Monday, November 30, 2015

The Pool of Mom Guilt

I clearly remember the conversation with my friend.  I was sort of bragging about my kids, talking about how good they were, and how lucky I was and how proud I was of them.  And I was doing it in comparison.  I wasn't flat out stating it, but in the same conversation I was talking about the choices of other kids I knew, other kids who weren't "walking the walk" and who were not making good choices.  My friend was kind, and wise.  Most of all she was prophetic.  She said quietly, "Be careful, you never know when things might change."

And change they did, not long after that conversation at all, might have been a matter of days.  Everything blew up in my face because the secret sins of one of my kids all came to light.  And it was bad - really stupid bad, and it had been going on for a while, and I had completely missed it. Sadly it was not when my friend imparted her wisdom that I woke up, it was rather when her wisdom proved true that I really got it.  And my whole perception of parenting and people changed after that happened.

That explosive incident led to a lot of change.  It was hard change-- like rooting up my family from a place my kids had been established their whole lives.  And we had to deal with a lot of gossip, innuendo, judgment and more.  When we moved to a new church we came in as open books, we needed help and most of all our kid needed help.  He didn't get it all there, it was not like that place became our saving grace, but it played an important role. And eventually just being in that new place turned out to be a really important thing for our son.  And it's something that may never have happened without the issue that moved us there in the first place - like a fork in the back.

I wish I could tell you that the "all things together for good" aspect made it all feel worth it, but along the way it didn't.  And it wasn't like we moved on and everything got better.  That's the thing about ongoing sin, secret sin, it takes the devil of a foothold and it doesn't go away easily.  Sometimes it felt like two steps forward and three steps back.  Some of the contention of those days still resides in our home and relationships, and there is still a fear that the battle isn't over. And really it isn't.  Even as that kid walks in victory over that one struggle, there is still two other kids and a myriad of other battles to be fought - some similar and some completely different, and all really really hard.

In the midst of it, as a mom, I feel responsible.  I look at my kids when they battle and I think, "Where is my responsibility? What did I do wrong?"  I go through the long list of possibilities of what I didn't teach them, what I mistakenly did.  What did I miss? What wrong example did I set? What should I have done differently?  The pool of mom guilt is deep.  I can't help but think that maybe we all must have to have it.  Because what I realize now is all of our kids are fighting some sort of battles.  And all will lose some, and along the way as a mom one cannot help but try to figure out what could have, should have or would have been done differently, if only....

And honestly, we probably do all have some level of culpability in our children's failures.  I don't know exactly at what age that finally shifts off us, but the spoiled three-year-old, the bad mannered eight-year-old and the disrespectful fifteen-year-old, we raised them.  Did we teach them everything we needed to? About not being selfish? About not being rude? About not being a general pain in the rump ass.

Recently someone close to me (in anger) accused me of being a bad mom.  They said I didn't care about my kids, that I didn't care about anyone but myself.  They even said I wanted my child to fail.  I have to tell you, it really rattled me.  And it really made me wonder if it was true.  It was this simultaneous response of "HELL NO!" and "Is this true?" Because like I said, mom guilt is a deep deep pool.

It sucks when someone decides to play in that pool and stir up your mom guilt waters.  Theoretical parents are good at that.  You know, the people who have no actual children, but whose imaginary children "would never do that!" That usually being something you have either allowed your child to do, or more often, something your child has managed to pull off despite your best efforts.  I used to have theoretical children myself, so I totally get how perfect they are - and how easy to parent they are. Unfortunately all theoretical parents should heed the warning that when the actual little exhausting sinful creatures show up to fill the roles of your theoretical kiddos, they rarely stay on script.

Young parents too are inclined to wade into the pool and stir the waters.  Parenting infants and toddlers is exhausting physically, and I get that, but I have to tell you I long for the days that my sleepless nights had to do with poor sleeping habits and stuffy noses and were not because I was overwhelmed with anxiety about the life changing decisions my kids were in position to make.  The shift of power does not wait until their eighteenth birthdays, it's rather a slow painful process with a lot of fumbles, failures and the opportunity for some long term life impacting poor decisions.  And they're made by young dumb, inexperienced kids who really don't get it.  "Too much power, not nearly enough wisdom," that's what I always say.  And there is nothing about turning 18 that turns off the mom heart or the risk factors for stupidity, in fact sometimes in those college age years it just intensifies. And those middle school and high school years can be just as brutal.

