I knew how to be a parent. There were many role models in my large family…and of course my church gave me more families to observe. The goal was to be in control of your children. If the stern look and the snapping of the fingers didn’t work, then sometimes a spanking or a good washing of the mouth with soap would help.
That’s the way I was raised.
Marriage at 17 and my first child at 19. No problem. And then two more children in quick succession. I could handle this. If I didn’t, I would get the flak for their misbehaviors. Since their father was the preacher, they were required to sit unmoving and quiet in the front of the church. It was my job to make sure that happened.
I had been trained to never let any softness show. That would mean you were weak. No hugging…no touching…and certainly no telling them “I love you”. That would make you vulnerable.
I had it down to a science.
Then my husband left me. Suddenly, I was going to have to go to work. What would happen to the children’s discipline? Who would be there to make them toe the mark?
The next few years were a struggle in many ways…financially, emotionally and physically. I searched for understanding about myself. Why did I operate the way I did? Did I like it? What could I do about it?
I discovered I didn’t like me…at all. I wanted to be a different kind of parent….one who hugged their children and told them they were loved. I gathered them in the living room and explained, “I don’t like the way I’ve been a mom to you. From now on, I am going to hug you and kiss you and tell you I love you.” They had no idea how to react to that.
And I began to analyze my answers to them. Why had I said that? What did I really think?
One day my 12-year old daughter asked if she could get her ears pierced. I let loose with my answer.
“I can’t believe you would want to do such a thing. Only sluts have their ears pierced. You know we don’t believe in that. Now go in your room and never ask me that again.”
Matter solved. Over and done with.
But I could hear my answer playing back in my head. Those were my Mother’s words. What did I really think about pierced ears? I had no idea.
I knocked softly on my daughter’s bedroom door. Poking my head in, I said, “You know what? I don’t really know what I think about you getting your ears pierced. Give me a week to think about it and I’ll let you know”.
In the grand scheme of things, with all the issues involved in raising teenagers, what was the problem with pierced ears? I couldn’t come up with a real good reason to say “no”.
A week later, I put my arm around my daughter and said, “Let’s go get our ears pierced”.
I know I inflicted emotional damage on my children when they were young. I did it because it was all I knew. And I could spend the rest of my life feeling guilty about my role in causing some of the issues they have had to deal with. But I cannot go back and re-do their childhood. It is what it is.
Just as I have had to work through the way I was raised, they have to sort through their own baggage. I cannot do it for them.
I have gone to each one of them and asked for forgiveness. I told them I was available to talk with about their childhood issues, and I would answer them honestly. We have had some great heart-to-hearts. On the other hand, one of them has disowned me and had no contact for 12 years.
Does that hurt? Badly. Yet I cannot fix it. My job is to pray and love.
I know God wants them to lead “abundant” lives. If I am part of the plan for them to reach that, then I am ready to help. The results are in God’s hands.
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