Mother’s Day just happened, dear heart, so it seems appropriate to talk about this mom gig.
When it comes to being a mom I’m consistently great at one thing: admitting how not great I think I am. There was a day about thirteen and a half years ago, when I realized I wasn’t going to be the mom I thought I’d be. It was day three on the job. They were sending us home from the hospital with a fresh baby boy and our nurse was going over the discharge paperwork, asking if we had the carseat installed properly, etc. I remember looking at her and saying, “wait.. you’re not coming with us??” I meant it. Just hours into motherhood I was aware of a deep fear that I couldn’t do this baby justice, couldn’t give him all he needed, like, “someone else better be in charge, here..”
That fear came in the form of an overstuffed burrito of personal failures that spill out daily. The contents are a mish-mash of: awareness of my rampant selfishness, my physical limitations and predispositions, the harsh realization that I’m under-qualified to be in this position, the clumsy mechanics of building the plane while we fly it, the wake up call that there are no do-overs, and the hardest news of all of, “it goes too fast” (they say it because it’s true). The mess of it keeps getting all over the place, and some days I can’t help but wonder what my boys will say about me to their therapists. The chronic pain hasn’t helped, neither has this whole messy human thing, neither have the moments when I thought I was doing a fine job, but ended up wounding one of my boys.
I had one such moment this past week. I’d caught my teenager skipping a school assignment then lying to me about it for the second week in a row. I confronted him, said all the same stuff I’d said the week prior – “What’s the problem here? This isn’t like you” ..“I need you to take this seriously”.. “I need you to do the work” .. “Why did you lie to me? This would go better for you if you would just be honest with me” ..and then the punishment, “No screens for the weekend. You can have screens when you show me you can take your school work as seriously as you do playing X-box.”
Looking back on the conversation I felt I was firm but not cruel, a real A+, grown up mom moment. Unfortunately, that’s not what my son heard, not what he experienced. He heard he was a failure. He heard that he can’t do anything right. Heard he doesn’t deserve anything good because he made a bad mistake, which must mean he himself is bad at the core. He heard I was disappointed in him on a deep, tangled up tree root, level. He shared all of this through tears to his dad, my husband came to me to relay the sadness, and I was shocked. I wanted the kid to not lie and to get his school work done. That’s it! How on earth did he take it so personally, digest it like a deep wound, when he was being a turd in the first place and I was just trying to be a good mom?
My first instinct was to go to him and correct how he was feeling, tell him not to feel that way, instruct him in how to navigate his heart. “Don’t feel that way. You were the one who brought this on yourself.. You misunderstood me..” Then I remembered how much I hated that as a kid. I remembered how lousy it felt to be emotionally redirected by a grown-up standing on the outside of me, when I was so acutely aware of the pain inside of me. We feel the way we feel, we interpret our experiences the way our heart and mind tell us to, and it’s not our fault. The more we can hear and accept the other’s story of this human experience, take each other’s word for it, the faster we can get to the business of loving one another well. This is where grace comes in.
Grace is the whispering voice telling me I don’t have to be right or even close to perfect. She tells me I don’t have to be remembered by my kids as “a mom who never did or said anything that hurt.” Grace keeps me from going crazy over “why can’t I just be better?” and gives me a get out of jail free card from that prison. Grace coaches me, reminds me I don’t need my son’s experience to be the same as mine, because his personal memory of failure and rejection is real for him. Grace tells me what he needs most is a mom who is a lot like her boy – afraid she’s a failure, afraid management is disappointed, afraid she herself is bad because she’s not always able to be good, but who embraces grace amidst failure as the truest reality. Grace gives me the guts to accept my son right where he’s at, to meet him there instead of changing the storyline to my own narrative. In short, it lets me love him for him.
I followed grace’s lead and found my boy downstairs, walking with his head down through our dining room. I stopped him, stood toe to toe, put my hands on his shoulders and looked into his round, green, teenage eyes. I told him, “I want you to know I love you and I never meant to hurt you. I am so sorry I hurt you. I’m sorry you felt like a failure and like I was disappointed in you. You’re not a failure and I’m not disappointed in you. But the truth is, it won’t be the last time you feel those things, and I’m sorry for that, too. You’re gonna feel those things again throughout your whole life, lots of times, some of them because of me. So whenever you do, I want you to know you can talk to me or anyone else about it. I need you to know, no matter what, there’s nothing you could do to make me love you more, and there’s nothing you could do to make me love you any less. I love you just as you are.” He thanked me. We hugged.
This Mother’s Day I sat and opened cards and read words from the tender beating hearts of my boys. One by one I read what they think about me, and I realized again the most beautiful truth about being their mom – Grace is co-parenting my sons. Somebody else is in charge here and, thank God, it’s not me. I know this because despite my multitude of flaws, my pain, despite the good I do (that never feels good enough) and the bad I do (that I didn’t mean to do), my boys are remembering love, laughter, belonging, joy, open arms and a safe and lively home. Inside the card of my paper thin, glass-hearted teenager was a line, “..thank you for loving me and all of my teenage self..” Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt grace holding my hand, answering him in his fears, answering me in mine saying, “There’s nothing you could do to make me love you any less..I love you just as you are.”