When I was a child, I used to love to play with my sister. She was about two years older than me and could always think up great games. We would run the gamut of different careers in imaginative playtime in our bedrooms–nurses, secretaries, lawyers, fashion designers, etc. We spent long afternoons dreaming about what our lives would be like when we were older.
It seemed simple enough. We would have the most “put together” outfits and change our nail polish every day to match them. We would have four or five perfectly-behaved kids. We would live in a large colonial house with a corvette in the driveway. In essence, we were barbies.
If you were to ask us what our mom did, we would say she didn’t work. She just sat around all day. We never “saw” any of the work she did. As far as we were concerned, she was just “hanging out” all day like we were. But somehow, we arrived at school dressed and ready, ate meals, and participated in extracurriculars. Now, don’t get me wrong, my mother wasn’t the “Joan Cleaver” type, but she made sure that we were taken care of.
The summer that I spent on my bed, memorizing the paisley pattern of my mattress, I would have said that my mom enjoyed watching me be miserable. That she would find things to correct me for. I was a martyred and tortured soul. My mom loved seeing me sit on my bed and miss all the fun.
What was her problem? Why was my life so unfair?
“I can’t wait to be a mom….and boss people around. I’m going to do whatever I want…whenever I want!”
The tears would stream down my face, until my mom would let me out of my room. And then I was off to do the next troublesome thing.
Looking back on my life, I think my mother was easily overwhelmed. Simple tasks seemed to take a long time for her. I didn’t return home to homemade cookies for a snack or a dinner that took several hours. She struggled to manage a small home and often seemed tired and disorganized. She could have struggled with depression or anxiety.
I truly had no idea how tough this thing called motherhood was. You really have to have a huge heart, the thickest skin, and a great deal of confidence. And a wine cellar in your basement wouldn’t hurt…
But…seriously?! What other job could monopolize your every waking and sleeping moment, completely drain you of everything, and yet be so extremely rewarding?!
I am currently in a few different phases of my parenting vocation. I am battling the independent, strong-willed eight-year-old. I am trying to calm the fast-talking, no-one-listens-to-me ten-year-old. I am searching for ways to show the middle child that she is loved and adored. All while fighting off urges to strangle my ever-teasing, constant prankster son and deal with the parental blows of teendom and puberty. God help us we are “chasing” a lot of wine.
However, even with all the hard work that goes into mothering this brood daily, my love for each one of them never wavers.
Being a mom is like “having a piece of your heart walking around outside your body.” Boy is that ever true. Our children will never truly understand how deep our love for them is. However, it is our God-given duty to make sure we tell them. To make sure that it is so ingrained in their being that they could never challenge that notion. We can’t just tell them. We have to show them. And we can’t just show them, we have to tell them. We have to write them embarrassing notes on their school napkins. We have to scream their name and yell, “that’s my son/daughter” when they score that soccer goal. We have to be the first one ready to greet them off the bus…and the last one to kiss them goodnight. They have to know that there is nothing that can separate them from our love.
One afternoon, my daughter was agonizing over having to clean up her mess of barbies in our schoolroom. As she did the “walk of shame,” kicking and throwing her body next to the mess, she stated, “I can’t WAIT to be a mom. I can’t wait to boss my kids around.” And I will admit–my first response was to think defensively, but then I realized that this was a great opportunity to help her understand.
“Really?! I said. Because I hate having to correct you. It’s the worst part of my day.”
She looked utterly shocked.
“Yep. Yelling at your kids, having to punish them, sending them to their rooms. All that–makes me sad as a mom.”
“It does?” She said (mind blown).
“But…do you know what I LOVE about being a mom. I love taking you to the park and swinging on the swing next to you! I love getting big huge hugs that make me fall on the floor. And I like having a BIG bowl of ice cream when you are in bed, just because I am the mom. And I think those are all the things that you will LOVE about being a mom, too.”
She smiled the biggest smile.
And as I helped her clean up the barbies, I continued to explain to her how it was my job to teach her all the things she needed to learn to be a good mom.
“Do you know how I learned to clean the house? I had to clean up my toys like you do. I learned to make my bed by doing it when I was your age. Why do I have a close relationship with God? I learned to love God with my heart by reading bible stories and listening at Church much like I ask you to listen at Mass. And when I correct you for saying mean things or throwing a temper tantrum, I am trying to help you become a loving mommy and a nice lady. Mommy’s job is to help you be the best you!!! It’s not always fun to be told to do things…but God has plans for you and needs mom’s help to get them done!”
For the past few years, as I’ve focused on “motherhood,” it has made me question my relationship with my own mother. Maybe God wanted me to remember that she, too, was being judged through the “eyes of a child.” That perhaps the issues that I had with my mom in the past were ready to be retired. She also deserved praise for loving me and doing her best to raise me in love and faith. God was granting me the ability to forgive my mom and realize her own inadequacies. He was allowing me to reflect on this cycle of mother-daughter-mother. In time, I saw that my mother was being judged too harshly with the same naïve, childish vision. That as an adult, I needed to reexamine my thoughts and feelings from my childhood and consider those experiences with new adult vision. To seek forgiveness for the times that I was quick to judge and slow to forgive.
Are you looking at your mom or dad with this childlike vision? Are you holding her or him to ideals that are just too unrealistic? What about your family? Do you seek to fill your life with opportunities to love your kids?
Our time with our kids and loved ones is so fleeting. Gather those whom you love in your arms and squeeze tight. Tell them you love them and show them. Let us, as mothers and fathers, remember that our children may judge us and question us, but they do so with that same passionate childlike vision and a genuine lack of clarity. May we as adults cling to the virtues that we struggle to instill daily. And when our days are met with resistance and comments about how mean we are, that we may remember the long journey ahead of us and push onward.