I haven’t cried hard in a while, but when I saw my eighteen year-old daughter wave a shy goodbye as she left my sight at the airport last night, I couldn’t stop. After seven months of her being home for a “gap year” between high school and college, she was taking off for a two-month trip to Europe – a giant leap out of my protective arms and into adulthood. I’d felt pangs of impending loss all week, but the tears flowed while standing there as she actually walked away from me.
Had I done enough? Had I properly equipped her to navigate the world?
Earlier in the day a friend had sent a link to a New York Times article about a mom who created a system where her boys, ages 14 and 10, each cooked a healthy dinner for the family once per week. I loved the concept but it simultaneously made me feel like a failure. The author explained her intricate process. It took careful planning, organization, prodding, teaching and loads of patience. I wished I had required that of my daughter. If I had made her cook for us these last few years, I’m sure she’d have been that much more prepared for her time in Europe as well as adulthood.
“Shame on me” I say to myself as I think about our piano sitting silently, gathering dust. Though our first child played for many years, our second played for just a few, our third for one and I didn’t even bother with the fourth when he protested before he even took a first lesson. When I see the kids in town with their cellos, violins and trumpets, I think, why didn’t I enforce the “everyone in our family needs to do something musical” approach? We know a couple that hired only Chinese nannies so their children would learn Mandarin from infancy. Why didn’t I do that? We live in New England and my kids don’t play ice hockey. They don’t go to Russian Math classes either (I’ve heard of lots of families enrolling their kids in Russian Math and I don’t even know what it is. But the thought occurs, “maybe the Russians are really onto something that we’ve not learned yet…”). All these examples (and so many more) point to the big letter “F” that sits smack in the middle of my forehead as I wave goodbye.
It’s my own scarlet letter of shame.
Is this how we parents feel about parenting in modern times – when we see what other families are doing – busily driving kids from one enriching activity to another? (Don’t the neighbors always look super successful and put together?) It’s all too easy to feel guilty, envious, judgmental and inferior.
Saying “goodbye” to my firstborn yesterday was gut-wrenching. However, as I drove home tearfully, I realized I was mourning the loss of my self-imposed idea of “fantasy mom” as much as I was lamenting her departure.
My piano might sit untouched, the hockey skates will probably continue to dangle on the garage hooks and Russian Math will have to go on without our participation.
But in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.
God didn’t paint that “F” on my forehead. That feeling of failure comes from pride, misguided ideas about what’s important, and impossibly high standards of motherhood. After all, He thinks my kids are awesome with or without piano training and Russian Math skills. He’s taking care of our 18 year-old when she’s near, when she’s far and even when I’ve truly dropped the ball as a mom.
But right now, He’s working on my soul, embracing me in my heartache while forcing me to realize He’s enough – for my kids, for my marriage, for my parenting.
What I’ve learned is “the mom I wanted to be” was never the mom God wanted me to be. And with each sorrowful wave goodbye, He’s prodding me to let go of my shame, regret and false sense of control. And I believe what I’ll find remaining is a clearer path into His arms.