In Search of Good Parents

I put so much pressure on myself to be a good mom.  Sometimes I feel that I spend so much time in my head dealing with Susanne’s world that I wonder how good of a mom I am being.  I never got my bucket of self-esteem filled when I was a kid, and now it’s my turn to fill my kids’ buckets.  There is a lot I need to do to meet my own needs, and sometimes those things require me to be unplugged from my kids.  I do yoga and play guitar. I am working on a blogging habit.  I do math and tutor math.  I work out and do a lot to keep up with my health.  So how am I doing at being not only a person, but a mom?  I asked my kids to grade me as a mom with the following grading scale: A is excellent, B is above average, C is average, D is needing improvement, and F is failure.  My seven-year old (boy)gave me an A-.  My twelve-year-old (girl) gave me a B-.  And my nineteen year old (girl) gave me an A. It’s noteworthy to me that the tweenager graded me the lowest, and I suspect that’s because we are having issues around allowing her more freedoms.

What are they grading me on?   I am pretty sure my kids would tell you I’m a lover, and that one of my favorite things to do is snuggle and cuddle.  I hope they would tell you they know how much they are loved and cherished.  I hope they would tell you they feel strong in who they are and that they believe in themselves.  I want them to dream big and take baby steps every day to realize their dreams.    I am learning to meet them halfway in their struggles and want them to feel like they can openly communicate with me.  I work on finding that fine line between providing structure and accountability and allowing free time and opportunities for imagination.

I wonder if I’m involved in their lives at school enough.  And I wonder what their childhood memories will be like when they are adults.  Because I’m becoming more aware as an adult of the effects my own parents had on me, it makes me super sensitive about the fact that each of my children were born uncarved blocks.  Everything I do and say writes on the slates of who they are and who they will become.  It’s an amazing responsibility, one that I gladly signed up for, yet I am still learning to meet.

What is the definition of a good mom anyway? Every family is different. Times have changed over the years. Women are now juggling family and careers. Usually we look at the model of our own parents, but in my case looking at my parents as role models launches me into a fantasy land of ideal parents since I didn’t have them.   Ideally, a ‘good’ mom loves her kids unconditionally, encourages and consoles them, disciplines and guides them. She shops and cooks, does laundry, and keeps the house clean. She keeps herself in good shape and pursues her own interests.  She looks nice when she goes out, and provides healthy meals and snacks for her growing family. She decorates the house to make it look lovely for her family and any guests that might stop by. She helps with homework and tells bedtime stories. She keeps track of all the appointments, signs all the important papers, and reminds kids to take their medicines on time.  She provides opportunities for her kids to learn and thrive.  A good mom does all these things and more and maintains composure in the midst of stressful times.  Good moms don’t yell, well they don’t yell very much.  Moms are human after all.

For me, it is too much pressure (self-imposed I admit) to meet all those expectations to the tee.  I make those my goals, and I’m learning to accept it when I fall short.  One area where I fall short is the keeping the house clean part.  I refuse to do it all by myself even though I stay home full-time.  We’ve broken up our chores in the house so the older kids do their own laundry, and nobody is stuck with cleaning the kitchen all the time (we split up breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes).  Whoever cooks dinner never has to do the dishes too.  The kids are responsible for their own rooms, and we also split up the other common areas.  Did I also mention we have housekeepers? They come every two weeks, thank God! Because of chronic back pain, the deep cleaning would never get done if we didn’t have help.  We barely keep up with the dishes, laundry, sweeping, and trash on a daily basis.   I resist the idea that it is strictly the mom’s job to keep up with the entire house.  I resist the biblical idea that I was created from a man’s rib and am here to be his ‘happy helpmate.’  In my house, mom and dad are a united front and a team.  We teach our kids responsibility from an early age so they can also be part of the team.

I am also a tough customer when it comes to my expectations of my husband to be a good dad.  He fits the bill.  He stepped up to be Sierra’s step-dad when he didn’t have to.  Commitment and a willingness to be a father is a very sexy trait in a man.  He went to law school and works hard at a great job to support us.  He fathered two more children with me after we got married.  He provides a comfortable home and lifestyle for us. He spends time with each child and develops relationships with each of them separately.    He drives the whole way to Florida and back on our vacations, loads and unloads the car. He literally does all the heavy lifting.

Sierra’s dad (my ex husband) is on the receiving end of my wrath because he fails at his duties. I won’t drag him through the mud here. But I will say he is an absent father to Sierra. It breaks my heart for her, but I’ve accepted I can’t make him be the kind of man he should be. And I’m forever grateful joe stepped up to be her stepfather! He can’t replace her biological father, but he sure plays the role of her father every day through thick and thin. She turned 18 last year and changed her last name to Nelson to reflect how she feels about the men in her life.

It takes so much more than the act of creating a child to be a good parent. When I was born, my dad was cheating on my mom, and they separated when I was six months old. Apparently he didn’t tell me he loved me during my first five years of life (important formative years). He paid monthly child support and advised us to rise to the top and stay there academically. But he wasn’t exactly what I would call involved. Once-yearly visits stretched out and tapered off as we were teens, and I remember being sad that I was a girl and my Korean father had been raised in a culture that favors boys. I didn’t understand why, but I saw it first hand when birthdays came and went without phone calls or cards, yet my brother got them.  He took us to play golf, paid my brother a dollar and me a quarter to be his caddies.  I got the message that I was not as worthy as my brother, and it was because I was a girl (something I had no control over).  So my reaction was to rebel. I thought that was stupid, and I thought he was stupid, and from then on I didn’t want to listen to a word he said.  Although he worked at Cornell University and expected me to go there, I didn’t get in and pursued a different path.  Perhaps my underachieving at school was my passive aggressive way of saying don’t tell me what to do.

My mom raised me and my brother as a single mom working three jobs to make ends meet.  She was wounded in her own ways by her own parents and other outside factors and had difficulty raising a rebellious kid like me.  Affected by several mental health diagnoses, but in denial and non-medicated, she made sure we both knew we were loved, but there was also a lot of discord in my childhood home.  There was a lot of yelling and anger.  There was emotional manipulation.  There were guilt trips.  There absolutes like you ‘must’ do this and you ‘must not’ do that.  From an early age, I set out to get attention and validation elsewhere and became hell-bent on creating a family of my own that would be different from the one I was born into.

So here I am today, the engineer of a new family. I have the power to break the cycle of neglect and emotional abuse. My aim is to be the kind of parent I never had. Above all, I want my children to know they are ok the way they are because it’s something apparently I never learned. It’s harder to learn that as an adult. Looking at my kids, I’m filled with pride. They seem pretty well adjusted and that they live safe, comfortable, and happy lives. Zoe and Thomas have the incredible gift of growing up with both parents in the home. I’m going to keep loving all the kids and being the best mom I can be, even if I don’t get straight As.

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