Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The sins of our fathers…and mothers


As some of you may know, I ended my maternity leave with a new job a couple of weeks ago. I admitted on Twitter that I was happy to be home with my girls but I was happier to be a working mom again. Feeling somewhat guilty by that confession, I posed the question, what kind of a mom am I?

A fellow mom tweeted a response that blew me away: “If working makes you happy that makes you a better mom! Your kids don’t want to look back and think they ruined your life.” Very simply said, but so very profound.

It struck a chord with me, especially lately, as the burden of having played a part in ruining my own mom’s life gnaws at me. Granted, that wasn’t how she put it, but she did mention she stayed married to my father, who made her life miserable, for my sake. And I’ve known that all along. Her statement wasn’t meant to be malicious; she was just stating a fact. A truth. The kind that hurts.

To think that I had a part in her unhappiness makes me feel like I should do something to make up for it. That I should be a better daughter now to deserve the choices she made that she thought would benefit me. But yet I have to remind myself that those were her decisions. I had no part in them. I am grateful for the sacrifices she made, absolutely, but I didn’t ask her to forsake her happiness for mine.

Now, many many years later, I feel like I am failing her because I’m not the person she hoped I would be when she made those choices. I feel guilty that I can’t right the wrongs in her life and make it better for her now because in the years we’ve been away from one another, I’ve grown into my own person.

And this person that I am now isn’t able to make up for that past. This person can’t even promise a better future because so much of our current expectations and actions are marred by the path that led us here and continue to plague us even as we try to forge new ones.

To my mom I want to say I am sorry I can’t change our history. I can only learn from her experience and promise myself that I will not go down that same road. Now that it’s my time to make difficult choices - ones that affect me and my daughters - I know what I must do. I must make decisions that will make me happy too because only then will I be able to be the kind of mom that my girls need me to be.

Martyrdom and motherhood seem to go together, and I see many moms sacrifice their time, energy, career and even their own happiness for their kids like it’s a rite of passage. From one parent to another, a little sacrifice here and there is to be expected, but if you’re going to look back someday and all you think you will see are the things you’ve given up for the sake of your kids and the life that could’ve been but wasn’t, then perhaps you should re-evaluate your decisions now. Don’t let your kids bear this burden of your unfulfilled hopes and broken dreams.  Trust me. This bitter pill of guilt is hard to swallow. Resentment? Harder yet.

I also learned that to love my girls, I first have to love myself. And that involves finding a middle ground between their happiness and mine. I have to find a way to be happy now. Because if I don’t, how will my kids find it themselves?

It has to begin with me.

Thank you @Sjgpotter for this epiphany.


image source: Mobscene by amuchkin77.