Friday, May 11, 2007

Motherhood means sometimes having to say you're sorry

This post was written not only for Girls Gone Child call for good mothers but also for the PBN blog blast - in conjunction with Light Iris - "What makes you a mother?" Go to either PBN or Light Iris to find out how you can enter to win a fabulous prize.

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There we sat that evening, my mother and me, a year or two before she died, in one of those pop-up, camper-trailers. We were parked in the middle of a college running track, our designated spot for our Relay for Life team. With us that night was my sister, Mom's boyfriend, and a couple of her closest friends. Our small group sat in the dark, our emotions already running high from all that was going on outside the zip-up walls of the camper, and we talked. We talked not like a mother and her friends would with her children, but as adults. We shared stories, laughed at past foibles, and gossiped. We offered details about ourselves that, if not for the intimate setting and the perceived safety that darkness offers, we might have never shared.

As often happened when my mom and I were together our chatter led us to reminiscing about my tumultuous teen years. It was a saga I was tired of hearing; how I was a little shit and caused my poor, suffering mother years of frustration and pain.

The abridged version for those of you who care: From the age of 12 to 17 my mother and I, more alike than we wanted to admit, were at war. The details aren't important. The bottom line is we both wanted control of my life and neither was willing to give an inch. She was over-protective to a fault and I did more than my fair share of testing the limits of my boundaries.

As far as my relationship with my mother is concerned I wouldn't do much to change those years. I was, after all, a teenager learning to be independent. And she was a mother struggling with the maturation of her first born. Neither one of us knew what the hell we were doing.

But that night... I don't know if it was her advancing illness, her sense of mortality, or the intimacy of the setting, but instead of poking fun of the 16 year old me my mother, the woman who had tried to keep me pinned down like a butterfly in a shadow box- presumably for my own good - apologized to me.

I think it is safe to say that there won't be many moments in my life as profound as the night my mother told me she was sorry for not always doing the right thing when it came to raising me. How many of you have heard an apology like that from your parents? Yeah, those four or five years when all we did was fight and all the tears we shed and the months we spent not talking? I royally screwed up. Sorry about that.

Those weren't the words she used, of course, but I don't really remember what her exact words were. I remember looking to her friend for confirmation. My eyes said, Did I really just hear my mother tell me she was wrong? Her friend nodded in agreement. They had obviously talked about this before.

My mother felt she was wrong and she was sorry.

She wasn't wrong, however. She made some big mistakes but they were all in my best interest. I wasn't wrong, either. Because of my mother's apology I know that now. I was a young, stupid kid filled with hormones. But to hear this woman who had held such power over me admit that she made mistakes, took the wrong stance, was unfair at times... that really knocked me for a loop. It didn't set things right entirely but it changed how I viewed our relationship.

Now I'm the mother and I screw up all the time. If there's a hard and fast right way to parent I haven't found it yet, so I'm bound to make more and that's just the way it is. I'm not infallible and I'm learning to live with that. Hell, I'm learning to embrace that fact. Just because I have some pretty stupid lapses in reason does not make me a bad mother. If I can learn from those mistakes it will, eventually, make me a damn good mother. And it didn't make my mom a bad mother, either. I mentioned before that she wasn't the best but she was pretty damn good. She had to have been or I wouldn't have turned out as well as I did.

Before she died my Mom gave me a few very important gifts, one being that apology. I was finally able to see my mother as the fragile person she was and that made me feel so empowered. Not because I saw her as weak but because she had the strength to admit that she was flawed. She was a mother and there is no place for perfection in motherhood. In that moment, when she let go and dropped her guard, she taught me what she couldn't all those years before. Life is not about hiding from what scares us, it's about making mistakes. How else do we learn?

One day, when she's old enough to understand, I will begin telling my daughter that I make mistakes. Not just small ones but big gaffes. I don't want her to wait until she's thirty, after she's lived decades questioning herself and her choices. I want her to know that I mess up but that I try to learn from every misstep and poor decision. I want her to know that all good mothers do. I'm human. I'm a mother, a good mother, and those mistakes will help me be the best mother I can be.


34 comments:

Julie Pippert said...

Yes.

Sometimes, already...I apologize to my kids and admit my mistakes.

If I get snappish, use a bad word, do something I regret...I share that with them. I think it is a sense of showing respect for them as people, showing some hunility, and the courage to be humble when needed. It's complex.

Your story is, as always, lovely. Your memories of your mother are so real and so precious. Thanks for sharing them.

And what an awesome bonding time that camping trip must have been.

the-new-girl said...

I don't really have good words for this.
An incredible post.

Julie Pippert said...

Or...maybe I meant HUMILITY.

LOL

Avalon said...

One of the best gifts my own Mother ever gave me was when my daughter was about 4 years old. I had said something to my daughter that turned out to be wrong. My Mother advised me to apologize to her, and then lightly explained to my daughter that adults are not always right simply because they are adults. it changed the way i related to my daughter. It also made it OK for my daughter to question authority.

However, when i was little, I don't know that she ever would have apologized to me. it's all about learning from our own mistakes and trying to do better.

Motherhood Uncensored said...

Mistakes never hurt so much until I had kids. And now I beat myself up about them like never before.

I think showing our vulnerability and our fallibility is one of the best gifts we can give our kids.

