Mothers Day

Thank you, Mom_edited-2On May 20, 1977 my only child, a son, was born. This event changed me and my life forever in ways I had no way of knowing when I first held him in my arms and looked down into his little face. After that day I always thought of time as “before Zac was born” and “after Zac was born”.

My son was a challenge from the beginning – I was in labor for 22 hours and he weighed a very healthy 10lbs. 2oz. at birth! He was a happy baby and toddler, with a bright and curious mind but as he grew older he exhibited a single minded will that often bordered on stubbornness. Once he set his mind on something it was near impossible to deter him! When he was four his father and I divorced so he didn’t have the childhood I had envisioned for him. I know the divorce and his relationship with his long distance and neglectful father had a long lasting effect on him. His feelings of anger and disappointment were eventually all directed at me and, by the time he reached his teen years, we were constantly at odds with each other. His attitude and behavior worsened to the point where I had no control over him. Unfortunately, when I think of those years all I can remember is me yelling and him being totally disrespectful in every way possible. I hope he can remember at least some good times with me!

 

Meanwhile, I plodded on. When my marriage ended I was a 31 year old college drop out with no real marketable skills. I was scared and had no idea how I was going to support myself and my son. I got the only job available to me – retail sales.  Between the failed marriage and the crappy, low paying job I felt like the biggest loser on the planet! My self-esteem was at an all time low. I was starved for approval and affection, which naturally led me into an unhealthy relationship. Fortunately, I had enough inner strength to work my way up into a management position, get a loan to build a small house, change to a career in social services and finish my college degree. Every time I accomplished a milestone I felt a little better about myself.

24 years ago I moved to Florida and forced my then 16 year old son, who had insisted on dropping out of high school, to go with me. I desperately wanted to get him away from some very negative influences and I thought a big change was needed in both our lives. He only stayed for 6 months but, they were productive months for him and our relationship also improved – before I moved I had thrown him out of the house and we were barely speaking so, almost anything was an improvement! He got a full time job, finished his GED, got a drivers license and a car. He shared an apartment with a friend who had moved to Florida with him. He was only 17 when he moved back to New Jersey but he had experienced so much more of life than his former high school classmates. I didn’t want him to leave but, as usual, he already had his mind set.

The following years had many ups and downs for each of us and for our relationship with each other but, thankfully, we both came out okay. I was able to build another house, in which I still live. It was one of the best decisions I ever made and has been my sanctuary. I was hired as a social services director in local government, from which I retired after 16 years. When my father retired, my parents moved from NJ to a house right down the street so I’ve been blessed to have them close by for many years. I still haven’t been blessed with a good man to share my life but, I’m happier with myself and with my life than ever before and that in itself is a great blessing.

My son earned a degree in audio/video management and worked for 10 years in that field but, throughout his 20’s he drove me crazy with worry over all his impulsive decisions. I bailed him out of so many financial crises that I still feel the effects to this day! He lived in several places over the years and finally decided three years ago that northeast NJ is where he “feels at home”. While living in Boston he completed a second BS, in Web Design and Internet Technology – Dean’s List every semester and National Honor Society! – and has been employed as a web developer for the past 2-1/2 years. He recently got married and his first child, a boy, is due on August 1. He & his new wife are in the process of buying a house. It was a long and difficult road but, it does my heart good to know that he has finally grown up and put all the pieces of his life together.

When I look back on my experiences as a mother I see all the mistakes I made and all the things I could have done differently but, I no longer have the heavy burden of guilt that I carried for so many years. I also don’t compare him anymore to the “good” sons of people I know and wonder where I went “wrong”. I just accept him for the unique person he is and appreciate his good qualities – after all, some of them come from me! I know I did the best I could for my son and, no matter what, I always loved him. I think he knows that. So, on this Mothers Day, forgive your mother for whatever wrong you think she did and, even more importantly, forgive yourself.

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

Cherokee Lake Park Thomasville GA 4-16

Love is everything

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

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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 wayI’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

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

I’m not here to make you happy

Let your spirit danceThe only happiness for which I am responsible is my own. Does that sound selfish to you? That’s a knee-jerk reaction – stop and really think about it. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people or that I don’t try to help someone who is suffering in some way. It simply means that I know I can add happiness to someone’s life with acts of kindness and love, I can share happy occasions, I can show by example what happiness looks like but, I can’t make someone happy. The true revelation for me came when I understood what an important responsibility finding my own happiness was, not only to me but, to everyone around me. We are all walking the path of our lives alone and, even though we have companions along the way who can add happiness to our journey; it is up to each of us to figure out what is truly meaningful. When you are happy with yourself you can be a beacon of light to others who are searching for their own happiness. It is a gift you can share everyday.

Kindness, compassion, and charity are ways to add and share happiness. It feels great to make someone smile or lighten their burden but you shouldn’t try to solve their problems or “rescue” them from their life – that’s your ego at work, not your humanity. I learned a lot about this from working in social services for 22 years (plus several years of volunteer work) – when I first started I was trying to “fix” people by solving their problems for them and I became frustrated when they came back with the same problems again and again. Eventually, I came to understand that all I could do was to provide the tools and let them do the work themselves – or not. I accepted that everyone is on their own journey and has to learn their own life lessons. The outcome is up to them and I learned that, no matter what you do, some people just don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives. I also learned that trying to control another person is always more about my needs than theirs.

