The Mom I Wanted to Be

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.

  • Tim Muldoon

    Jean, with a 12 year-old and a nine year-old daughter I am feeling that image of the plane taking off. It’s in my future, too.

    I like your sentiment: making our kids do things we deem important may, in the end, be one more obstacle to their hearing God’s still, small voice. I’m more concerned about teaching them how to love than to play the flute or speak Latin.

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Dear Tim,
      Thanks for the comment. It’s so hard to get this parenting thing right, isn’t it? But it sounds like you’re onto something! Prayers are with you and your family with your next adoption!

  • Maggie Goff

    “false sense of control”….Thank You! Just what was needed….. God bless you.

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      God bless you too Maggie and thanks for reading and commenting!

  • Teri Elliott-Hart

    Thanks so much for this….it really resonates with me. I have been blessed to know some wonderful families with children I love and respect and instead of just rejoicing in that, I can let it be a constant source of comparison and anxiety about what I don’t do well enough…thanks for the reminder about pride and what God wants to do that.

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Hi Teri – Hope you and Fred and kids are doing well. It’s crazy that mothering can be competitive isn’t it – with yourself and with others. I so much desire holding it all so much more lightly and getting out of the way so that God can have some room to do His thing!

  • Norine Blanton

    I have been blessed with my children. Sure I could’ve had a house that looked like something out of Better Homes and Gardens, I could’ve had a full time job and made a lot of money, but I brought my children into this world and I invested my time and energy in them. I am fortunate enough to have a husband who agreed with me. We have tried to let our kids experience a lot of different things, while never feeling we had to compare ourselves to others. Aside from wishing I were a better housekeeper, I’ve never wanted to be any other kind of mom. As Jean said, God knows what kind of mom I needed to be. I know my time was well spent when my daughter calls me from college to thank me for being the best mom ever. My son also lets me know how much he appreciates what we’ve done for him. He is 22 and she is 18. I did the best I could with what God gave me, I’m far from perfect, but I have to answer to myself and my Lord, and so far my kids turned out alright.

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Sounds like you did a good job AND are comfortable with it – that’s a blessing and a victory! Thanks for reading and writing in!

  • Joy Rhodes

    My first two kiddos are college-aged now and I have experienced exactly what you describe here. And I agree that my biggest regrets are rooted in pride and a desire to control things that are rightly out of my control. I am amazed at how much God has taught me since a couple of my own have become young adults. It seems like the learning process doesn’t end in our 40′s, 50′s, etc. And that’s something to be thankful for.
    Thanks for sharing your experience in such a well-written article!

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Thanks Joy! Yes – the learning certainly continues and unfortunately doesn’t become less painful as I grow older :) Nice to know others who share this same experience – thanks for commenting.

  • Laura Maxwell

    I often think of how quickly my children are growing. I have an idealized view in my mind of what kind of mom I would be but I’m not doing it! Instead i’m in my home office working all the time. With each tick of the clock, I fool myself into believing as soon as I finish one more task, I’ll get out there and spend that quality time with each child. I don’t want to regret. I’m just so darn busy most of the time. Makes me sad. This reminds me to try harder and do better!!!!!

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Oh no! The last thing I wanted to have happen is for you to feel guilty about your parenting! God is good, even in our imperfection, distraction and wrong priorities. God bless!

  • Roy

    Dear Jean, As far as I am concerned, you are a wonderful mom; much better than your own parents. Birth, Separation, Becoming Old, Sickness, and Death are life experience. God bless you and with you. Love, Dad

    • Jean Yih Kingston

      Thanks so much Dad! So good of you to write! Please stop comparing your parenting to mine – such very different circumstances. The hard work you and Mom did made things much easier for me. Love you, Jean

  • Sarah

    If you’re thinking you’ve failed at all, I can’t believe what you’d think of me if you saw me in action.
    Mostly I’m posting because I love your dad’s comment. I hope you take that to heart.

  • Jean Yih Kingston

    Hi Sarah! I have seen you in action with your beautiful children and you’re a terrific mom. Yes…my Dad is sweet!

  • Maria

    Thanks for this poignant journal. I’m a mom of three, ages four, six and eight. Some days I feel like all I do is apologize for things I say and do that aren’t godly. I called myself a hypocrite once, and my husband blessed me so greatly by saying, “No, the kids are learning about sin, repentance and forgiveness”.
    Thank you for giving me a view from a bit ahead of where I am in parenting! It’s an encouragement.

  • ariel


  • dorothy greco

    Thanks for this honest, thoughtful post Jean. Killing off the false self (or starving it to death!) is both exceedingly painful and incredibly freeing. Sharing it publicly takes another level of courage. We’re queued directly behind you on the tarmac.

  • Denise Dampierre


    Our oldest son left at 17 at the beginning of the school year. But it’s OK. That is what I’ve been working towards all along!

    What if your daughter’s departure were a gift from God? Oftentimes His gifts come in wrappings that I don’t enjoy!

    I often think “What do I really want my kids to know by the time they are 18?” Frankly, not that much, but here it is:
    - to say “please” and “thank you” and I would love for them to say that to God
    - to love what is good and hate what is wrong and I hope they will define that according to God’s word
    - to know that they have value and are loved by Jesus Christ…and that the person in front of them (even the one that is a real pain) also has value and is loved by Christ
    - to have a work ethic and appetite for excellence
    - to prefer being loving to being right
    - not to have to resolve all problems RIGHT NOW
    - to have a hope for the future…and that our family and eternity would be part of it.

    You know, much of that fantasy Mom stuff is about techniques–how to….–which they will always have a chance to learn…maybe a harder way later on in life, but they’ll learn. It’s attitude that’s the hardest to change. Since your daughter has been around you, she surely has benefited from your loving perspective. It’s already TONS!