What Do You Do, Mama?
** This so suddenly flew through my head, unprompted, that I jumped out of bed at midnight to write it. Somebody needs this. I don’t know who, but I am sending you love and strength as you read it. It's messy. It's unedited. It was cranked out in well under an hour. But it's here for you. With love. xoxo **
As children and young adults, it’s easy to judge and blame our parents for who they were and the example they set for us. It’s easy to blame them for who we are instead of taking responsibility for ourselves. Something happens when we become parents ourselves, though. Suddenly we look at them with greater understanding. Whether we agree with the choices they made in our lives as we grew up, we suddenly grant grace. They are, after all, humans who were doing the best they could to not screw us up and please, please, please get us to adulthood in one piece - despite our own best efforts at times. If they are still living we know we can go to them and they will always love us. Perhaps you judged their marriage but, after getting married yourself, you realize it isn't a simple fairy tale. It's love, respect, and work. Again, you find yourself giving them grace and silently thanking them for the good examples they set for you.
What happens, though, when you become a parent and the veil is quite suddenly ripped off your face? What happens when your spouse cheats on you, leaves you, or you walk away because you just can’t do it anymore? What do you do when you realize your marriage or childhood wasn’t “normal” and extending grace isn’t some small, harmless thing?
How do you reconcile the harsh realization that the same spouse or parent(s) didn’t love you the way “normal” ones love?
What do you do when you finally realize you spent your entire life or married life seeking love from a source that is incapable of giving it at the level you need and deserve?
What do you do when your children are forgotten by a parent or grandparent? Abandoned even? Or when they are replaced by step-children, half-children, or cousins? How do you protect them from that pain? How do you cope with the inability to protect them from harsh rejection by those who weren't supposed to reject them? In your helplessness, how do you help them?
How do you heal when you are routinely faced with how much you and your kids don't matter? Now you realize you never mattered. Not in the ways that count. It was all about fitting into a box and being what someone else needed you all to be. And those expectations? They were impossible to meet.
What do you do when you grew up being "jokingly" reminded that you weren’t wanted? That you would have been terminated if something had been “wrong” with you? What do you do with the pain and anger that you, an innocent child, were not protected from information you could not process or comprehend? Information that equated to you feeling like a massive, worthless inconvenience? That you shouldn't exist? Information that, as a parent now, you cannot imagine your own child being told? The very thought breaks your heart.
What do you do when toxic and abusive cycles of previous generations begin targeting and harming your marriage and children?
What do you do when your spouse or parent raged and screamed and tantrum-ed and manipulated to the point that you lost sight of which way was up? To the point that you lived on eggshells wishing for your parents' divorce or your very own?
After a traumatic divorce, how do you trudge through the judgment and lies without screaming the truth from the mountaintops? Because even that will be used against you. Again.
What do you do when your family and friends don’t believe you or think you're being overdramatic? When the therapist is the only one who supports you? When you walk away and everyone lets you do it?
What do you do when the feelings of pain, rejection, inadequacy, jealousy, and even hatred choke and overwhelm you?
Oh, my friend. There is so much here. Yet it barely scratches the surface.
First, I hope you already have or soon find professional support for yourself and your children. If you believe in God, bring Him into the equation, too. Second, I want you to know some of the most important things you can do for your family.
You hold your children close. You show and speak love into their lives every single day. Every. Single. Day. You hold their hands, look them in their eyes, and promise, “There is nothing you could ever do that will ever make me stop loving you. Never, ever, ever. I love you more than you could ever imagine and I always will.”
Then keep that promise.
You take your pain, step out of victimhood and into parenthood. You cannot protect them from every choice a parent or grandparent makes. After all, they are adults who are allowed to make such choices - consequences be darned. You can ensure your beautiful children know they have you. They have someone who loves them unconditionally, sets appropriate boundaries, cheers them, scolds them when necessary, listens to their growing pains, helps with homework, and is always there. Their achievements, while certainly a sense of pride, are about them, not you. You support who they are and make sure they know they can become who they want to become. Perhaps it’s who they are destined to become. You don’t make it seem that they must become who you want and need them to be. They don't have to dance a specific dance to feel your love and approval. Their lives aren't really about you at all. They have been entrusted to you for a little while. Eventually, they will go out into the world - hopefully as well-rounded, functional adults.
You show them what healthy relationships and boundaries look like. You show them it's okay to make mistakes and that it's important to say "I'm sorry" when you do. You surround your family with people who help you do it. You don't have to do it alone, even though it feels you've been left with no other choice.
What do you do, Mama? You make sure they know they are wanted and loved. Without fail. Without exception. You step up and be the parent they need as much as you can. You step up and be the parent you never had or that your children don't get from the other side.
Show them how to put love and kindness into the world. Set the example for doing good.
You still won’t be perfect. You’re still going to screw up. You’re going to be a human being who occasionally yells or hides in the bathroom because you can't take another second of bickering chaos. At times, you are going to set the wrong boundaries with the best of intentions. You are going to make mistakes. It is okay.
...because you love them. They know you love them. You are always there listening, supporting, and loving them.
You’re all going to get through this just fine. One day at a time.