On the topic of making someone happy – when did parents start thinking they have to make their kids happy at all cost? Recently I shared a YouTube video on Facebook of comedian Louis C.K. His humor can be quite profane but, at times, it is also profound. In this particular video he is asked how he handles it when his kids ask for a Smart Phone and he answers that he just tells them they can’t have one. What a novel idea! He makes two statements that I really like – “I’m not here to make them happy” and “I’m not raising children, I’m raising the grown ups they’re going to be”. The reality is that it is not your job to fulfill every wish your child has. You’ll serve them better if you help them to understand that they won’t always get everything they want in life and teach them to control their natural instinct to be selfish and greedy. It is your job to teach them how to become an independent adult; not how to prolong their childhood indefinitely. Part of your job is to give them the tools they need to find their own happiness but, that will be impossible if you haven’t figured it out for yourself. If you’re still parenting I advise you to clean up your energy field and discover your happiness ASAP! It really is true that children learn best by example.

If you actually believe that you can make someone happy you probably should look in the mirror and figure out what need of your own you’re trying to fulfill. Are you acting out of guilt? Are you avoiding your own problems by trying to control another person’s life? Are you trying to force a relationship to be more than it ever could be? I’ve done all those things in the past but, after I learned how to be happy with myself, I never did them again.  No one can do that for you.

Simple but, not easy!

Stella adds to my happiness!

Stella adds to my happiness!

Christmas is coming soon!! – check out my latest Christmas greeting cards by visiting my online shop at Zazzle

Parenting 101

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

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

Remaining true to my contrary nature I’m going to start right off by saying that, despite the title of this blog, I can’t tell you much about parenting and I don’t think I was very good at it. Also being true to a common theme on this blog, I have to say that my lack of success as a parent, as in so many things, stems from a lack of self-love (yes, everything leads me back there). When I got divorced I didn’t really know myself and, unfortunately, that carried over into being a single parent. A lot of the good things I learned about parenting from my own upbringing went out the window when I was confronted with the reality of raising a child alone. Nothing in my knowledge or previous experience had prepared me for that kind of nail-biting stress, worry, fear, and loneliness. Being a single parent turned out to be the hardest job I ever had and, to be honest, I know now that my own lack of self-love made it even harder.

 Looking back I can clearly see where I went wrong; I became infected by a very, very bad five letter word – GUILT. I felt guilty when my son was hurt by his father’s absence or disappointed by a canceled visit and that guilt began to affect the way I parented him. He was smart and strong-willed and he learned at an early age how to manipulate me by using my guilt but my own insecurities and lack of self-love made it easy for him. I understand now that I was trying to overcompensate for the fact that he didn’t have his father in his life – as if all the blame for the divorce was mine – and I was inconsistent with discipline and probably gave him conflicting messages because I felt conflicted about so many things. Through his teen years and 20’s he had what I can only describe as a love-hate relationship with me. If I said yes and did whatever he wanted he loved me, if I said no he hated me. I usually did whatever he asked, even when I knew it was a mistake, because I wanted him to love me. (Hint – this doesn’t work any better with your kids than it does in relationships with anybody else!) Ultimately, all I did was allow him to extend his adolescence. Don’t worry, it’s a happy ending – he grew up to be a very nice man, in spite of everything.

 My son is 36 now and things have been calmer between us for the past few years; partly because he finally started to grow up and partly because I did. I started loving myself and taking care of my own needs. I learned how to say no to him and mean it. I forgave myself for whatever mistakes I had made as a parent and, most importantly, I stopped trying to “win” his love. I know he loves me but he doesn’t communicate very often in between our infrequent visits and doesn’t share much about his life with me. When I drop him off at the airport I never know how long it will be before I hear from him again. (Maybe he actually works for the CIA.)

Anyway, for those of you who are still parenting a dependent child – or even an adult child who still acts like one – my best and only piece of parenting advice is to love yourself. If you don’t show yourself love and respect then you can’t expect it from anyone else, including your children. One of my mother’s favorite sayings is “start out as you intend to go on” and it is beautiful in it’s simplicity because it works no matter what new situation you are entering – marriage, job, school, friendship, parenthood – it is simply telling you that if you’re true to yourself from the start, you won’t go wrong. Here’s what I learned about guilt – if you remain true to yourself in all situations, you will never have reason to feel guilty.

I like to be babied ... but this is ridiculous! (Stella has " issues" sometimes :-) )

I like to be babied … but this is ridiculous!
(Stella has ” issues” sometimes 🙂 )

Speaking of parenting, have you read my book “Velvet Ropes: The Ties That Bind Mothers and Daughters” ? 20 true personal mother/daughter stories – a great gift!

See more of my artwork and books at www.lyndalinke.com