The people who like to wade into the pool of mom guilt and stir the waters most though are our kids.  They don't actually understand that's what they are doing, but it does not stop them from doing it.  Every pain, every consequence, every poor decision causes the surface of the water to stir and it pulls at the parent heart.  Like the ripples around the movement created, they push out and on touching in so many places you couldn't even anticipate.  But they are not gentle or beautiful like ripples in real water, they hurt and they are hard and they can wear a woman down.

I look at my kids and they are "good kids" but at the same time the battle is strong, and sometimes their failures are cataclysmic.  Sometimes God seems to sweep in and in great grace He rescues them from themselves, and other times they fall.  Sometimes they fall in the exact same way over and over and over again.  That is when I find myself fully submerged in the pool of guilt.  Because it's when I know I have tried to teach them, love them, instruct and guide them and they still keep making the same bad choices over and over again that I become hopeless and distraught.  Angry.

And it never fails as I look around I feel surrounded by perfect parents and their perfect kids.  I become convinced I am the only mom in the pool.  And other moms, they have the ability to stir the water then without even trying.  Just the perception of their success makes me feel like I'm the only one.  Sometimes it's moms acting the way I was when I was bragging on my kids that day before I understood.  They don't have to be criticizing my kid to make me feel badly about how I parent, they can just be feeling great about how they parent theirs.  I cannot help but wonder how many moms I talked to like I did that day that didn't call me out like my girlfriend did.  Probably too many to count.

Back then I was the worst kind of mom.  I was the kind of mom who thought I knew everything and had it all figured out.  My first born compliant/ epically sneaky first child helped strengthen that illusion until he didn't anymore.  And so I thought I not only knew the right way to raise a kid, but I thought my way was the only right way.  Boy have my children straightened me out on that one.  There isn't even one right way to raise the three kids in my one home.  And even with each individual way there is always change - age, stage, need, and more.  And all of those factors, stones to throw and unsettle the surface of the pool of mom guilt in my world.

The longer I parent, the less I realize I know.  I always say, "doctors don't know everything, that's why they call it practicing medicine."  And it's usually to rebuke a bad prognosis.  Well let me tell you, the diagnosis is what is settled in parenting, and it's called sin.  And unfortunately it is chronic, incurable and constant - and worse, it isn't just the patient who suffers, but the mom who is practicing parenting as well. And yet as a mom, I am continually demanding of myself to figure it all out.  I won't, but I will likely die trying.

My heart hurts for how hard it is to parent today. It is harder than it was when I was growing up - though that's not to say it was ever easier - but it is harder.  The world is relentless in its enticement to draw our kids out into sin and darkness - which by the way seems like a pleasurable pool for a while when they waddle into it.  And truth be told the enemy behind the lure has really amped up his game in the past few decades.  It's really hard to keep him out.  And for me, I know he has slipped past me a lot because I am just not as good at being as relentless as he is.  (Enter more mom guilt here.)

I just don't think it's ever going to get any easier.  And I think I am likely to always feel guilty about that.  I will always wonder what I could have, should have and would have done differently, if only... maybe you feel that way too?

I don't write this blog actually offering any answers.  And please, if you think you have them, please don't here with them and stir my pool.  Because, even if you have answers, you don't have them all.  And I would warn you like my friend did that day, "Be careful, you never know when things might change."

But if you get this, and you can relate to the things I am saying here, all of them or just some - let me encourage you, you are not alone.  Maybe no mom will ever say so, but this mom thing, it's hard - and crazy guilt inducing, and filled with hard things.  What do people say? "The toughest job you will ever love"?  I'm gonna be real here and say, some days, you won't love it at all, and that's ok.  Because we love our kids.  And all we can do is the best we can do, but we have to do that knowing our best alone is never ever going to be good enough to keep the pool of mom guilt dry.  But don't give up, keep pressing on.  And if you believe in God, be sure not to exclude Him from your parenting, because in all honesty, I know I couldn't do it without Him, even when I feel like I am.  He's faithful when I am faithless.  Press on.

Some days the only solace I have is that my kids might be parents too someday...

No comments: