“It’s far too easy, now that my sons are grown, to look back in hindsight and identify all the ways I could have been a better parent—how I could’ve handled various situations differently, or better, if only I’d had the necessary wisdom at the time.”
Before I became a mom I knew pretty specifically the kinds of things I didn’t want to do as a parent, but beyond that my vision of what kind of mom I did want to be was a little less precise. I knew I wanted my children to feel safe and protected. I wanted to shower them with warmth and affection. I wanted them to grow up feeling good about themselves and the world around them. Above all, I wanted them to know that I loved them no matter what—that nothing in this universe could ever cause me to not love them.
The things I knew I didn’t want to do as a parent were, in my mind, more straightforward: I would never call my children names. I would never hit them. I would never degrade them. Give them the silent treatment. Compare them to other people or to each other. Make them feel unloved, or that my love for them was in any way conditional. More than anything, I would do my best to never become addicted to drugs or alcohol or gambling, because I didn’t want my children to grow up living in a state of fear—fear of the next blowup, the next crisis, the next humiliation.
I knew these were things I didn’t want to do as a parent because they are things I experienced as a child. It’s not something I like to dwell on, but it’s a fact I didn’t feel very safe growing up. My mom was not a terrible person—she was dealing with a lot due to my dad’s alcoholism. And I don’t believe my dad was a terrible person either. They were both just two damaged people trying to get through life.
So when it came to raising my own children, I’m at least thankful I didn’t repeat my parents’ mistakes. But let’s face it—that bar was pretty damn low to begin with! And as the saying goes, once I became a parent myself, I made my own, new mistakes. In my efforts to make my children feel safe and protected, I went overboard at times shielding them from life’s challenges and inequities, trying to solve their problems for them when I should have let them figure things out on their own. Other times I wish I was more protective of my sons, wondering if I could have prevented any number of struggles life had in store for them.
Sometimes I put so much pressure on myself to be a good parent I didn’t allow myself the time or mental space to just enjoy being a parent. Don’t get me wrong—we had a lot of fun times as a family. But on a day-to-day level, it’s easy to get so caught up trying to meet your own expectations (and those of others) that you forget to allow yourself to be in the moment. To let the house be messy and instead of cleaning, go outside and make more snow angels or sit on the family room floor and play another round of Hi-Ho Cherry-O.
It’s far too easy, now that my sons are grown, to look back in hindsight and identify all the ways I could have been a better parent—how I could’ve handled various situations differently, or better, if only I’d had the necessary wisdom at the time. It’s hard not to let these types of thoughts crowd out the memories of the things I did right as a parent, the fun times we shared as a family, the myriad ways we supported each other and let our love be the glue that held us together during the difficult times. But I try. It helps to continue making new memories, because having fun together is the best reminder of how much we’ve flourished in spite of our hardships.
Once your children become adults, parenthood presents an entirely new set of challenges. You want them to be independent and self-sufficient, yet you also want to remain close with them emotionally if not geographically. It becomes a balancing act of respecting their need to have their own lives, yet also wanting to feel a part of their lives in a way that’s healthy and fulfilling for everyone.
No matter where you’re at in life, parenthood is a journey into uncharted waters. With new challenges come new mistakes to be made. The good news is that with each new mistake, you get the opportunity to learn and do better. There will come a time when your children no longer need to be parented. But that doesn’t mean they’ll no longer need you. It just means you’ll have to learn new ways of being there for them. I had hoped to have everything figured out by this point in my life. The truth is, I’m still learning.