Looking back, I would have to say that raising children was the most difficult undertaking of my life. The most common lament for parents is that there isn’t a rule book handed to us so we just need to wing it. There were a few things I told my kids about raising their own children which I came to learn. When you have a child you decide to change the things you didn’t like about your own parents. Fix what you believe are their mistakes. Unfortunately you will mess up in other ways and your kids will resent you for entirely different reasons. My greatest advice to my children was don’t do anything you would be too ashamed to tell your own kids. One day they will find out and kids don’t like secrets. I did a lot of stupid things as a teen. And as an adult. I admit I have one or two secrets but for the most part I am an open book. Having children at a young age sometimes can keep you from being a total screw up. Or not.
When a man and woman come from different backgrounds it is tough to figure out how you are going to raise your kids. There is a lot of trial and error going on and sometimes that first kid gets the short end of the stick. You try and do your best but you can only do as well as your personal rule book allows. We parent how we were taught. I remember going out for dinner once with my husbands family. All the kids and grandkids. We were waiting for our table and were crowded in a common area. My nephew was about ten and was a little rambunctious. His father, my husbands brother took him aside, berated him loudly and then forced him to sit alone a little ways from the rest of the family. He then stood watch over the boy and chastised him every time he moved. There were general murmurs in the family as everyone voiced their disapproval regarding the child’s treatment. I also thought he was a bit hard on the kid but what amazed me, as usual, was the fact that my brother in law was disciplining his son in the same manner he had been treated as a child. My in laws took a very bizarre approach to child rearing and no one in the family put the dots together. Much as my brother in law disliked his own father he had become him as that was the only role model he had.
My father in law died quite young and my husbands siblings blamed everything bad in their lives on their father. After his passing, they put their mother on a pedestal. As an outsider who married in, I also had the advantage of watching the family dynamics from a young age. My husbands youngest sister was my best friend so I saw things up close and personal. My father in law was an alcoholic and there is all sorts of shit goes down in that setting. There were stories told over the years that blew my mind. Once when my daughter was three she wouldn’t settle for the night so I laid with her until she fell asleep. After I returned to the living room my father in law told me I spoiled her. He related an incident when my husband was two. He wouldn’t go to bed and so he was put outside on the back step in the rain, in the dark with the door closed. Apparently they had little trouble after that. Everyone laughed but I excused myself to go in to check on my daughter. She was fine but I just needed a place to go and cry for that little boy who would one day be my husband.
My own parents weren’t cream of the crop by any means. They were a product of their time but they also had differing parenting styles. My mother was the homemaker. Dad worked. He was the disciplinarian and she was the one who kissed the booboo’s. He was loud and she was quiet. She was the one I went to for comfort and he was the one who got me skates or a bike or a swim suit. I was the youngest of many so I am sure my memories are much different. I do have siblings who are very resentful towards my mom and dad and there are also some jealousies between the family memories. What everyone needs to understand is that while we see our own childhood up close and personal, we can never know what truly goes on with our siblings. We don’t know their hearts and we don’t know their feelings. What is traumatic for one child is shrugged off by another. And a meek and mild child may seem easy in childhood but in adulthood there can be all sorts of resentments resurface. I fought a lot with my father as I grew older. I was hard for him. I struggled with authority. Yet in many ways I was easy because I loved being alone and could entertain myself for hours on end. For the most part I had a very happy childhood. I felt safe which is something my husband never felt. When he was dying he shared so many things. He said he spent his whole life looking over his shoulder. In fight or flight mode.
There are so many things I have learned as I aged but that doesn’t help fix the mistakes I made along the way as a mother. I got an instagram account to keep up with kids and Grandkids. I don’t post. I watch. I read. All the young Moms sharing their lives. What works. What doesn’t. Sometimes I think to myself how lovely it is that they are doing so well. Other times I think, wait until they are teens. Or young adults. Someone once told me “Small kids, small problems. Big kids, big problems.” Looking back there is one thing I would do differently. Hindsight is truly 20/20 isn’t it. I would make my husband more responsible for his own thoughts and actions towards the kids. He was very afraid of confrontation and in the end I was usually the bad guy. That is a rep that stays with you forever. I learned eventually to avoid his traps. He would share his thoughts with me about a child’s behaviour and I would bring it up to said child. When they were older he wouldn’t call them. He would ask if I had spoken to them lately. What were they up to. I would call them, do the questioning. He didn’t want to interfere. So he got me to do it. Half the shit my kids think I disapproved of were just me relaying his thoughts. But that is on me. I did it. I chose my actions. In our later years he would say, “How is that son of yours?” To which I would reply “Haven’t talked to him lately. You should give him a call.”
