As a mother, I often wonder if I’m doing a ‘good job’. My upbringing didn’t really teach me good parenting skills, and I frequently fight back the anxiety that I’m passing my pain onto the next generation in a never ending cycle. Parenting is a largely thankless job on a daily basis. However, once in a while, God gives us a pat on the back through our children—just enough affirmation to fill our sails and keep us going through often troubled waters. I never imagined one of those moments would come during the NFL draft.
As we watched the story of one young man who had just been drafted in the first round, the journalists described how his father had died, and his mother had abandoned him as a small child. His grandmother took him in and raised him. He made a promise to her on her deathbed that he would go on to the NFL, and his drafting was the fulfillment of that promise. Really, his story was incredible. That’s the short version of it.
My sweet, sensitive, 8-year-old look concerned.
G: “How did his dad die?”
Me: “I don’t know, Honey, he didn’t explain that part.”
G: (very softly and sadly) “Why did his mommy leave him?”
Me: “I don’t know. He didn’t explain that part either. But the blessing is that his grandmother took him in to raise him and take care of him.”
G: (in a soft, anxious, trembling voice) “You won’t ever abandon US will you, Mommy?”
Oh, my sweet little sensitive girl. I realized at that moment just how much she internalizes people’s emotions and analyzes emotionally charged situations. She was devastated to think that some man she never met, as a child, was abandoned by the most important people in his life. (In HER life.)
At this point, 4-year-old little sister runs over and chimes in.
M: “Yeah, Mommy, you not going to leave us are you?”
I now had both of my children’s undivided attention, and I prayed for words because I didn’t know how to answer these unexpected questions. My words would carry great weight, and my 8-year-old would take every one straight to her heart.
Me: “No, sweetheart, I will never abandon you and your sister. I will never choose to leave you. I love being with you. My favorite place on earth is wherever you and your daddy are.”
The wave of relief was palpable as it washed over both of their little countenances. They both enveloped me in bear hugs.
G: “Whew! I’m so glad you won’t ever leave us! Because you make us SO HAPPY! We would be very miserable without you if it was just us and Daddy.
(I successfully repressed the laughter at that remark. Even in their raw honesty, kids can say the funniest things.)
Me: “And you make my heart very happy too. There are lots and lots of moms and dads who work hard to love their families and provide for them. I don’t know why there are also so many who choose to leave. Maybe some of them are sick. Maybe they have mental health problems. Maybe they just make bad choices. It makes me very sad. But I am so glad that this young man’s grandmother took care of him.”
The conversation continued. She was so concerned and pensive. If he was homeless when he was a little kid, how did he find a place to live? Why did he tell his grandmother he would leave that place? What do you mean the neighborhood was bad? What kind of bad choices were people making? Were they the only two people who lived there making good choices?…..
I answered each question as honestly and lovingly as I could. (Conversations like this make me feel so very underqualified to be a parent.) I tried to help her understand a world she (thankfully) has not experienced yet. As I pondered our conversation later, I felt overcome with gratitude. By the time I was her age, even though I grew up in a middle class “nice” neighborhood, I was well acquainted with the fear and anger that accompany addiction. I knew what it was like to want to be home with my parents while simultaneously fearing it and wishing to be somewhere else. My bedroom window screen was always off and hidden so I had a quick escape route when I needed it. I never knew from day to day (or minute to minute) if I would feel loved, wish to be invisible, or become the target of unearned anger and guilt.
It is sobering to think that a year ago, as an adult, I felt that my family would be better off without me. My kids needed a better mother, and my husband deserved a better wife. I was a failure; I was exhausted, empty, and miserable, and I didn’t understand why God kept me on this earth.
I was partly right. My kids and husband do deserve a good mom and wife. But they don’t need a different one. They deserve a better ME. I do too. I am so grateful for God, for Al-Anon, and for the other 12 step resources that give me the tools I need to learn healthier habits. Because I am learning self-love and self-care, I am learning to be a better example for my children. I am more patient and less angry. Evidently, I have successfully made home a happy place where my children feel safe to be themselves and know they are wanted. I look back at that scared little girl who dreamed of having a happy family and a safe home, and I want to tell her that we did it! We worked hard and trusted God, and He has provided all we need and then some. Our blessings are immeasurable. God heals the broken-hearted, and He teaches us how to love. As He teaches me, I teach my children. And this is how the cycle is broken. Where there is anger or fear, I will sow love and faith.