I have something to say about my awesome parenting. Honest to God, I did some great things as a mother. But I have clearly not mastered that humility thing.
I have done my level best to be a great mom. Not a good one, but a great one. That isn’t to say my children are perfect. They’re all very different from one another. Some of them I can do homework with, some of them have to go ask for help elsewhere. Some of them I taught to drive myself, some of them I had to farm out that job to friends. Some of them took responsibility for jobs in high school (paper routes, babysitting, etc…) and their own post-graduation plans, some of them have yet to figure it out and haven’t even thought about thinking about it. Whatever it is that they’ve chosen, I have given them the space to figure things out and step in when I’m needed. Well, that might not be entirely true as I’ve railroaded my way in and said, “Cut the crap and figure out what the hell you want to do with your life!” I probably have more work to do as a mother.
Still. I have made some conscious decisions in my parenting and done things on purpose. The end goal, of course, to have really great kids. A lot of the time my mom friends spend time discussing their failures, so I wanted to go in the opposite direction. Here’s what I’ve done right.
1. I made sure my kids communicated with me. When my oldest daughter was 10 and she and I started writing a Mommy & Me journal from a plain spiral bound notebook. She would tell me, in her writing, what she couldn’t tell me to my face. I gave her the freedom to tell me if she wanted to talk about these things in person or if she never wanted me to bring it up again.
2. My children have gay friends in their lives and I am unabashedly proud of them for not allowing any narrow-minded agendas stop them from that. When my nephew came out as gay my oldest son had just started attending a Christian church on his own (we had taken him when he was younger, but stopped going after our divorce). Mason asked me, “Did you hear about Kenny’s problem?” to which I replied “He doesn’t have a problem. YOU do. He’s your cousin. Do you love him any less today than you did yesterday when you didn’t know which sex he was attracted to? Because he loves you just the same. Don’t let what you’re hearing at church dictate how you feel about someone in your own family.” I am more proud of that conversation with him than many other things I’ve said to him before.
3. My children don’t get to use racial slurs, make ethnic jokes, or use culturally insensitive phrases. When I caught my young son playing “Smear the Queer” with a group of neighborhood kids I yanked him to the side of the garage and explained why he would never utter that phrase again. He cried because I embarrassed him in front of the other kids, so I gathered them all together and forbade them from playing that game again which, of course, embarrassed him in a group. See how I took the focus off of him and made out to be the Crazy Lady in the Neighborhood?
4. I raised my oldest daughter by myself as a teenager and her birth father didn’t want to take any responsibility for her. When she was 16, she found him through the magic of Google and the Internet and I let her pursue whatever she wanted from him. I knew it was going to end badly and I resented having to keep silent, but I still allowed her to work this out for herself, supporting her and helping her if she asked for it. When he rejected her, I was there to pick up the pieces like I knew I would. That was a painful thing to watch but I’m a mom I did it anyway even though I hated every moment of it.
5. Sometimes I let my kids eat movie theatre popcorn for dinner. Or pancakes. Other times I allow them to make it themselves. It probably happens less than 10 times a year, but I still do it. The rest of the time we sit down to a hot meal for dinner and we listen to music and talk. Our evening dinners happen 99% of the time and I am very proud of that.
6. I took my daughter on a mission trip with a church in our community because the opportunity fell in our lap. Previously, I hadn’t felt the burning desire to do such a thing. Right before we went she was complaining that she didn’t get to go to Cancun like her high school friends and it bothered me that she was acting so bratty. We spent Spring Break cleaning utensils for a dentist as he worked with the needy in Juarez, Mexico. See? I still sent her to Mexico.
7. I’m not a weepy person and it normally bothers me to cry in front of my children. However, there are times when I feel like it’s safe and appropriate. When human fragility is at stake, I let the tears flow. I think it’s good parenting to show I’m human, too.
8. We read Shel Silverstein poetry, listened to Bill Cosby on CD (until my kids could recite one of his stories by heart), and watched every movie we could from the 1940s. When we got to the Ealing Studios Collection with Sir Alec Guinness my youngest son who was 5 at the time asked if that was the guy who played Obi Wan Kenobi when he was older in Star Wars. I’m pretty proud of the fact that he could identify him and make the connection. My children are well versed in good, classic movies and music and books.
9. When I realized that I was going to giggle through the entire time I tried to teach Mallory to drive a stick shift, I swapped with a neighbor and we taught each other’s kids how to drive. I was much more patient with his daughter and he with mine. A parent has to be smart enough to know when someone else is going to teach them a skill better than they can.
10. I consciously taught my children about giving money to people who need it. Morgan, my youngest, didn’t need any help in this department. He always wants to help others. But, when it came to walking in downtown areas and coming across panhandlers or the homeless, I showed my children that they could give money or food but that they were never to judge how that was going to be used. If you give a stranger a ten dollar bill, you don’t get to hold onto the judgment you have for how they’ll spend it. Mason did this once in front of his friends and they gave him a hard time about it. “He’s just going to buy drugs or alcohol”, they told him. “Oh, well. I gave it away. It’s his now.” he replied back. I’m really proud of teaching him that.