Perfection is not happiness.

mammacheryl said...

I'm hoping my children will eventually be able to forgive me for all the stuff I'll do wrong. It took years for my siblings and I to get over it and accept my mother for who she was and who she is now. All those wasted years of bitterness. A parent-child relationship is still a relationship, and it takes nurturing and patience, just like anything else. Beautiful post. Visiting today from Parent Bloggers. Nice to meet you.

Lawyer Mama said...

We're all human. It's nice that your mother gave you that apology before she died.

My relationship with my mom was similar - never any apologies until recently - and it has changed how I parent. When I yell at my kids I apologize and let them know that I'm human.

It sounds like your mom's apology did the same thing for you.

I love it when you write about Grammy Chicky. Maybe because you never really know someone until you meet their family. So we couldn't know the blogger without knowing her mom.

Ruth Dynamite said...

Beautiful, Mrs. Chicky.

We make mistakes. It's what we do. How we acknowledge them and learn from them says much about our character.

Jen Magnuson said...

"There's no room for perfection in motherhood."

So true! I wish we all remembered that and stopped being so hard on ourselves and each other!

jen said...

oh, friend. my mom did the same for me last year, and i had waited for that my whole life.

i, too, won't make my child wait that long. lovely post.

metro mama said...

Wow. Great post.

We have a lot in common. My adolescent years were a lot like yours, I think. It took a long time to overcome.

flutter said...

Beautiful, Chicky, just beautiful

Mad Hatter said...

Sadly, it may take your daughter until she's 30 to hear it. I don't know the age we need to hit to realize our parents are human but for me it was shockingly late.

Great post, Chicky.

Mommy off the Record said...

Beautiful post. It's hard for most people to admit to their mistakes -especially, I'd say, when it comes to parenting. However, you're absolutely right that mothers are human and that mistakes are inevitable. By apologizing to your children, you are teaching them that it's OK to admit when mistakes are made - and it's actually part of the healing process. I'm glad that you and your mother were able to communicate about this before she passed away. It was a very important gift indeed.

Happy Mother's Day, Mrs. C.

Mamma said...

I never understood my mom when she seemed to apologize for my distant grandmother by saying that she did the best she could. Now I completely understand. And in those words I began to understand what she was trying to tell me. My mom was doing the best she could.

A wonderful post!!!

MotherBumper said...

That is a wonderful and beautiful lesson that all parents should learn. I'm sure if many of us had heard that admission long before we became adults we may have had a bit of an easier time dealing with the decisions made. Beautiful post Mrs. Chicky and among my favorites this Mother's Day weekend.

Kristi said...

Beautifully said. And I hope I'll have the humility to do the same someday.

mama k said...

beautiful entry! Such and important lesson for all of us mamas.

(found you via the blog blast)

Andie D. said...

Beautiful post. Beautiful.

It took me until I was in my late 20s to realize that my mother was a PERSON. A mere mortal. That the mistakes she made were not part of a greater, calculated plan, but just mistakes. Pure and simple.

I admit freely to my kids when I make a mistake. Openly. Hell knows I am so very mortal, and I want them to know it now.

mamatulip said...

This is a beautiful post, Mrs. C. I can relate to much of it; my mom and I had a similar relationship, I was a bit of a rebellious teen, and I did hear a similar apology from my own mom before she died.

It meant all the difference to me.

Thinking of you tomorrow.

Kara said...

Damn you're talented.

kgirl said...

It took me a long, long time to learn to say I'm sorry - to anyone. Bee will know it when I am.

Happy Mother's Day.

Her Bad Mother said...

No room for perfection. Exactly.

Beautiful.

Elizabeth said...

Beautiful post, Mrs. C. I wish that before my Mom died, we could have apologized to each other like that. We will have a different relationship with our daughters, and hopefully we won't have to have those years of fighting. Happy Mother's Day to you!

Oh, The Joys said...

I think I need to save this post and read it when Rooster is 13.

Bravo.

aimee / greeblemonkey said...

I totally apologize to Declan. I also put myself in time out when I am getting out of control mad.

Kelly said...

What a lovely post.

GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Gorgeous. Just... perfection. Thank you.

Pattie said...

I am so happy that you have this memory of your mom. There is a lesson for us all in her words. My mother and I often have discussions about my childhood. She has apologized to me many times over for her mistakes. I hope I am able to do the same with my kids, too.

binkytown said...

It's awesome that your mom did that. My mom and I battled too, and I feel like the scars are still there and I don't know how to fix them. Thanks for sharing that. It's an important lesson.

Pendullum said...

I seem to apologize to my daughter daily...

In fact,I kinda make it a policy to show her mistakes,I make...
I point out that no one is perfect, no one goes through a day without having something going not quite right...
My daughter is only nine, and I want her to see that no mistake is too big or too small that can not be talked about.
She comes to me whenever there is a problem.... a mistake or otherwise...
I hope that this base of communication stays open... I have my fingers crossed and my ears and my heart open...

Jill said...

Loved your very moving post!

petite gourmand said...

another beautiful and moving post chicky.

glad to hear you had a wonderful mother's day.

ewe are here said...

Thank you for posting this. It's a lovely, thoughtful piece and it's given me a lot to think about...