This morning was one of those chilly mornings. My eleven year old bounced on the bed to wake me, but the warmth my body had created beneath the covers had enveloped me like a gentle hug. He climbed in with me and suggested we stay put for the day. Jammies, books, movies and snacks, pure bliss. I am a mom of three, he is the only one left at home. I know better, I have learned all the lessons the hard way. Yet here I am pondering the thought of wrapping him in this tender bubble forever. Their pain is our pain, multiplied by a million. Worse than that, it is all our fault.
My daughter was only three when she had her first seizure. I thought she was dying in front of me. My oldest son had a tonsillectomy at eighteen months, then hemorrhages in my arms. I thought he was dying. My youngest has had three sets of tubes in his ears. Both my boys have an astigmatism in their eyes. Two of my children have epilepsy. One is allergic to strawberries. One worries so much it keeps him up at night. One struggles in social situations. Both of my boys stuttered until they were six. One didn’t speak until he was two. One didn’t walk until he was two. One struggles with self-worth. I have laid awake at night crying and blaming myself for each of these.
I have been a mom for twenty-three years. It does not get easier, their problems evolve. You will go from blaming yourself for bumps on the head and potty training, to why they don’t value themselves. The day my daughter had her first seizure, I was awake for two straight nights. I went over every possible scenario of what I did wrong to cause this. I threw up every pre-natal vitamin I tried to take. That is it, THAT must be what caused this neurological mystery. No, wait….I ate tuna once at midnight. I am pretty sure that was on the list of “what not to do’s.” Maybe I bundled her up too much at night? I knew it, I should have breast-fed her. She ate eggs before her first birthday. It MUST have been that one glass, errr sip of wine I had before I knew I was pregnant.
Each and every struggle our children encounter as they grow feels like a stab into our heart. If it is medical, we are sure we didn’t feed them the right food, get them enough rest, or see the right doctors. If their struggles are emotional, we take them on as our own. We will literally move heaven and earth to fix the situation immediately.
Stop. We are doing serious harm to ourselves and our children by parenting this way. Yes, mom guilt is real and it sucks. This is what I have learned both by living it and learning it. Things will happen that are out of your control (like epilepsy). You will make genuine mistakes, own them and apologize. How you choose to react and handle each situation is how your child will learn to do the same. If you stress, over analyze, over react and are anxious about each and every event, they will too. Be accountable for your actions, make them accountable for theirs. All behaviour is learned behaviour.
When our children hurt, we hurt. It is natural that we want to make that stop immediately. Just don’t forget it is also your job to give them the skills to heal themselves as well. We never seem to find that line, that magical age when they should be figuring this thing called “life” out for themselves. We begin by teaching them to hold a spoon, and release them into the wild without the knowledge of how to do their taxes. “Oh don’t worry about that honey, I’ll take care of it for you.” No!! Equip them with all the skills necessary to succeed. Do not set them up for failure. This is how we produce confident and resilient humans instead of anxious and needy ones.
It is statically proven that we are raising children who are more anxious and less able to handle stress. I should know, my eleven year old worries about what University he should go to already. He also has the timing down pat of when to get dressed in the morning, and brush his teeth so he isn’t late for school. He worries about worry before worry happens. Why is this happening? In his case it is learned behaviour and we are working on it. 🙂
There are many theories. What are mine? Two reasons. First, we are forgetting to give them the tools they need to feel reassured they can handle things. Just take a second and think back to when you were a kid. I like to use myself as an example in these cases. When I was eleven, I walked myself too and from school. I made my own lunches and started dinner on occasion when I arrived home. I babysit for families to earn extra money. My parents did not sit down with me and do homework, that was my responsibility. My parents did not volunteer countless hours at the school. If I forgot anything at home, calling a parent to bring it was unheard of. I went without. After school was never scheduled time by my parents. We played outside for hours with friends. If we had an issue with a teacher or a bully at school, our parents and a social committee did not form to discuss the issue. We dealt with it. As harsh as all of these things seem to some people today, many of these scenarios were beneficial.
When I took a good look at these, I began to incorporate some of them in my own parenting. Out of sheer desperation while raising two teenagers and a toddler at the same time, I thought, “What do I have to lose?” My children were appalled when I announced they would be making their own lunches or starve. Mortified at the thought that I would no longer be their chauffeur to and from high school. I told them both that I would no longer be monitoring their homework. I told them their education was their responsibility and if they chose to fail, so be it. They would have to show up in class with assignments not finished and fail tests, not my problem. Oh and if you want those “perfect” jeans for class tomorrow, you better get your laundry done. They were also told they had two weeks into summer vacation to get a job or I would find one for them. They didn’t enjoy working in a hot corn field that year, but it was a valuable lesson.
Please know that each time I have to teach these lessons, I doubt myself. Of course it is easier on my heart to give all of them what they want and need. That instant gratification on their face. The “Oh my gosh thank you Mom,” and the warm smile. I have learned that I am causing them harm. Now that my oldest are adults, they have thanked me. Let me tell you, there is no greater gift than that.
Second, we as adults forget our children are watching and listening. When we are stressing, worrying and anxious, they know it. We think that we are hiding these things from them, but we are not. You would be amazed how much great can come from including your children in family conversations that even include finances. The car may need to go in for repairs but you are trying to decide if it is worth it, or if you should replace it. What would be more feasible? What do they think? Show them the budget, teach them. It helps establish the value of money and they won’t be wondering what all the whispering and stress is about. We do not give these kids enough credit. Again, simply think back to your own childhood. Allow them the responsibility and let them feel the importance, but please do not shoot glitter in the air and give them a gold star each time they make their lunch. We need them to understand this is normal, expected behaviour.
We want them to be great. We want them to feel loved and important. We don’t want them to act entitled or spoiled. As parents, those things are indeed our job and we need to give them the tools to accomplish it. As adults, allow them their journey and to take responsibility for their own lives. All of the mom guilt you may be holding, that is simply a measure of the amount of love you have for your babies. It never leaves, it just changes. We all make mistakes, apologize when you do. Who said this was going to be an easy job? Be gentle on yourself. I thank the Universe for my three babies and the premature grey hair they have given me every day. 🙂
Much Love ❤