When I was a teenager, after my parents split, I decided my mom was terrible at mothering.
She was gone a lot, rarely cooked much more than Hamburger Helper for dinner, and was generally pretty hands-off with me and my sister. She would take us shopping once a month to the mall, with our ‘clothing allowance’ and ran us to Wal-Mart in between for day to day needs. Other than that, she spent most of her time at work, owning and running a store in the next town over from where we lived.
Not that I needed much. I was always pretty independent, sort of did my own thing in my own way, and from about 8th grade on felt that my mom was pretty much just a financial
Now that I’m almost 40, I look back at my teenage years with different eyes, and a whole lot more life experience. Having gone through a nasty divorce myself, I can relate to my mother's feelings of failure and stress, of doing everything on her own. And, after having raised a couple of teenagers myself, I realize she must have been feeling immensely frustrated with me (and probably my sister too, but for different reasons - my sister
and I are NOTHING alike, yet we both have strong personalities).
More recently, I’ve developed a sense of compassion for my mom, though to this day she remains emotionally distant. Not that it’s been easy to come to terms with that lack of emotional support -- I had to do a lot of soul-searching and thinking about things to discover the reasons. I finally realized it was never my fault, and it’s not her fault either. As with any of us, she simply doesn’t know what she doesn’t know. She had a great disadvantage as a teenager and as a mother - she didn’t have a mom. Her mom passed away from a long battle with polio when my mom was about 8 years old, after which she was raised by her dad and a stepmother that treated her as a responsibility, not a child (there is no blame here either, it’s not easy to step in and raise someone else’s children as your own when you
haven’t been there from the beginning.).
As I'm raising my own kids, I’m recognizing where there are missing pieces in what was modeled for me, and they’ve become quite apparent. Don’t get me wrong: I’m certain I am making my own different mistakes too.
In fact, that's my point: everyone makes mistakes. No one can be a perfect parent, though we grow immensely from the parenting experience. Instead, what I hope I’m teaching my kids is that we’re all doing the best we can. Sometimes, "the best" means we have to change or learn something new. Sometimes it means a younger sibling doesn’t have the same experiences as the older one(s). Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re making a mistake.
The most important thing I’m trying to teach my children is that we can always learn something new, try a different way, or ask for help when we have no idea what to do. And, to do that, communication is the answer. As a teen, I shut my mom out when I started to feel like she didn’t really care what I did. As a parent, I catch myself closing off from my kids sometimes, too. It’s difficult to overcome old habits. But they CAN be overcome.
The way I noticed I was shutting them out was when I looked back at own life, and really studied what triggered me when I felt like MY mom didn’t care. Was I doing the same things to my kids? What could I do differently? Was it too late? Luckily, my oldest son is 20 years old, and one day when I was feeling particularly down about some things, I reached out and asked him if he felt like I didn't care, or if I had brushed him off. Because he’s 20, I didn’t
go into all of the details, because he probably doesn’t care THAT much about why I was asking him.
He’s actually quite talented at reading people, and it worked to my advantage. We were able to discuss the strains between mom (me) and Grandma (my mom) - and what he had noticed. Because he did. He could see the way I was feeling, and appreciated my efforts to be different and improve our relationship. To me, that’s a success. It’s not the only one I felt I’ve had as a mother, and it’s probably not the last.
But that’s the whole point! We’re constantly improving, and breaking the cycle of mistakes our parents make. It’snot easy, but it really can be done when you’re willing to do the work.
Your kids notice, and even when they still hate you because they’re 16 and you’re controlling and don’t let them do ANYTHING they want, they know you’re there. And they will eventually realize you DID try.
And maybe, just maybe, you’ll get a little bit of credit for it.
Jessica Hansen is a success coach living in Oregon. She believes that growth is a natural part of life, and works specifically with mompreneurs to help them self-actualize, and to help their businesses sparkle from the inside out. You can see more about her work here.