It occurs to me that this blog is sometimes like a journal for me, although it’s a very different thing than my actual journal. My next thought is often–Is this kind of post appropriate? And then, What does appropriate mean here? And then on to: Is anyone even interested? I don’t actually think these are questions for me to ask, really–like, they’re none of my business and out of my lane. I just feel to write. The end. I love reading about people’s processes and real experience from a real place–like journals or letters. So, here you go, a quite personal post.
My latest book has just been published, and in it, I talk about my relationship with my dad, to some extent. The essence of it is there, in any case. My mom I mention quite a bit, and my relationship with her underlies so much of the book (and my life) in its entirety, but I’d like to honor my mom today–in this way: I understand more now, Mom. Being a mom, I thought I understood her before, and didn’t understand at all the same time. But being a mom who is fairly close to the age my mom was when I was born is something a shade different. I understand more now. At least I think I do. To parent a child starting at 18 years old (my age when my son was born) is quite a different animal then beginning again at 47 (my age when my daughter was born). My was in her 20’s when my siblings were born, and in her 40’s when I (surprise!) came along.
This is what I hear from other people about the spread of my own children’s ages (28 years):
- Ooh, it must be so much easier this time around–you know how to do it now.
- You have so much wisdom and experience now.
- You get to fix your mistakes from the first time around. Alternate: Eighteen! You were such a baby yourself–that must have been so hard! You must really want a re-do.
- You’ve already accomplished what YOU need to do in your life at this point so you can really concentrate on parenting.
Well. It doesn’t really seem to track like that. At least for me. And here Mom, this is why I think I get it somewhat more deeply now:
- It’s not easier–I don’t necessarily “know how to do it now”. I 100 forgot about so many things since raising my son. Sure, I know some things. And I’m not terrified–but I also wasn’t terrified the first time. I just didn’t know what didn’t know. In some ways, it’s more daunting when you do know. When I started acting, I would say yes to every job, thinking–What’s the big deal? I can do this! And I did–often by the seat of my pants, screaming internally like I was on the freakiest roller-coaster ever–because I was. After I’d been in the business awhile, I knew what I didn’t know. And it was much more daunting. Parenting isn’t scary for me, that’s not what I mean. I’m just saying I knew what I was getting into and the massive depth of the commitment this time. But also…my daughter is a different person than my son is. I’m a different person than I was when I raised him, in many ways. My life certainly looks completely different now, and I couldn’t say it’s “better” or “worse” circumstantially in so many respects–how do you measure pros and cons in that way? It’s just different.
- Yes I have more wisdom and experience…but it doesn’t always apply directly to parenting. And my conditioning is still present in many (sometimes strong) ways. Parenting, like intimate romantic relationships, can call you to the carpet and bring you to your knees in terms of the limitations of your conditioning. Both are an opportunity to feel what’s really going on and to allow it to release. And this is The Work, for sure, for real. On my knees, I’m grateful for it. And it’s fucking hard sometimes. Despite what I didn’t know then, I’m pretty happy with how I raised my son. He turned out incredible–not that I can take all the credit. This time around is just a completely different ballgame–I have to (get to) learn my child (and unlearn the conditioning of “me”) just as much if not more than I did the first time.
- I don’t feel the need to fix or want a “re-do” of my parenting at 18. See above. Although I’ve learned a few things, I think I was just as genuine, heart-centered and smart (or not smart) then as I am now and everything worked out just fine. It was hard sometimes, but everything is hard sometimes, and now is no different. There are gives and takes. For example, I attended college throughout my son’s childhood–for 15 years. That was both hard on all of us and a gift too. I think my son would agree. He’s definitely caught my love of learning and going to college himself was a given to him–he just graduated with his MBA and when I asked him, “How does it feel to be finished with school?” he snickered and snarked something to the effect of, “You’re my mom, you really think I’m done?” I love that. This time around I write. And I write. And I write. I do my thing in a different way now. I’m proud my daughter will internalize that too. It’s just different from my first-time-around parenting.
- Accomplishments…ok yeah I graduated from college. And I worked through doing what I don’t love doing in my life…these are incredibly valuable for sure. And many more. But my interests in pursuits, my passions for writing and everything else I loved have strengthened, if anything. And having half a lifetime of creating on a pretty high-level and then needing to stop all that when I’m really flowing to play Peppa Pig–not getting to create when I want to–is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. I love my daughter more than I can ever put into words. I love playing with her. It’s a million percent an honor and a privilege. I can 100% get into that and totally enjoy it. I know that playing with her is the most important work I could do. And still…when that lightening hits me and all I want to do is be at the keyboard creating, it’s hell, man. As she gets older and I’m able to take the time out to create and she’s still content, or at least I know that modeling “mom creates and follows her heart and doesn’t put everyone’s needs above her own always” is important for her to internalize for her own life. My mom didn’t do this. I understand why. But the anger, the frustration, the resentment and the guilt from all of that–it’s too high of a price to pay and doesn’t, in the end, benefit the child at all. In fact, it’s detrimental to everyone. Concentrating 100% on my daughter, all the time (as my therapist reminds me regularly) creates unpleasant children who become narcissistic adults. Not what we’re going for. But because my mom denied herself her self, just about all the time, I tend to feel a lot of guilt and shame if I choose me sometimes. That line is a difficult one for me, and for sure for my mom. We struggled with this, like many other women in our culture, in which mothering is both put on a pedestal and at the same time completely devalued.
There is so much more I could say. But I’ll leave it with this:
I’m honored to be a mom. I’m honored to have had a mom. In my opinion, moms need to not only be honored more in general, but also valued in our culture. When we see financial value placed on the work of motherhood, we’ll know we’re getting close. Though I can’t be in my mom’s experience, and I realize thinking I understand where she was coming from a little bit more now is mostly a projection, I do think I get her more, and I think she’d agree. If I could have a conversation with her about it, I bet she’d feel at least a little bit more understood. I think she lived alone in her suffering in many ways, although she was married to my dad her whole adult life; she didn’t seem to be able or to choose to look her challenges in the eye and work with them to free herself. That must be the most painful life of all. My mom was complex, like all of us–and I’m so grateful to and for her. She’s an enormous part of why I love games and books and puzzles and learning and birds and Nature and clean, organized spaces. She could be incredibly silly and a ton of fun, so strong and such a hard worker. She could be really magical. She could also be the flip side of the coin. I think in the end, suppression and repression of unimaginable childhood trauma formed a hard shell around her and that she never escaped her own cages. The forces of her childhood were too dark, too strong, perhaps. I think I understand a minuscule fraction of my mom and her life, what prompted and informed her parenting. Some of it was damned hard on me, and I’m sure on her too. I forgive it all, and set her free. Since she’s no longer here in form, the emotions trapped in her mind and body that she couldn’t face and release no longer trap her. And I can free her from my own psyche’s cages as well, and with it, a little more of myself. Fly free, Mom. I love you.