I was thirteen when depression caught hold of me. Nothing mattered. Life was unstable. I was unstable. Despairing numbness filled the void left by the tears cried over dad leaving, my parent’s divorce, and the crash into the financial insecurity of a one parent home with a mother who had never worked within my childhood memories. Mom couldn’t even turn on the VCR by herself. Her assurances that we would be fine were lies that I wasn’t sure she believed herself. I had expected so much more of her. She was supposed to fix everything. She was supposed to know everything. She was supposed to be everywhere. She was supposed to be God.
I vowed to do better with the first hint of life in my womb which ended in sadness instead of birth. Through my second pregnancy Esther gave me new life and new hope, and I took the credit for bringing such a beautiful and wonderful person into the world. Every choice of when to start solids and how long to let her nap was life altering huge. The responsibilities weighed heavily on my young shoulders, but look how well she gained weight and slept and ate. I was her food. I was her comfort, and in spite of my fears I felt like a good mother.
I still hold on to moments of miracle parenting with Justin. This morning he cried when he wanted to stay home, but I had insisted he come with Mom and I on our errands. The storm of emotion washed over him, but he was comforted as we cuddled on the couch. My lap, my arms, and my soft shoulder soaked in sweet little boy tears were enough, and when the storm passed he was happy and able to enjoy the day.
Last week someone told me. “Little children, little problems. Big children big problems.” Having six kids ranging from high school to preschool puts those little problems into perspective. The older children’s struggles in life break my heart in a deeper and more profound way than the angry tears of a thwarted toddler ever did. Even good changes are stressful and though this new house is wonderful in a hundred different ways the move has been hard on us as a family, bringing out coping mechanisms that aren’t pretty.
Sophia asked me today if I remembered one of the little children accidently turning off the lights and locking themselves in the playroom/finished garage back in our house in Albuquerque. I didn’t remember it though the story sounds familiar. The small child might not remember either. At that age getting locked in a dark room is terrifying at the moment but the fear is washed away by relief at the end of the trial. Older children have a harder time recovering. They are the ones who demand to know why no one noticed they were missing. Why did no one hear them cry and scream. Didn’t anyone care? An unpleasant accident exposes hidden insecurities and the tears and rage are proportional to the deeper hurt. My teenagers might take the incident as a metaphor for the darkness and loneliness in their life and let the moment plunge them into an emotional pit.
I thought if I gave my kids a stable home life with a present father, a house and enough food that they would be happy, healthy people. It feels like failure to realize that nothing can prevent the scary moments in life, the accidents that make them question their safety, their worth and the love people have for them. There are always times of loneliness, fear and anxiety in this broken world.
Other people seem to think my efforts should be enough too, and when I reach out for support when I feel like a failure they often give further suggestions. The kids need a better diet. Cut out the sugar. Try going gluten free. They need more sleep. Put them on a better sleep schedule. Hug them more. Talk to them. Listen to them. Make them exercise. All good suggestions but so much easier to implement when they were nursing infants than independent people who are taller than I am. And what if the issues of rejection and anger and depression are generations old passing from grandparents to parents to me to the kids through DNA and subtle subconscious learning. What if the hurts are deeper than the foods we eat and the wealth or lack of wealth that surrounds us?
For so long I believed a myth that mothers should be able to solve their kids’ problems, and now I’m learning about healthy coping mechanisms that kids need to develop within themselves. No one wants to hear that their best may not be good enough. It’s a disappointment that rattles me to the core and makes me question how I value myself and how to measure success in life. And then I look at my mom and see how much I love her and how much I appreciate her very best. When I think of how much patience, love and faith she had every minute of every day of my teenaged life I want to have a fraction of her strength, and she went through it all as a single mother struggling alone while I have a huge support system.
What I like best about my mom is what a beautiful person she is. Over and over again in this gig called motherhood I find myself able to forgive mom her every failing as I join her in mortal humanity and beg God for grace and forgiveness for myself. Mom kept me from a slew of unhealthy coping mechanisms and I fell into my own dysfunctional ways. Lord have mercy on my children as they find their way through too. Perhaps we can all learn ways of being healthier together. Perhaps my kids will forgive me to or better yet will not have my unreasonable expectations for me or themselves.
A friend told me last week. “Keep doing your best and trust God to make up for the rest.” With God’s grace, that’s some advice I can follow.