Recently, my daughter was having a bad day. Her responses to my texts were clipped. I asked if she was annoyed with me and she responded, “No, I am just not in a good mood.” I texted to see if I could help. Her response was, “Not right now”. I replied, “I am always available for pep talks. Pompoms are extra!” That elicited a texted, “Haha” from her. I can always make her laugh. Later she told me that she had been having guy troubles but hadn’t yet felt like she wanted to tell me about it as I might not have approved of the situation. However, she finally decided that talking to me, even if I expressed disapproval, was better than keeping it in.
Due to her desire to keep our close relationship intact, I tried to suppress my feelings about the situation. I listened to her talk and offered only minimal suggestions. But I am not good at hiding my feelings, and I know she perceived my lack of enthusiasm. To make matters worse, she told me that her roommate had decided to get a kitten and she now had to help take care of a pet. I told her that I hoped she wasn’t expected to bear any financial responsibility for the kitty, as she barely makes enough money to support herself. I couldn’t keep my motherly concern to myself. We closed with our usual “I love you’s”, but it was obvious that things were strained.
Immediately, I realized I had to rectify the situation. I called her back and said, “Moms have no off switch”. Luckily, she chuckled. She knew I was apologizing for the inability to keep a tone of disapproval from my voice. The instinct to communicate openly, even if it means apologizing for my actions, is something I developed as a parent. It is one of the many things that have changed about me since becoming a mom almost 24 years ago.
Growing up, it had been difficult to admit I was wrong. My parents subscribed to the line, “Love Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry” and I adopted this attitude. I was accurately perceived as being judgmental and arrogant. Becoming a mother freed me from the burden of thinking I was always right. It became easier to admit fault and I became less defensive. My relationships improved, as few things are more disarming than someone admitting they are wrong.
My willingness to admit fault grew out of my desire to show my children I was a real person. I knew how harmful it was for a mother to appear perfect all the time. Occasionally I worried that being too real to my kids would affect the respect they had for me. But that has never been an issue. Opening up to them and being real, has always brought us closer.
With this closeness, they trained me to laugh at myself. I am gullible and easily-fooled. I used to try to hide this so as not to appear foolish, but I couldn’t fool my kids. They know me too well. They know that I have a terrible sense of direction and that I am the queen of U-turns. They know that I am an easy mark for teasing as I take things literally. At some point, I relaxed into the freedom of laughing at myself.
Freedom comes with a price and so it is as a mother. Along with the freedom of evolving as a person, other freedoms are lost. My children are tethered to my heart. I am only as happy as my unhappiest child. Good news from them makes my heart sing. When they suffer, there is a lump in the pit of my stomach. They are never far from my thoughts.
Having kids has trained me to worry and overreact. Unanswered texts cause me to picture overturned cars in ditches. When my daughter drives late at night, I do not relax until I receive a text with those two lovely words, “I’m home.” When my son flew overseas, I needed no alarm clock to awaken me when his flight was scheduled to land. I knew I would not be sleeping well that night.
Then again, I haven’t slept well since the mixed blessing of motherhood descended upon me. In the physical world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It’s the same with motherhood. For a mom, the heights of our joys are matched by the depths of our despair. Gratification in our kids’ accomplishments is equal to the self-doubt we feel about our parenting. Looking forward to their visits is equaled only by our desire to have them return to their own homes.
The point of no return is passed as soon as one becomes a parent. Everything changes. One needs a bigger house. Food bills are larger. Car insurance goes up. So does anxiety. Equal and opposite? Peace of mind becomes scarce. Sleep becomes scarce. Money becomes scarce. One day, our kids’ presence becomes scarce. But not in our heads. And not in our hearts.