Todays world is faster paced but also more open. Less is behind closed doors. My ten year High School reunion we had trouble tracking down my girlfriend. Turns out she was in a security home for battered women. When I relayed my shock to my mother in law she casually mentioned it didn’t surprise her as my friends father in law had beaten his wife for years. Blew my mind. The entire community knew about it and yet my young friend unwittingly married a boy whose childhood revolved around a drunk who beat his wife. Information she could have had earlier. But then again it was all about the show. What happened behind closed doors was private. The face you showed the community was what mattered. These days there is more about mental health awareness. The stigma is still there in many ways but we are making progress I think. Social media does bring a lot of things out that in the past were kept buried beneath the surface. Help is available should we chose to seek it out. My husband was close to sixty when I asked why he would never seek therapy throughout our marriage. He was honestly afraid to bring it all out in the open. He had it all nicely tucked away deep down inside and was able to function well. At least that is what he thought. I do agree that bringing things out in the open to work on them can feel harmful as we then are reliving the moments. Our brains can’t really differentiate between what is happening right now and what is a memory or a movie. The brain just responds as if it is trauma or danger that is right now. Yet, when I first started to see a therapist she blew me away with her insight. I was struggling so much with my marriage and my in laws and she was able to explain so much to me. The bottom line is I married into an alcoholic family. How I was treated had nothing to do with me. It had to do with their trauma from their childhood. Their behaviours and mannerisms were explained away so neatly. Unfortunately as time went on I still struggled with the environment. The knowledge I had gleaned through therapy explained a lot but it didn’t prepare me to deal with the family. In my mind I had left the cult but my husband still drank the koolaid.
Last summer I gathered with a few members of my family to celebrate what would have been my fathers 100th birthday. He passed away 11 years ago but we decided to mark the day as he would. Chinese food in a small town diner. It was a truly great meal. My one brother mentioned that it is clear that whether it is grand children or great grandchildren, we have no say. That is true. We are past the years of raising kids. Our role now is to live our lives, help when we can but keep our noses out of their business. I am good with that. But it is hard. Especially for me. I don’t filter my thoughts well and I often say things that don’t go over well. I am getting better. I have one daughter who hasn’t spoken to me for over two years. She had a baby I have never met. She has gone non contact with me as well as her siblings. Our history is tumultuous and yet she was my meek and quiet child. My experiences with her in her adult years has caused me to bite my tongue more and to try harder to keep my opinions to myself when dealing with my other kids. There is always that fear in the back of your mind that if you upset them they will turn away from you as well. People are so sympathetic when they hear I don’t see those grandkids. I tell them it is small price to pay to have distance from my daughter. The reality is it isn’t the first time this has happened. That was like a knife through my heart the first time. I am fortunate that my other Grandkids are a big part of my life.
I once said that if I could go back in time I wouldn’t have children. My second daughter was very offended. But it isn’t personal as it is an abstract hypothetical scenario. Knowing what you know now would you make the same choices? I golf with a woman who is childless. I asked her if it was by choice. She said that she married later in life and the decision to have kids was one that needed to be made fairly quickly. She went to her own mother for advice. This is what her mother said. If she could go back in time she would not have kids. They were poor. There was never enough money. They were always overwrought and stressed. When the Grandkids came, some were close but others weren’t and in the end all of her kids were busy with their own lives. She saw them for holidays and special occasions and for the most part she was quite alone. The pleasure she had for those years her own children were growing up was often fleeting as the work of raising kids was hard. My golf companion decided to remain childless. She has no regrets. Don’t get me wrong. I love all of my children. Even the one that appears to hate me. Which she doesn’t. I am just the person she has chosen to blame for all that is wrong in her life. I often wonder if she remembers any of the good stuff. But even as an old lady, parenting is hard. Kid transitioning into teens. Hard. Becoming young adults. Hard. It isn’t just about money Your heart gets battered and bruised. Your children don’t really see you as people when they are young. Losing my husband was so hard for my kids. I felt I didn’t grieve for a long time because I didn’t want them to see me crying. I felt I needed to be strong for them. That delays the process. Three years now and I am finally realizing this is not ever going to go away but perhaps my kids can start to move forward.
Kids are forever. Even if they don’t call or ever come to see you. You are their parents forever. Even after you die. Just because they get bigger and married and make their own people, they are still your kids. You never stop caring or loving or helping or crying because of them. But you have to let go and understand that your place is not one of honour. You’re not in the band anymore. You are a roadie. There is a big responsibility that comes from being the oldest generation. When my Mom died it felt like too much pressure. I was the old lady now. I am the keeper of the stories. The matriarch. But in my mind I am still the young girl. I chose to see my kids now as the people they are. Their choices, their mistakes, their wins… All of this is theirs. I am an onlooker. As my parents were. In time my Grandkids will be adults and they will see their own parents. I am a peripheral actor in their life. I am there to memory build. Do some fun nice stuff for them to look back on fondly. Tell them about the people who came before them. That is my role now. But is also my responsibility to try and stick around as long as I can because they need me. But they need me to be happy and healthy so it becomes time in the golden years of life to live life for yourself. Time is running out. You’ve been put out to pasture and received the retirement watch. So now its time to enjoy the fruits of your labour. Last summer when I watched my Grandkids for four days I spent three hours every morning cuddling three year old’s. First one, and then his twin. One would play while another snuggled. One would jump off my lap and his brother would grab his bunny and come and sit with me. I did nothing. It was great.
The most important thing I have learned in all my years or raising kids is that they are not charms on bracelets. Something to dress up and use to show off to our friends. They come complete out of the womb. Personality all set to go. We need to stop trying to mold them because we may just put out a fire that is burning inside that little one. Let them develop in their own time and in their own way. When the world shits on them dry their tears. Let them mess up. It provides the greatest lessons. They are all unique and the rules for one just won’t work for the next one. In the end, love them fiercely. Even if they don’t seem to see it or feel it, in time they will come to understand what you felt for them. It is a hard, underappreciated and completely underpaid job. One you can never quit. And certainly one we are never prepared for. And if you need help, reach out. We really are all in this together…..