The dubiousness I feel…

My daughter, 6 years ago…(only two more left before she, too, is off to college.)

One of my own, at a moment when the need for forgivness is strongest…

My last baby, happy and well loved, despite his mother’s imperfections.

Lately it is overwhelming. I just sent my son Scott off to college yesterday and with that comes the stark realization that I’m pretty much done with him in terms of raising him. When my kids leave the nest for college, a multitude of emotions come crashing down as the sadness simultaneously sets in. It’s the end of an era, and I can’t go back. I find myself second guessing my life with him-Did I do enough with him? Did we spend as much time with him as we could? Could we have gone on more vacations or taken them on more outings than we did? Did I love him enough? Did we, did I, could we have-it goes on and on. The mental anguish is exhausting.

A friend I haven’t heard from all summer emailed me this morning, relating to me that she read on my blog that Scott had gone away to school. She revealed to me that she was grief stricken that her 20 year old daughter moved out to live with two girlfriends in the city. She has a job and plans to attend UIC in Chicago. She said every time she walks past her daughter’s empty room she wells up with tears and she finds her self constantly sad. She keeps asking those familiar questions over and over like how she didn’t feel lately like she saw her daughter enough and how she worried if she hugged her enough, or had spent enough time with her over the last few years. She is going through exactly what I am right now. She was relieved to hear that I, too, am suffering from a similiar lack of self confidience when it comes to evaluating how well I did up to this point in bringing my kids up.

When I think about my life over the last 20 years being my childrens’ mother, I am hard on myself. I tried. So hard. But I know damn well I could have done better. I did stay home with them, and never went to work. That was a very fortunate thing and I’m thankful to my husband for allowing us that. I was home with them every day. What I wasn’t was a player. My husband was the one who loved to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids and take them out and play ball with them. He was very involved in that aspect, which was good, because he picked up the slack where I left off. He, on the other hand wasn’t crazy about babies, even though they were his little bundles of joy. He loved them, of course, don’t get me wrong, but he was never like, “Hey, pass the babe down so I can cuddle him for a few minutes.” That was my job…I was their first experience feeling love. I cuddled them, kissed them, breastfed them, and held them when they were sick while they slept, and did everything else mothers do for their children. I feel wonderful about that. I suppose, looking back now, between my husband and I and with what we were willing to do, my kids had a good balance.

I know some parents who are constantly taking their kids on outings, be it the zoo, museums, picnics, or some other trendy place. We didn’t do that as much- hardly at all, really. We took a yearly vacation, and a few other trips interspersed throughout the years, but we didn’t do carnivals, or spend money at game zones, or other places like that. With 5 kids, that kind of thing would be devistating to the wallet. I know of many people who’s parents never took them on any vacations and did a lot less with their kids than we did, and they turned out fine…wonderful, actually. Does it really matter if kids are taken places often vs only occasionally? I don’t know. My guess is probably not, but hey, I’m the one here having dubious feelings about my accomplishments as a mother. So someone out there, please tell me. I was never really good at teaching them things, although I did have some little successes peppered in. My husband and mother in law were usually the ones teaching them things. I tended to be impatient and honestly, I sometimes didn’t know how to deal with them when they would fight because I never had siblings so I didn’t know how to work it out. I toughed through it and did what I hoped was right and helped them learn how to deal with each other and still love one another.

When I peek in on some of these parenting blogs I become intimidated, and at the same time I’m in awe of the things these women do with their kids-I’m amazed at their photos of beautiful art projects they create, the sweet handmade little skirts twirling for the cameras, the pictures are so beautiful, and the kids seem so happy and perfect. Is this how it really is? These women seem like Earth Mothers and it makes me feel like somehow I blew it. They cook with the kids and seem to have the patience of a saint. It makes me feel like I didn’t do something right. I know, it’s crazy, but I can’t help how I feel. I suppose there is no sense in lamenting over the past since my kids have made it through those tender stages of their life, in one piece and surprisingly happy.

