If you struggled as much as I did to have children of your own, then you will understand the constant conflict that I struggle with on a daily basis, wondering if I am too harsh, too strict and not understanding enough.
I tried for years to conceive and when I did, I was filled with a joy that I couldn't even describe. I spent my youth caring for other people's children. I became a teacher because I love and adore kids. When the truth about my inability to conceive easily finally stared me in the face, I was thrown into depression; feeling as if I would never know the experiences that my sisters had described during their own pregnancies and birthing.
After 5 years of trying, I conceived a son. I had preeclampsia and hypertension and saw a cardiologist the entire pregnancy. I was at risk during the entire 9 months and was sick just as long. I was induced 3.5 days before he was born. Even through the pain, physical ills and emotional fears, I delivered a beautiful baby who looked me in the eyes as soon as he was placed in my longing arms.
Five more years, I tried unsuccessfully to conceive again. I loved my son. I had grown up however with 9 siblings and didn't feel right having him brave this world alone. Just as I gave up after months of fertility pills, I conceived my daughter. Still at risk but not nearly as sick as I was with my son, I was surprised when my daughter chose on her own to come 2 weeks early! She was just as beautiful as my son and I felt as if my family was complete.
Sadly, my marriage; which had never been strong or near complete quickly fell apart. When my daughter was 3 and my son 8, the three of us moved into the city and they became the victims of divorce; having to shuffle between households against their will. They both chose to live with me before the divorce was final and the court approved that. Even now, after 10 years of divorce, their father cannot let go of the anger and hatred he has for me and continues to make my children miserable if they even mention my name in front of him.
This is where my feelings of confusion have been the strongest. I know that as a parent, you are not supposed to bad mouth or negate the ex in front of your children. Even though he counteracts any decision you may have made for your child, or drags you to court repeatedly because he hopes to find a stray thread in your exterior and somehow prove you to be an unfit mother.
I tried for years to listen to what my children cried about after their visits with him. I shook my head and bit my tongue, then my lip when my daughter kept asking me if I was as evil as her father kept saying I was. I cried alone when my son would cry how his dad was mentally unbalanced and had control issues that affected he and his sister.
He was never physically abusive. He wasn't with me either. It is the mental abuse that I would see my children experience and there was nothing I could do about it. A few years ago, he dragged me into court for the last time. He wanted complete custody of the kids. Something they did not want at all. I was given sole custody of my children after the court appearance after the judge could clearly see that their father was not "right". I didn't take away his visitation because my children still love their father and wanted to be a part of his life. However, they don't always visit according to a set schedule; rather when they want to, now that they are both teens and have lives of their own.
As a result of the pain that I felt I caused my children; the divorce, my dating after the divorce, my relationships ending (3 in the past 10 years) and the continuation of their struggles to know the man they call dad; I became for a short time their friend instead of their mother.
Easy to do, sadly. Easy to let your own guilt build up inside of yourself and knowing that there is no way to reverse the damage you perceive as your fault, you begin to let things pass without addressing them and put an understanding and empathy on behaviors and decisions your children make without holding them accountable.
Spoiled or Misguided?
As my kids grew up, I spoiled them with physical things. I took them on trips that I never got to go on as a child, teen or adult. We went to Disney World multiple times. I bought them everything they wanted (within reason however) so that I could somehow fill the gap within them that always seemed to be present. I enjoyed these excursions with them and the time I spent with them. It always seemed however that everything I did was in excess. I became like a mini Martha Stewart and threw lavish parties and had oodles of children over to celebrate with them. Within years, I strained my pocketbook and began to feel fatigued. I had a series of health issues crop up and in 2007-2008, I had 11 surgeries in that one year.
It was then that I had to cut back. Physically and financially, I couldn't keep up the gifting and the trips. That's where their dad stepped in. He quickly became the "sugar daddy" who was the trip giver and the reward giver. There was a price however. The kids had to follow his rules and speaking of me, our home and our lives together (my children and I) were forbidden to him. It was as if the kids had to pretend I didn't exist. Even to this day, my 18 year old son has to leave and go to the restroom to call me.
