One of the greatest struggles that mothers face is grounded in the difficulty of accepting their children as they are. Actually, perhaps an even greater struggle is admitting that we don’t already do that. I remember watching television shows as kid about parents who were always trying to get their kids to be different than they were—more smart, more talented, more distinguished, more outgoing, more artistic, more focused on career, more focused on family, more focused on school—it ran the gamut. But the message was the same: parents are never satisfied. I remember watching these shows and wondering why it was so hard for parents to just allow their children to be, why parents couldn’t just offer motivation and helpful support without being so utterly invested in the outcome, so completely wrapped up in their children’s choices or proclivities. I remember vowing that I wouldn’t be that kind of parent. That I would love my children through full acceptance, that I would separate my identity from theirs and give them the freedom to figure out who they wanted to be without my intrusions. I vowed that I wouldn’t say “I wish he would just be more…” and “I wish she wouldn’t be so…” because I would know that they would figure their own lives out and I would accept them fully and completely as they are. I would not push my goals on them; I would not insist that my life vision be theirs. And above all, for god’s sake, I would not assume that they owe me something.
Some mothers are reading this, I imagine, thinking “Yes, this is so very important; why aren’t more parents able to do this when I know it’s possible because I do it.” (Perhaps many of these mothers have young children.) Others may be reading this and thinking “Hah! That’s what I thought too! It’s impossible.” But my guess is that many of those who read this are thinking “Yes, I do want to do that but it is so hard when life has taught me just exactly how actions have consequences and just exactly how being more this and less that will create a very different life.
I continue to be struck by how simple “letting your children be who they are” sounded when I was young and I continue to be surprised at how very, very difficult it is to disinvest from my children’s outcomes. I fancy myself someone who has done a yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) job giving my children freedom to find their way as individuals. So in some ways I have tried to live up to my youthful vow about what kind of parent I’d be. But the truth of the matter is that I have, many many times, been quite dissatisfied with where my children were at various points, and even now, there are points at which I regret the choices they make. I have found myself, and do find myself, wishing they could be more this or less that; I do find that my identity is quite wrapped in them and their choices. And I do feel like they owe me—at least a life they have lived well if nothing else. All of this I (repeatedly) find surprising; it doesn’t fit my image of my maternal self. For me though, they hardest part isn’t really about accepting where my children have come to; it’s in accepting where I’ve come to. The hard part is in accepting that I am not the parent I thought I would be in many ways. That I had no idea when I made those childhood vows that parenting is quite paradoxical. That I am actually obligated to redirect my children’s choices when I believe they are misguided and that I am also supposed to figure out how to simultaneously disinvest from those choices. And this is, needless to say, pretty tricky work at which I succeed only some of the time.