Although I had an art degree, my attempts at doing art projects with my small children almost always ended in a mess. My green as grass notions of how I’d be as a parent seemed so Utopian before I had children. I imagined my kids would sit around an art table, eager and well behaved and itching to get started. In my fantasies, my kids would create for hours and turn out fabulous pieces, dying to begin again. Wow, was I in for a surprise. When the kids were finally here, my attempts at ‘art time’ would typically turn out to be a disaster. The kids would begin laughing and carrying on and eventually the paint would end up on the floor or flicked from their brush onto eachother’s faces from across the table. My patience was not 100%, and I would end up feeling frustrated and angry with them. I’d end the project in disgust, and send them off with their tails between their legs. I felt like crap and they didn’t feel much better. Actually, no, they were probably laughing at me for thinking I could pull it off. If I did a project with them that ended up a behaviorial success, the kids usually walked away bored, and not really up for making that same art a second time. After numerous attempts, my bubble burst of wanting to experience art with my children, and I began to dread it. That dread turned into avoidance and made me feel horrible. As a result, I gave up trying. Sadly, teaching my kids art was one of the activities I looked forward to the most when picturing myself as a mother. I failed miserably.

The one thing I think I can safely say is I succeeded in loving them. I loved them to death. I was there for them. I did the best I could given my life experience and innate ability to take care of them. They were happy, healthy and adored. When I made mistakes disciplining them and I realized it, I got down on my knees at bedtime and hugged them and with tears in my eyes I apologized to them and asked them to forgive mommy. I was so sorry. I wanted them to know I valued them so much that I was willing to ask them for their forgiveness. I wanted to teach them to forgive others if someone had wronged them and was sorry for it. What better example than to see their mom admit she had made a mistake. In my heart, I believe it makes a kid feel like he’s a worthy person when someone says ‘I’m sorry’ to them. I know first hand about this. When I was a little girl, on numerous occasions, I was blamed for naughty things other kids did and I got the punishment. I was sometimes slapped, but almost always yelled at. When the truth was known, and it turned out being some other kid, not me who misbehaved, I was never apologized to by my parents. I was told I was just a kid and they didn’t have to apologize to me. That made me feel like I was worthless. I vowed I’d never do that to my kids-and I never have.

Now that I think about it, that asking for forgiveness from my children is what has carried me through to this point. It’s helped me absolve myself from feeling inadequate for not having done everything right.

So now, when I think back at yesterday when I kissed my son good-bye after dropping him off at school and sensed his sadness, then saw the tears welling up in his eyes, I knew, yes, this kid loves me. He loves us. And all that other stuff I have been obsessing about from the past doesn’t really matter. I felt a blanket of calm come over me and suddenly, I knew everything would be okay. My life of mothering him culminated at this point and I think I can confidently say I did something right, despite my imperfections and mistakes. He’s such a sweet, good, human being.

So, how do these SouleMama’s and other wonderful earthy moms do it? I’d love to know their secret. Hopefully, I will find it out someday, soon enough before my grandchildren come into the picture. If I can figure it out, I just might be the coolest grandma in town-and my kids will love me even more for loving their children just as I had loved them. Only then, possibly, I’ll be able to experience my Utopian art college dream of perfect art lessons with well behaved little kids who just can’t get enough.

For now, I will cut myself some slack for second guessing my mothering. I think I may have most of it worked out now, at least, for 2 more years when my dear, only daughter is ready to leave the nest to go away to college. Then it’ll be time for blog writing, self-therapy and forgiveness, once again.

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One thought on “The dubiousness I feel…

  1. Oh, Em – this post made me think, made me cry, made me remember. And let me tell you, any mother worth her salt has, at some point, the feelings you are having. Of COURSE you wern't a perfect mother. If you were, you would have set your children up for failure because no one can live up to perfection. What we have to strive for is exactly what you seem to have accomplished – doing your best, showing your children love and forgiveness and humility when YOU are wrong. Emily, trust me – if ANY of us who are mothers watch our children making that break from us into adulthood and DON'T wonder how we did, we did a POOR job. Just the fact that you are agonizing over it tells me your children are blessed to have you for a mom. Pack away your doubts, smile over your good memories, and celebrate the wonderful son you raised so beautifully & sent off to college.

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