Parents often ask me, “Am I doing the parenting thing right?” “I want to be a good Mom,” or “I hope my kids remember some of the good stuff and not all of my mess-ups.” I see the agony on their faces when their child is hurting, and I hear their inner plea,” Please, don’t let it be because of me.” When there was something, perhaps they could have done differently I see their breathing shallow and their eyes silently begging for their child’s forgiveness. Sometimes I see a parent’s fatigue, overwhelm, and exhaustion. I hear from deep in their gut a quiet yell, “Damn, this is hard.” And when something wonderful, even the tiniest of wonderful occurs, I see their eyes fill with tears of pure joy and relief.
I’ve had parent’s ask me, “Do you think my kids will remember any of the good or just my mistakes?’ Here’s my answer:
In the seventeen years my mother was alive, I probably complained a lot. No, I know I complained a lot. When I was an early teenager I threw out a few blaming “It’s because of you” or “It’s all your fault” statements. Now, eighteen years later I can’t remember why I said those things – all I remember is the good stuff. My mother standing at the top of the stairs, cooking chicken soup in the kitchen, and smiling as I came in the front door from school, her arms open wide to greet me. I remember her studying social studies facts with me, writing “you’ll do great” on my arm, trying to relax my anxious mind; and when I was afraid of the playground ghost stories she would sit in the beanbag chair in my bedroom until I fell asleep. I remember watching her at the kitchen table doing homework with my sister in the evening, after she had already picked me up from tennis practice and made dinner – hours after she had undergone chemotherapy and radiation– sitting giving time to us.
Your kids will remember your tiny gestures -when you rub their back when they have a cold, tucking them in at night and allowing that extra bedtime story – just because. They’ll remember when you greet them at the door, or put your phone/work/emails down to listen to the new joke they learned, or you surprising them at school for an ice-cream date. They will look back one day and understand you did the best you could with what you had at the time.
I had my mom for seventeen years. It was not nearly long enough. But when she was here – she was here; she was present. We knew we were loved and she took the time to make sure of that. She filled us up with enough love to last, and for that I am grateful.
Give your children TIME, create memories, participate in family ritual (traditions), laugh and joke together, give hugs, say, “I love you,” say, ”I’m sorry,” and look them in their eyes and listen. These are the things they will remember. Give yourself a break – you are doing a great job.