DONE and DONE-er: Resignation Tendered …

mom - heaven and hell

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Quite some time ago, I was chatting with a new mom and during our heartfelt and honest exchange … she dared to utter something that  I have heard on countless occasions in my work as a counsellor and/or parenting coach.  She said “I feel like I’m failing.”  In my compassionate attempt to save her from her own self-deprecation, I promptly responded saying, “No need to do that to yourself.”

That particular moment has always stuck with me because my response was unintentionally dismissive.  It failed to honor how challenging it is to negotiate the peaks and valleys of parenting and, ultimately, the pain of falling short of your own preconceived ideas of  how it going to look when you, too, claim the crown of motherhood.  What I wish I had said was this:

Yep … you are going to feel like you failed. Often.  It’s sheer hell.  And, you are going to feel the pride of success. Often.  It’s absolute heaven.  And, from my humble place of reference, the secret of surviving the inevitable roller-coaster between the polarities of agony and ecstasy is not gripping too tightly to either one.  It has been my experience that things seem to work out best when we can savor our victories (however fleeting they may feel) … and … stop ourselves from ruminating too long over the failures (however devastating they may feel).  I’ve learned that the best we can do is let it all come … and then … let it all go.   Be like a cork bopping along the seas of motherhood rather than trying to anchor yourself into any one place. 

Yes … I know … that is easy for me to say now that my children are all grown and parenting children of their own.  I can still clearly remember, though, planning it all out while I was pregnant for the first time … comfortably assured that my kids would never have snotty noses or melt-downs in public.  I even had the subscription to Parents Magazine long before I had the baby.  And then, all that glorious theory collided unfavorably with reality when I found myself lost at sea with ‘real’ children.  I remember how shocked I was by the shame and sheer exhaustion I encountered as my best efforts to do what the books said failed.

Oh my … as I reflect upon my experience of motherhood over the last 35+ years, I’ve had more than my fair share of epic failures. You’d think my schooling and work experience would have been fool-proof prophylactics for problems in parenting, but the seas get rough – even for the most well-schooled sailors.  A while back, I came across a “Letter of Resignation” in my filing cabinet.   It was in the scribbler we used for family meetings over 20 years ago. I howled when I read it!! In retrospect it seems quite humorous, but during that hellish time I was clearly DONE!  Or … maybe I had completely come UNDONE.  I was clearly drowning. Capsized completely.  Floundering desperately and gasping for some small breath to save me from the menacing undertow of raising three strong, independent girls.

I knew something had to change … and here is a wee excerpt from my feeble but six page attempt to right the ship:

Dear Family Members:

  1. I have had MORE THAN ENOUGH OF: 
    • (I had a very long list of frustrations … I will spare you the details).
  2. I am TIRED OF:
    • (I will also spare you the  lengthy but compelling arguments I used to defend my position)
  3. SO … FROM NOW ON:
    • if you want it clean – clean it
    • if you want to eat – cook it
    • if you cook it – I will  eat it too – but I will no longer cook with the family in mind
    • if I show up for meals, I show up … if I am not going to show up, I will call you … unless I forget
    • if you have laundry – wash it … do mine too
    • do NOT use the white towels – they are NOW all mine – that way I will know I have clean DRY towels
    • please do not ask to borrow another thing of mine … not. one. thing.
    • if it is convenient for you to use the van, fine, but if not … do NOT waste your breath trying to convince me
    • someone should assume responsibility for groceries – we will need them replaced
    • use your own mirrors in the morning please – I want mine available so I can use it when I need it
    • set your own alarms – and GET UP when they ring – I will be sleeping until I have to get up myself
    • please do your chores and I will do mine.  I will do a good job.
    • it would really be nice if someone would co-ordinate all the comings and goings and appointments for all the family members
    • I would like to spend $200 per month on golfing this summer … so sorry … you will have to go without your extra-curricular activities … it is my turn
    • I am charging  $20 for my black pants that were borrowed but not returned – PLUS $10 for the aggravation of not having them
  4. AS WELL:
    • Do not worry about how what you do affects the rest of us – we are all just individuals living under the same roof.  We would only need to concern ourselves with that kind of consideration if we wanted to be family oriented and supportive of each other
    • I will continue to work and pay bills BUT I expect NOT to be asked to do anything for anyone else if I have homework of my own to do 
    • You can ask for my help and I might give it – if I feel like it – or I might forget – but you will understand.
  5. AND:
    • I only mean some of this – can you guess which ones I will hold you to…?

