Being a parent is often a thankless job. We love our children more than we can ever articulate — and are hurt more than they’ll ever know. Being a full-time parent offers even greater challenges. We’re the ones they lash out at when they’re hurting, and even though we know that makes us the safe person in their lives, it’s no picnic to endure screams of “I hate you” when they’re in distress.
“If you have never been hated by your child, you have never been a parent.” ~Bette Davis
The last few weeks have been challenging in my household. My children are adjusting to a new medicine for ADHD, and it’s been a rocky road. I am exhausted and often defeated before the day even begins. I know that they love me, but every single meltdown breaks my heart. I remind myself they’re overstimulated. I talk myself through everything I know to be true. It still hurts when I’m the one that bears the brunt of their anger.
I found myself talking to my mother after the kids were in bed. We haven’t always had the closest relationship, but since I’ve had trauma therapy, it’s been easier to talk openly. I admit that I’m struggling and that they’re breaking my heart. She knows. She tells me that she knows, but I also hear it in her voice. Being a mom is the most difficult job in the whole world, and she gets it. I tell her that kids universally suck, and she laughs because we both know it’s not entirely a joke.
“When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.” ~Nora Ephron
As we’re growing and learning as children, we’re also testing our boundaries and dealing with the fluctuations of hormones. It’s not an easy time to be a child, and it’s not easy to be a parent either. It’s hard, and maybe it universally sucks all around — except when it’s beautiful and brilliant and the best thing we ever decided to do.
Before I get off the phone,I tell my mom that I’m sorry for every time I ever hurt her. It’s an inadequate apology at best, but it’s something. And I am sorry. It’s hard to try our best and feel like we’re failing. It’s even worse when we know we’ve made mistakes we can’t erase. As a mother myself, I know how hard it is, and even though it’s woefully insufficient, I apologize anyway and tell her I love her.
My mom wasn’t a perfect mom any more than I was a perfect daughter, but I’m not hung up on perfection these days. I’d much rather have flawed relationships where we love each other and try our best than wait for a standard of perfection that none of us can hope to achieve. I’m not a perfect mom, and I don’t have perfect kids, but it means something that I’m trying even when I feel like I’m failing. It means something that I can share that moment with my mother where I understand exactly how hard parenting is and always has been.
“Parenthood…it’s about guiding the next generation and forgiving the last.” ~Peter Krause
It’s easy to forget that parents are learning, too.For those of us without the benefit of secure attachment styles, it’s all uphill. We’re trying to figure out how to create functional families when maybe we’ve never had one of our own. We’re trying to break generational cycles while struggling with the pain of those patterns.
We’re human beings who are responsible for younger human beings, and we mess up a lot. They’re learning right along with us, and we can expect lots of friction to occur. It’s a heartbreaking process that I don’t regret taking on, buton days like today, I feel the heaviness of the burden of trying to be a good mom and never feeling quite good enough.
“I came to parenting the way most of us do — knowing nothing and trying to learn everything.” ~Mayim Bialik
Of course, I’m aware that some mothers opt not to raise their children. Some mothers are narcissistic or have other issues that create a barrier to being a healthier parent. I can understand why children of mothers like that don’t want to apologize. It’s valid.
But my mom tried. I’ve always known that she loved me even when I wasn’t sure she’d ever understand me. I still think she struggles to understand who I am — and balks even more at accepting it. She tried, and it wasn’t easy. Parenting never is.
During that short phone call, we shared a moment where we both acknowledged that being a parent can be just as terrible as it is beautiful. It’s hard, and it hurts. The very least I could do was acknowledge it and tell her I’m sorry for all the ways I hurt her. The ways I meant to and the ways I didn’t. All the ways I didn’t realize I did. All the ways I will hurt her again, however unintentionally. It was a blanket apology for all of it — an acknowledgment that she did her best, and it was always good enough.
I feel that there’s immense value in acknowledging that most parents are doing their best — and that their best doesn’t often look like or deserve to be compared to our own. There’s this moment of growth and maturity that happens when we find empathy for our own parents’ struggles rather than only viewing the past from the perspective of a child. It’s a powerful thing to see the full scope of parenting and have a little compassion for what our parents endured in order to raise us to the best of their abilities.
In their own way, they likely tried to break cycles, too. Maybe they are different ones we don’t know about because we never thought to ask or never looked beyond our own wants and needs. We become the next generation of cycle breakers — or else, perpetuators — and we’ll surely mess up, too, but we can have hope that our children do a little better and so on and so forth until there’s a domino effect of change through future generations. At least, I like to think there will be. With every generation, we’re offered a chance to heal intergenerational pain and stop it from doing further harm.
“I decided that the most subversive, revolutionary thing I could do was to show up for my life and not be ashamed.” ~Anne Lamott
Parenting might just be the most challenging job we’ll ever undertake. Even after a frustrating day, I step into the room to check on my sleeping children. I drop a kiss on their foreheads that they won’t remember. I pull their covers up and make sure they have whatever plushie is currently most in demand. I check that the nightlights are on, and that everything is as it should be.
Tomorrow, I might wake up defeated, or I might wake up with a glimmer of hope that the day will turn out better. I know I’ll keep trying to be a good mother either way. Maybe now I’ll be a better daughter, too.
Originally published on Scribe