On ‘Good’ Parenting

I wonder if my mom worried about being a good parent.

You know how people say, ‘Your child is going to turn out just like you!’, meaning that if you were a handful as a little person, it will come back to you?

I was a handful and wonder if anyone told my mom that. She never said it to me, at least as far as I can recall. We had a conversation about a week ago and I mentioned something about the first marriage; she told me a story from along in that time that I do not remember: I was in survival mode for sure, but was sad and shocked that I had absolutely no memory of the time she spoke of.

People say that the Creator of the universe makes no mistakes. I get that. It’s people that make mistakes.

I sometimes get into this cyclical thinking about what would have happened if I’d followed my true heart and not gotten into the first marriage. One result would be that I wouldn’t have had my son, that I wouldn’t have brought him into a difficult and dangerous situation. He is a miracle created out of my mistake. I have learned a lot from being his mom and wish I could go back in time and do better.

The what if’s can kill you if you let them.

A school photo of my son from long ago it seems, and a place far away …

I didn’t know anything about being a parent. No siblings, no babysitting jobs as a youngster, and in my situation then I certainly did not feel like I could talk to anyone about what life was like behind closed doors. That sweet little boy is now a young man, still so sweet yet so full of anger sometimes.

I hear the words come out of my mouth — in that way, the way of anger, he is so like his father — and I hate thinking it much less saying it. I can’t pull the words back because I believe them true and I am afraid. I don’t want my son to have that anger streak. After the first husband died, I took him to counseling for just that reason: I told the counselor about what an angry man his father was, what in his history had led to that anger (I understand it — a tough life filled with sad and terrible things can create such anger — but could not understand, or should I say could not accept, why we, his wife and son, had to take the brunt of it), and how I did not want my son to grow up with that ‘gene’ if possible.

I went to a women’t conference at my church weekend before last; one of the guest speakers talked about her childhood and later in life a counselor told her this: when there is emotional distress and/or mental illness, the person affected will often lash out at the person to whom he or she feels closest because he or she believes that person will love them no matter what.

The harshest version of unconditional love, I suppose.

But what if the treatment you receive doesn’t feel like love? Eventually, you or the other person goes away and is changed forever.

I made a social media post about wishing to be a better mom. Many folks commented with words of encouragement and comfort, for which I am eternally grateful. What is the measuring stick for ‘good’ parenting? Keeping our children safe? I think I fell way short on that one back when he was little. But it comes down to being the shield for things you can prevent (staying in a difficult situation) versus the possibility of worse (leaving and risking both our lives, which I truly believe was a real possibility).

Does staying make me by default a ‘bad’ parent? I don’t think so.

Could I have done more, done better? Sure. I think any parent would say that.

He said something yesterday about missing his dad (my second husband, who was the only dad he knew since he wasn’t even four when the first husband died) and wishing he’d been a better son. It wasn’t the first time he’d said it and my response was the same — ‘You loved him, he loved you, and that’s all that matters’, which he seems to accept at the time I say it. He nodded and said he would do better, that God has given him a second chance and he wants to do better.

My son trusts me and I think that’s what hurts the most.

Before he came into existence through me, he was. We all were. Birth allowed us to manifest as people outside the spirit realm and so here we are. We are entrusted with the care of those souls that become our children. The Creator of the Universe trusts us to care for each one. Trust connects us to one another in a powerful way. My son was hesitant to get to know my second husband, I think because it had been just him and me for such a time. After 16 years though, he had grown up with Christopher and knew him as Dad. When Christopher crossed the Rainbow Bridge, my son was acutely aware of having lost a parent.

As I move on in life, he has made it clear that he worries about me. He trusts my decisions. If I trust someone, he trusts them just as much if not more so; if I am happy, he is happy.

He is on the autism spectrum and it is difficult to know how he will react from one time to another, even when the situation is similar. We had a nice visit for most of yesterday, until he pulled some shenanigans and got called out on it. His house mom and I generally take the same tactic — if he does something publicly, we will discuss it publicly. No yelling or anything like that, but all attempts will be made to let him know that what he did was not okay. Civil discussion and explanation, combined with examples from previous situations where the same actions were still not okay, and why. Some days it works, some days, not so much.

Yesterday was one of the days it didn’t go so well.

Several people who commented on my post suggested that we work with what we have when it comes to parenting. I guess it’s like building a race car: if I have a state-of-the-art garage with all the finest tools and parts, a super team of technicians, and s fantastic set of blueprints to follow, I could build the best race car ever; conversely, if I have one flathead screwdriver, some leftover scrap metal and bicycle tires, and a roll of duct tape, I might be able to cobble together something that could get me from Point A to Point B, but it won’t be a race car. However, if I go to the race car store and talk to someone who has the blueprints and who can tell me where to get the finest tools, parts, and technicians, I might come out with something pretty all right.

I wish someone had told me that sort of stuff back when I was pregnant, that I’d had someone I could have opened up to about what was going on. Or something. Maybe I would have been a ‘better’ mom through it all. Maybe I’d be a ‘better’ mom today, who could navigate shenanigans better, who could live up to the trust of her son better.

Being ‘better’ doesn’t just happen, I know. Each day, each encounter, is filled with new lessons.

Hopefully, I’m learning still.

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    1. That’s it … remain sane and alive in some instances. Those are stories for long evenings, in front of a good fire, with at least a pint of whiskey to split …