I think the first time I realized I was not making good choices as a parent was when my son was in upper elementary and my daughter was in kindergarten. My daughter had all the classic symptoms of an emotionally impaired child when she was with me. However, in her classroom, around her classmates and teacher; she was described as, "perfect", "loving", "kind". The minute my daughter left school and entered our world together, she would scream, hit, defy and make many of the moments we spent together absolutely miserable. My son, a very sweet boy, was severely depressed and failing school, despite a genius IQ.
I sought out counseling for the kids. I conferred with social workers at school. I knew that something was not right but instead of seeing that what they needed most was ME, I kept looking at outside reasons as to why they were experiencing such tumultuous episodes.
After a while and seeing that my ex would not discuss things rationally when it came to the kids, I decided to stop friending my children and start parenting. It is not easy to actually be the parent. It is very difficult and emotionally draining and causes many episodes of crying, remorsefulness and unfortunately inappropriate expletives to escape my mouth at times of deep frustration. However, it has improved my relationship with my children, allowed them to see me as a person and not just a figure in the home and has helped quite a bit with their ability to work with their father too.
We All Say "I Love You" and Mean It
My children and I have always told each other "I love you" before bed, before school, before any of us have left for some reason. As they grew older, we all took for granted what those words truly meant. We would say them without feeling, as if we were talking about our laundry or what we were going to eat for dinner.
We began to eat family dinners. No more dinners in bedrooms or in front of the TV. I would cook most nights at home and I still do; even though they are teenagers. We ask how each of our days have gone and talk about things that happen. We discuss frustrations and I discuss mine as well.
I took away electronic devices at night and at times have cut them out through the school week. We are a Wifi family. We are hooked into computers, video, phones, etc. which make life faster and easier. I did notice however that many times these devices got in the way of homework, chores and being considerate of being part of a household. When I notice that they are getting in the way of any of the above, they become my property until things improve. Yes, it causes anger and fights between my children and myself but it is very effective and changes seem immediate and long lasting when I do.
I say "no" a lot. Even if I would like to get my children something, I stop the urge. My son has had his own bank account for a couple years now that he manages without my help. He has a credit card that he has never over extended (unlike his mother!) and he earns money and deposits it in his account. If I don't have money to pay for school needs, then he will ask his father. Or, he'll simply pay for it himself. This never would have happened had I continually given him everything he wanted. When he first asked to set this bank system up in his name I was leary because he had never been that careful with his money before. I made it clear that if he overdrew or over charged that I would not be helping him out and that I would not have my name on his account. I am so glad that I agreed to allow him. He is much more responsible with his money than I was at his age.
My daughter who likes to use the word "lazy" all the time; "I'm too lazy to pick up my clothes", "I'm too lazy to vacuum the floor", etc., has a new rule. I have cleaned her room more times than I should have. I have found rotting food, clothes that could walk themselves to the laundry room from the filth built up on them and messes that were stacked three feet high on her table and dresser in her room. This year, I made another leap. I decided that I had done enough to convince her that she wasn't capable of taking care of her own things.
Now, if I find clothing, food, trash...anything that she hasn't picked up, I will charge her .25 per item and when the amount reaches $10.00, I will withdraw it out of her savings account. She didn't think I was serious until last week I checked her room and backpack. I found 5 items. She was charged $1.25. She wasn't happy. She almost hissed at me. The big difference for me was no yelling, no getting upset, just saying, "You choose your consequences dear, I just carry them out". Her room and backpack have been clean since then.
I haven't solved all of the problems my children deal with. We still fight with each other too. I do notice that they look forward to eating at the table together. I notice that they say they love me and mean it. I see that they are genuinely concerned about each other and about me and show interest in the goings about in everyone's day. They are more polite to others too. They appreciate small gifts and intangible kindnesses. They thank me more often as well.
My job won't end until they are on their own; working and perhaps in a relationship/married or with a family of their own. Then, I will consider myself to be not only their mother but their very best friend. I look forward to that day.