When they were little, I was a model mother. I never raised my voice or said a curse word out loud. They knew that Mama was their steady, gentle place.
The years go by and peel away my cool facade, and my nerves are chipped, my tongue is careless, and I fall short of being the role model I had hoped.
And then, when they creep up to my height, and no doubt have surpassed my own intelligence, their journeys takes a turn that is too reminiscent of my own growing up--and I remember thinking as a younger mother--it would never happen to us. It's the moment when my game is up, my mask is shredded, and I am called out to be the imperfect mother...by them.
It's the moment when the flaws I've tried to escape are held against me by the children I tried to protect.
No matter how many times I share the old saying with my children:
"Sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me,"
I prove to be a hypocrite to my own advice. Because words DO hurt. They dig deep, and they unearth all the insecurity that a good mother should not have. Or at least, the insecurity I THINK a good mother should not have.
The rational part of me knows that it's normal, not okay, but normal for adolescents to throw around opinions and possibly manipulate a situation to take the heat off of themselves. I know that. But there are moments when the weight of defeat is so heavy on my shoulders that by the time my husband walks in the door, I can barely speak. The regret of all my mistakes, my disappointment, and my hopelessness that our relationship will ever heal are crippling tragedies beneath a roof where I, in all my other flaws, used to at least be a good mother.
But then there are times, sweet, redeeming times when the children who I've given an obvious ability to speak their minds, also have discerning insight to fess up when they're wrong and ask for forgiveness. And I am usually ready for that peace. It's an unusual dance between a mother and a child--a tug o' war of discord and harmony in this strange phase of growing up. It's more intellectual, and heart-deep than when I'd once coached little tots and said, "that isn't nice, you need to apologize for your actions."
Lashing tongues might inflict scars, but I'm still awed by their willingness to make things right by their own prompting.
While all the mothering I attempted more often than not appears to fall flat on judgmental ears, these heartfelt apologies give me a peek at the man trying to outgrow the child of each of my boys.
And that's when mothering finds a bit of reward. Or at least, some relief from all the mess, all the proof that mothering is not just a sweet duty to infants and toddlers, but its an excruciating commitment to growing people. If there is anything I've learned from raising adolescents and teens, it's the very real, very humbling fact that, mothering is hard.