What makes you feel like a good parent?
Sometimes I am not so sure, myself. I think it changes, depending on the life stage in which you find yourself, and with the ages of your children.
When my kids were small, I was into baking my own bread. I stopped because it was toooo yummy and we ate too much of it. I made sure my kids had healthy foods and were exposed to an array of different dishes, so they could develop more sophisticated palates eventually. I did not not fill their lunch boxes with packaged treats. I even baked our dog’s biscuits. This used to make me feel like “a good mom”.
There were times when they begged me for white bread and for Twinkies. I drew the line when it came to air and chemical filled goodies, though I wasn’t totally rigid about what I considered reasonable things. They did have some sweets, but in general, I tried to keep what I felt were unhealthy and/or harmful things from entering the little temples that were their bodies.
These days, as adults, when they get together, they sometimes collude and back up each other’s stories, doing their best to convince me that my memory is failing. Fortunately, I have plenty of evidence and more objective witnesses to verify that I still have pretty sharp recall. I have been known to relay, almost verbatim, some conversations I had with some people more than thirty or forty years ago. Some people do admire that in me, though others have been both astonished and irritated! It’s probably the writer and coach in me, that accounts for the attention to minute details that get stuck in my head and that others would have long ago discarded as clutter and as useless.
One of my adult kids insists I permanently traumatized his taste buds by feeding him squash pancakes as a child, and he cannot stand even the thought of eating squash now. The one close to his age vehemently agrees. The problem is, I know I have never made squash pancakes (not that there’s anything wrong with them). I have no idea how to make them. I have made breaded squash blossoms, zucchini bread, of course, baked squash with cheese, and even with maple syrup. This often-recurring discussion of squash pancakes then starts an avalanche of “Weird Stuff Mom Fed Us and Did to Us” routines, some of which are quite funny, though often never happened, or if they did, are an exercise of my kids’ skills as revisionist historians.
When it comes to remembering way back and how my older kids spin things, I can feel at somewhat of a disadvantage, because there is nobody else around now to corroborate or dispute their versions of family tales. Depending on the accusations being made, or the significance of what they are throwing my way, there are times, admittedly when I feel sad, unsupported and alone, and my grief over the fact that my first husband never got to see his kids grow up, and that the rest of my family isn’t with us any longer, can bring me to tears and can put a quick damper on a family gathering. I may have to ask that the subject be changed, or may need to quietly remove myself from the group for a few minutes.
There are other times when the versions my kids spin are absolutely hilarious and I receive them in a spirit of fun, though most of them have the theme of how “dumb, clueless or naive was Mom”.
I will give you some of the less heavy examples. There was the time that jokester Mom bought a huge licorice gummy rat and put it under one kid’s blanket. Shortly after, one of them took the rat and placed it in a sibling’s bed and the story goes that the sibling, his younger brother, came to me and bellowed “There is a rat in my bed smoking a cigarette”, and according to him, naive mother jumped up and ran into his room to look. Now give me a break, please!!! I hope you don’t believe I did that for one minute. Still, to this day, this tale is used to illustrate by my kids that in their eyes I was always very gullible.
There is also talk of hiding things from mother than should have been obvious. One kid, at a young age, copied some “bonus bucks” on my copy machine and used them in school to add to the ones his teacher was handing out, in order to win little prizes, until he got caught. My first reaction, after questioning him and being told he absolutely did not do this, was to go to school to confront the teacher and to defend him. I was very certain that my son was innocent. I was wrong! When he finally confessed to the crime, I had to go back to apologize profusely. The kids don’t remember this in the light of having a mother who trusted and believed them and stood up for them, but rather under the vast umbrella of how I was gullible and fell short of what I should have been.
Sure, they do talk sometimes of the plays we used to enact together and the stories we wrote, of the holiday celebrations, the reading of certain family favorite stories as a ritual they loved, of the crazy Halloween costumes I made for them, and of other memorable things. I think somewhere in there, there is appreciation, and it does get expressed periodically, but rarely at family get-togethers when all are present. I suppose there is safety and support in numbers and I am the odd-man out in such settings.
When it comes to stories my youngest spins, at least my current husband can sometimes back up my perspective, if he is present when these stories are being hurled out into the air.
Still, travel down memory lane, though pleasant at times, can also be as dangerous as trying to go through a minefield. We tend to embed how we want to perceive ourselves and our lives into our histories. It can be healthy to examine the past through the lens of being much older and more mature. We can also skew how things happened, consciously or unconsciously, in order to justify how we feel about things now, or to further a specific agenda or motive we may have by altering the facts, or by remembering them in a different way than they actually happened.
I keep telling myself that my kids will be more supportive and more sympathetic “when they are older”. I am not just not sure what the magic age for this will be. There is a 20 year span from my youngest to my eldest. I am not saying they are never supportive or sympathetic, but being firmly planted, as I am, in the Sandwich Generation years right now, and dealing with elder issues as well as those of my four kids, all with very different needs, issues and talents, I know I would love to feel a little more supported. I would love to feel that my kids see me as a person (with flaws and strengths) and also that they appreciate the things I have done for them. I know, though, that it took me a while to begin to see my parents as human and as having feelings, needs, hopes and aspirations of their own. I wasn’t always as supportive to them, in retrospect, as might have been helpful when they were going through various life stage changes and crises.
For example, when my father lost his job after 41 years of working for the same company, I knew he was worried, but I was too busy focusing on how this might affect me and whether I would need to take a break from my education and plans.
When my grandparents began to age and to suffer from various complaints with which my parents had to deal, it never occurred to me that they might have felt fear, stress and overwhelm. I expected them to be right there taking care of me and championing my causes and ambitions, as always.
When my brother died in his forties, I simply could not yet comprehend the grief my parents were experiencing. I was caught up in my own feelings of loss. Even though I was then in my thirties, I suppose I was not yet mature enough to consider ways in which I could be comforting to them.
When my father died, I mourned and missed him terribly. I did some concrete things to help my mother but the reality of how alone she must have been feeling and of the adjustments she had to make, just did not penetrate my life. Granted, I was, myself, caring for a family and for a very sick husband. Yet, when he died, less than a year after my father’s death, I took somewhat for granted that my mother would step in and help me get through things. She spent a month with us in CT and though expressing emotions were not easy for her, her strength and presence helped us all through those terrible days more than I could have imagined.
I have hopes that my kids will broaden their world views beyond what they are now. They certainly have in some respects, but not necessarily when it comes to family issues. I know how much I cherish and value the memories of my parents and other family members who are long gone. My mother-in-law is most likely now in the final days of her life and suddenly, the memories of how she used to be, and tales about her are very prominent and important in our minds.
I understand that each of us learns, develops and matures in his or her own unique way and according to our individual timetable. I do hope, though, that on my gravestone, my kids will not decide to write, “She never allowed us to eat Twinkies”. I hope they will find some meaningful and heartfelt words with which to immortalize me and that their memories will include more positives stories than negative ones.