I love my children. That part hasn't changed. I fell in love with them from the moment I knew each was being nurtured within my womb. When they exited my body and entered my embrace, I looked into their eyes and shared that unspoken communication that says, "Yes. I know you. And now you are here!" But I also added under my breath, "Hope I don't screw you up!"
I passed on lots of other dreams in order to focus on my biggest dream of being a mother. It is woman's greatest calling, and I am not ashamed to have claimed it with all of my energy. It wasn't many years into mothering that I realized something unexpected: Mothering is the biggest, shiniest, most accurate mirror into my soul, reflecting out who I really am. Throughout mothering I have discovered what is really wonderful and charming about me, like the fact that I will sacrifice for my children to create happy childhood memories. But conversely, I have also discovered what is not so wonderful and charming about me, like how my kids tease me that when they get hurt, I sort of toss their suffering aside just a bit and tend to worry more about whether they got blood on the carpet or if they broke something I'm going to have to pay for.
The other thing I've learned, and I'm not proud of this at all, is that while I love my children wholeheartedly, I do not love them perfectly. Rather, I love them perfect. I like it much, much better when they are behaving the way that I'd like them too. I even like it better when they agree with me and see things the way that I see things. I'm learning to love them just for them, for their big, bold, vibrant lives, that shine with or without me. Somehow, and this is probably a convoluted psychological web, because I have failed at other things very close to my heart and dreams (my first marriage, to name an obvious one), I have focused lots of attention on raising children that will not let me down. They will be my crowning achievement. They will be my hope in this world, and the witnesses that I am not all failure.
But, of course, I know this is the wrong approach.
Still, when I do anything, I like to do it right. Deciding what is right as far as mothering is a whole other topic, but I have done the best that I can to be conscientious, let's put it that way. When they were little, it was so much easier. They thought whatever I told them. They liked most of what I liked. They wore what I laid out for them. I read them classic literature, they listened to classical music, and they memorized poems, hymns, and scripture. They thought I knew everything! And kissing and dating were so gross.
Now I have those same little darlings, on the verge of being all-grown up. Things are a bit different. One likes his pants down around his butt. One likes kissing. One likes screaming music (at least that's what it is to me.) One likes to argue with every ding-dong thing I say. One likes to be contrary to everything serious, sacred, or spiritual. Actually, I'm only talking about One. He's not even in high school yet, and I feel impending doom.
Fortunately, one of the things I've done right as a mom, is that my children can talk to me. We have very open conversations. I hear things I thought I'd never hear come out of their mouths, which is both a blessing and a burden. But though we talk often, we don't always talk well.
Sometimes, our conversations begin with a teen telling me how he/she feels about something-usually-controversial, and I begin with a calm voice reeling them in and then I begin my courtroom scene, painting pictures of effects of bad choices and spiraling out of control with defense after defense that blocks them into a corner with my masterful logic and mature wisdom. It's me with excellent intentions of saving and guiding my children along life's choices, but misusing their trust in me in ineffective manipulation. And then there are elevated voices, and tears, and guilt. And for a time, distance. I hate it. It reminds me of everything rotten about myself, how much improvement I have yet to make, how little time I have to love these kids and help them to grow.
But another thing I've done right as a mom is that I always apologize. First.
The thing is, is that the teenage years are not an altogether complete picture of how well one has done as a mother. They're a rude interruption, though a necessary one, in the flow of life. I need to remember that the way a child feels at 13 or 15 is not necessarily the way he/she will feel as an adult. In fact, the way a child feels at 13 or 15 is more likely just the complete opposite of what YOU think.
So, rather than get into these heated "discussions" that go on and on and never really end with a winner, my sweet friend (who is also a psychologist) offered this tactic to me: When something is said, (which is usually something aimed at shock value), simply reply, "Well, that's one way to think of things."
And walk away.
Or this one: "Well, we each have our agency."
And walk away.
(I'm thinking tone of voice is still critical. It must be free from judgment and condescension. Maybe throw a loving smile in there. But the smile, not the battle, is all you give them.)
Revolutionary! (At least to me.)
And then again, my contrary son summed it up nicely too on one of his agreeable days when he said, "Mom, you've taught me my whole life what is right and wrong. You should trust that you did a good job."
Sigh. Maybe they are perfect after all. Perfect for me.