Friday, May 10, 2013

The Ones We're Given

I'm about get all deep and thought provoking, so just hang tight with me for a second.

The last few years have been, to put it mildly, tumultuous.  People have been lost, things have been discovered, conditions have surfaced, changes big and small came, often without warning.

For most of that time, I've been riding out the storms in the middle of it all, wondering when the seas will calm. Stuck in the proverbial sandwich generation, doing the best I could to take care of my parents and my children, being pulled in every direction, feeling like I'm failing at it all.

No. Not this kind.
Through it all, I've learned a great many life lessons and have gained perspective that I didn't have before. I'm more aware of the subtle nuances in life, of the lingering effect that words from the past can have. I'm more conscious of what I do and say, more considerate of how my words and actions can affect other people.

I think more. I feel more. I cry more.

I try not to linger in the past, but I've learned that sometimes we need to because it's the only way to really understand the now. It's the only way to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, of transferring the troubles of the past to tomorrow.

The most telling lesson I've learned in these past few years is one that seems to coincide perfectly with this holiday we approach. Mother's Day.

It is this.

As children, we must be children of the mothers we were given.

As mothers, we must be mothers to the children we were given.

Just let that sit for a minute and be with it.

Our parents aren't perfect. Our children aren't perfect. We aren't perfect. None of us ever lives up to the ideal, and it would be impossible to avoid disappointment and failure. We are all flawed, and all those flaws make us who we are - inevitably different than what others had envisioned for us, what we had envisioned for ourselves, what we had envisioned for them.

We can't change where we came from, we can only make the best possible sense of it, learn, grow, and move on. We can't alter the past, we can't change how the experiences of our parents dictated how they parented us. We can't expect that someone heading into the sunset of their lives can change. We can only take them for what they are, for who they are, and be the children we choose to be to the parents we were given.

If where we came from was a flawed place, as it inevitably was, we need to accept that we cannot change that origin. What we can do is be cognizant of it, we can be enlightened about it, we can explore it and process it. The only way we can avoid reliving that past and urging it forward is to be aware of it and of ourselves. To make conscious decisions to do things differently.

In doing so, we will inevitably discover things about ourselves and our parents that are less than ideal. We can choose to lay blame. We can choose to be frustrated and sad. We can choose to wonder what if and why not. Or we can embrace the reality that our parents were just people, flawed people, doing the best they could with what they had, living in a different world and a different time. We can choose to be bitter and erect walls or we can choose to embrace who they are, knowing that things may never change, knowing that they will never change, and open ourselves to the possibility of whatever relationship we are capable of having with who they are right now.

We have to be the children of the parents we were given. We don't get to choose where we were born or to whom. We can't separate ourselves from that reality. We can't escape the place we come from, at least not in any substantive way. They are where we come from. They are who we were given.

As much as we cannot change who our parents are, we cannot expect that we can choose who our children are.

We can't put in a request for perfect children, for easy children. We can't even ask for or demand healthy children. We get what we are given, and in order to mother them the way they deserve to be mothered, we inevitably need to adjust our sails. Change our expectations. Reassess where we are with who they are. Then we need to accept, shift, and set forth on whatever course life has set for us, regardless of whether it was the one we thought we were headed for when we got in the boat.

Every child brings with them their own set of challenges. There are as many ways to raise a child as there are children in the world.

Some of them are healthy.
Some of them are not.
Some of them have uneventful childhoods.
Some of them have lives full of turmoil.
Some of them have chronic conditions.
Some of them have mental conditions.
Some of them have different ways of learning.
Some of them are stubborn.
Some of them are happy.
Some of them are filled with rage.
Some of them cannot control themselves.

Every single last one of those children belongs to us. Came from us. Who they are may be different than who we expected, who we hoped for, who we wanted them to be, but none of that matters now. We must parent the children we were given the best we can, as the flawed parents we are now, doing what we think is right.

We'll make mistakes. We'll get some things wrong, certainly, regardless of who and what they are, regardless of how hard we try. Our biggest mistake, though, would be parenting them as though they are the children we wanted instead of the children we were given.

Mothering demands flexibility and change, adaptation and adjustment to the children we were given.

It requires unyielding hope.

It is built on a foundation of unconditional love, love that doesn't come with an asterisk or qualifier, somehow less because this isn't what we signed up for.

Know this:

The kids who need us the most,
to be the best mothers we can,
are the ones we least expected.

We must mother the ones we were given.


  1. Love it, thank you!

  2. (just discovered your blog) - I agree completely with the lines about accepting your children, or your parents - we adopted three girls, and I often find myself saying to them "look... we're doing our best, ok" :)

    1. I hope you tell them that you love them first... :)


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