Oy Yoy Yoy.  Wouldn’t you know it …  I couldn’t even get the darn resignation signed before the maternal guilt started eroding my sanctimonious indignation.  But, that’s how it is with mommy guilt.  It’s always hovering … surreptitiously snatching every small snippet of self-care and ruining our resolve!  And even funnier … I must have thought that adding that dash of uncertainty about what I really meant would leave them quivering quite uncomfortably as I tossed in the towel (well – all except for the white ones). 

I don’t recall how they responded.  I don’t even remember how long my resignation lasted.  Probably only until the next heavenly wave of motherhood washed up warmly around me, melted my heart and swept all that hellish resentment out to sea.

You’d think that by the time you are a grandmother to seven,  you’d be a fairly skillful sailor, right?  Well … a little bit ago, we were watching five of our grandchildren and on the fourth night of five nights, we were pushing the limits for the littlest ones to be away from their parents.  I had the two youngest in bed with me (sideways and upside down) and the two year old had been having a rough night.  We had barely slept between 1:45 and  5:50AM (not that I was clock watching!) so I thought a little distraction might help.  We got up in search of the kitty.  It was mere minutes before the one we had left behind snoozing soundly in the bed joined us … and then … without my awareness promptly awoke two more.

Being cranky, over-tired and wired up (and I am not just talking about me) prompted body checks in front of the TV,  jumping on the furniture, refusals to share, teasing until there were trickles of tears and toy tossing in sheer frustration.  They were doing the best they could (and so were their grandparents) but let’s just say, tempers were terribly tippy even before the pancakes were on the plates and the sun had a chance to peek up over the horizon.  Somehow, it all fell apart for me when I caught sight of one of them buttering the bacon.  For some reason, that was the moment that tipped me right over the edge … into the depths of the dark blue sea.

Before their very eyes, Grammy devolved from being calm, cool and collected into someone sputtering threats to detain them all, right there in our home … solitary confinement of sorts …. until their parents returned the next day. Their eyes got big and bigger … as my voice got stern and sterner.  Not a muscle  dared move until I finally exhaled and bit into my pancake.

Yep, epic fail.  Now, intellectually, I know that buttering the bacon is not immediately life-threatening NOR inherently dangerous, but emotionally, I was lost at sea and losing all logical grip and reason in that moment. Agony eclipsed ecstasy. And,  worse yet, I am supposed to be the GRAND parent.  You know … the ‘grand’ one who knows better. Argh. Double argh.

Bless their little souls and shattered spirits. They have such pure little hearts … and are made of good stuff.  I felt really bad when I came to my senses.  I hoped they’d find it in their hearts to forgive me. I earnestly apologized for losing my cool and I tried not to ruminate about it … too much. After all, I did buy them the foam blocks, bubble wands, pop guns, paint sets, window catchers  and a mega-jumbo canister of play dough.  We went to the pool twice and to the spray park once.  I even got soaked with them under the great big bucket that nearly levels you with the gallons of water it dumps on you.  No slight intended to Papa, but he wasn’t nearly as good a sport! Not even close on this one.  I got some of it very right.  Yes I did.

Fast forward about a  year or so: some of our grandchildren had spent the night. It was heavenly having them with us. We were all seated at breakfast … just laughing and savoring our time together. It was one of those magical moments of connection and I sensed we could all feel it.  And then, with a wee gleam in his eye and probably an instinctive attempt to preserve the ecstasy in the space, my eldest grandson judiciously cautioned “just don’t butter your bacon.” 

I started laughing so hard that I nearly piddled in my pajamas … and … with their cheeky little chuckles, I could tell my blunder was forgiven, but not entirely forgotten.  Yep, bobbing along like a cork between the waves of agony and ecstasy … riding the tides between heaven and hell.  Best idea yet for anyone  trying to stay afloat in turbulent seas of parenting (or grand-parenting).

With humble appreciation for all that motherhood has taught me, Karen

P.S. If I ever get really, really, really brave … I will have to tell you about the time I ransacked my oldest daughter’s bedroom looking for my missing gold belt.  Eeegads …. THAT too is long since forgiven, but never been forgotten. My daughter and I have shared some good chuckles about that epic fall from maternal grace.  🙂

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