I’m a mother of five kids who somehow all managed to make it through infancy, toddlerhood, tweens, teens and some even into their 20s. I know firsthand that if there are rules to break, you will at some point break them before they leave the nest. Before becoming a mother, I had the list of rules that I would never break as a parent. Things that I swore I would do differently than my own upbringing went on that list.
I swore I’d never send my child to bed without dinner. I’d never scream at them. I’d never raise a hand to them. I’d be nice all of the time. However, the reality is that there are moments when those rules bend. My children, four boys and finally a little girl, were not angels. In fact, each of them challenged not only my parenting, but my sanity.
I used to think you were supposed to treat all of your children exactly the same. Yet I came to realize every child is different, and you just can’t be the same mom to them all. My oldest was the kid on top of the refrigerator. The middle was the smart one who could repeat back exactly what you said, because he had found a loophole for why he did what he did.
You learn to accept that it’s okay to change the rules to be who they need you to be.
There are times when you look back at the day and cringe when you realize that your special rules of motherhood just went down the toilet. I had to go back to say I was sorry for just being human and mad. I remember one time that sticks out. It still hurts, and it made me realize being a mother isn’t all about patching boo-boos or making paper snowflakes.
My oldest, 16 years old at the time, was in a bad place. He started sneaking out at night, running with the wrong crowd and driving me crazy with his attitude. That day I confronted him about his grades and that I was disappointed in his behavior. I was prepared with what I thought were the things you were supposed to say to help your child see the right path.
He snapped back with, “I am disappointed that I am your son! You are fat, stupid and lazy. I am ashamed to be known as your son. Get a job and a life.”
I was stunned into silence. Those words cut me so deep that I just ran to my room and locked it. I cried so hard and felt so ashamed of myself, because that is how I believed he saw me. He’d won — and he knew it.
A few days later, I was still cringing from his words. I avoided him, avoided conflict. I didn’t see that he had tried to talk to me for days. I had given him the cold shoulder. He came up to me and grabbed me by the arm as I tried to walk away.
“Stop walking away!”
I tried to escape from what I thought would be another hate-filled rant. Without thinking, I slapped him. It was horrible. I was in total shock. Instantly I tried to apologize. But he just stood there, looking at me.
“You should have done that when I hurt you and made you cry. I’m sorry for what I said. I love you. “
Ten years later, I still feel that moment. I feel how I lost control not only of that situation, but of how those rules we think we need to follow don’t always apply.
Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations, change your rules and learn from your own children what they need from you. No, hitting wasn’t something that happened again. However, I did learn that he wanted me to stand up to him, give him limits and boundaries and never, ever take his crap. He needed me to be strong and tell him exactly what I needed from him.
Today he and I are unbreakably close. We talk every Sunday and often days in between.
I credit him for teaching me how to be a better mother. That moment taught me that it is OK to talk to your kids from the heart, as long as you are willing to also listen to what they have to say. Don’t wait until you are in the middle of a hurricane to tell them what you are feeling. After that experience, I would take each of my kids out separately for an afternoon. In the car I’d tell them what I was thinking and why. I had them captive for a few minutes, and surprisingly they all realized that they had my undivided attention there too. More importantly, I learned that I had to allow myself forgiveness for making mistakes, even when it hurts. The best lessons I’ve learned about being a parent were the ones they taught me about breaking the rules.