherhood requires as much as it gives. She knows I’m not perfect, and that we all work to embrace our imperfections. She also sees me committed to balancing my life as a stay at home Mom by hiring a sitter on the weekends and locking myself in my room to write. We talk about my dreams for my life and my life “B.C.” as you put it, often, and I hope, that as she ages, I will only continue to share more and more with her of who I am as a woman, a writer, a wife, AND a Mother.


    • Megan, thanks for your comment and insights in both places! I remember back when I was first blogging, I read and commented on several of your posts. It’s good to see you in my comments. 🙂 I’ll echo my HuffPo response, as it remains the same.
      Thank you for sharing your own struggles and experiences. I think there are so many variables that determine where we all end up, and the roads we take. Bravo to you for living with some transparency and honesty– it’s so easy to sugar-coat things and forget what the real version is. I am so touched to read your feedback, and really appreciate you taking the time to share it. Thank you for your kind words about my writing; they are much appreciate, and thank you for stopping by all 3 places to share!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. As Audra said – you’ve expressed what we all feel xx congratulations on your grandson Dawn

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Congratulations, Dawn, on the birth of your new grandchild!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person


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