Mother’s Day

A drawing I did based on an old photo of me and my son

A drawing I did based on an old photo of me and my son

Being a mother was the most challenging and difficult job I ever had. When I first held my son and saw his little face I was unprepared for the powerful rush of emotion that swept over me. Profound love and fierce protectiveness unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I could actually feel my heart come out of my body and, ever since, as far as he is concerned, it has remained out there; vulnerable and unprotected. He has always been the only one who could so easily fill my heart with joy – and just as easily fill it with pain. I think this is something he figured out when he was very young.

When my son was 4 his father and I were divorced. I just read an article that said recent studies have shown that children adjust much better to divorce when custody is split evenly between parents – commonly known as joint custody. When children split their time evenly between each parent’s home they get a more healthy balance of “Mom time” and “Dad time”. If divorce is unavoidable then that is the ideal arrangement but, unfortunately, most couples are either unable or unwilling to work that out. For one thing, the parents have to live close enough to each other that they are both able to get the children to school or daycare and their extracurricular activities. They have to want to share the job of parenting equally so, if they weren’t doing that when they were married they’re certainly not going to do it when they’re divorced.

My son’s father was a long distance truck driver so shared custody was not even a possibility. I knew instinctively that a child could adjust to divorce more easily if, 1) regardless of the visitation arrangement, the non-custodial parent was a consistent, dependable presence in the child’s life and 2) the parents were civil and cooperative with each other. As long as a child feels loved and secure, they can handle a lot; if they feel abandoned and unimportant, that’s when the trouble starts. My son’s father decided to move from Rhode Island back to northeastern New Jersey, where we had both grown up and where our families still lived and, as a result, his visits became infrequent and unreliable. Try explaining that to a four-year old! I decided that I would also move back to New Jersey so that my son would be closer to his father and our families. I relocated to a town at the Jersey shore where my son’s only aunt and cousins and my best friend lived, about 75 miles from his father and both sets of grandparents. I thought it would be good for both of us to be closer to family. A few months after I moved, my ex-husband was offered a job back in Rhode Island so off he went!

For many years I held a lot of resentment toward my ex-husband for all the times he broke promises to his son, the infrequent visits and the poor job of keeping in touch between visits. It was heartbreaking to watch a little boy trying to deal with disappointment over and over. I’m sure this feeling of abandonment was the contributing factor to all the anger and bad behavior that came later, which, of course, was usually directed at me.

My son’s teen years were very difficult for me – he probably remembers all the good times he had but, to me, it was a lot of reckless and self-destructive behavior. I struggled to keep the lines of communication open between us. Our relationship continued to be rocky throughout his twenties and I was in a constant state of worry. Too many times I “rescued” him from the results of his bad behavior and bad decisions instead of letting him suffer the consequences and learn from his mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes of my own but, in the end, I know I did the best I could and always loved him. I think that’s all a mother can do. Here’s part of the verse from the Mother’s Day card I just received:

I know it wasn’t always easy

keeping me to the straight and true.

But knowing you were there for me –¬†hoping, guiding, praying –

well, sometimes that was all I needed to make it through.

It’s so nice to get a card like that because I know he really feels that way.¬†I’m happy to say that, after all the ups and downs, joy and pain, my son has grown up to be a man I can not only love but, also like and respect. He is kind, generous, loyal to his friends, well-read and intelligent, and successful in his career. He has a great sense of humor and a strong work ethic. I did my best to give him a good foundation and I can now see the fruit of seeds I planted long ago but, I can also see all the characteristics that are unique to him. I hope he will be a father someday – it would be wonderful to see him wearing his heart on his sleeve!

Making the decision to have a child – its momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. ~Elizabeth Stone

My other "baby"

My other “baby”

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

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I might be mistaken

Great pair of shoesWe all make mistakes and I’m no exception. Now, as a mature woman, I can look back over the years and clearly see where I “went wrong” but, I also see that everything I did brought me to the place I am now, which is a darn good place if I do say so myself. The ramifications from some of the mistakes I made were minor surface ripples and others went deep and affected the course of my life but, getting older has given me the blessing of perspective and I can see how much I have learned and grown as a result of my mistakes.

When my son was younger his impulsive nature led him into many bad situations. In some ways, he was his own worst enemy because he often repeated the same dumb mistakes. I would tell him (after I finished lecturing him) that we are all mere humans and we make mistakes but, the worst mistake of all is to repeat the same ones over and over without learning anything from them (we all know that famous definition of insanity). Mistakes aren’t just difficult and painful experiences that we have to suffer through; they are opportunities to grow as individuals and learn valuable lessons. This isn’t about instant gratification; sometimes it takes us years to recognize what we learned from a particular mistake. Of course, sometimes the most important thing you learn from a mistake is simply that you don’t ever want to do that again!

I used to beat myself up over some of my bigger mistakes and, if you don’t love yourself, it is easy to fall into the old pattern of guilt, shame, and even anger. Sometimes I felt sorry for myself and tried to blame someone else for the choice I made (of my own free will!) – if not out loud, then certainly in my own head. I think a lot of mistakes occur as a result of not knowing yourself or lacking self-respect but – and here’s something to ponder – dealing intelligently with the mess you got yourself into actually shows you what you’re made of and builds self-respect. This is the silver lining of making a mistake – it helps to develop good judgment.

One of my biggest mistakes as a parent, which was an offshoot of my own guilt, was to rescue my son from the results of his poor choices. Children have to feel the consequences of their decisions and their behavior and when you rescue them you’re not doing them any favors. As difficult as it is to just stand back and watch them flounder around, learning how to deal with the results of a mistake actually builds character and encourages emotional maturity. When I finally overcame my feelings of guilt about my son’s “broken home” I also stopped feeling as if I had to save him from his mistakes. I’m sharing this example from my life to demonstrate how the mistakes you make because you don’t love and respect yourself can affect those you love.

Yes, it is true that even if you love and respect yourself you’ll make mistakes (you are still a flawed human being) but, they won’t be disastrous and they won’t be as frequent! They’ll be small and manageable and you’ll learn something from them without derailing yourself or hurting anyone. I’m amazed at how I always end up talking about self-love and respect, even if it is not my intent when I start writing – everything leads back to being true to yourself. One of those things I learned the hard way, through many mistakes, is that getting your emotional house in order has a profound effect on every aspect of your life – every single relationship you have, every endeavor you undertake, your enjoyment of life – even the mistakes you make and how you deal with them. Start by forgiving yourself for your mistakes and then think about all you have learned from them.

Words of wisdom from a man who made some whoppers but always picked himself up and “carried on”:

If we look back on our past life we shall see that one of its most usual experiences is that we have been helped by our mistakes …
~Winston Churchill

 

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

August 2014