Happy mothering! Perspective from a former child

May 20th, 2016

NOTE: An online friend wrote the following insightful thoughts to me during email conversations.  Very worthwhile reading that has come back to my mind at random times.  A little perspective can be a valuable gift, so I asked her permission to share it on The Blessing of Verity.  She granted permission after checking to make sure there was no identifying information that would dishonor her mother.  

Here it is, with love, for all my mommy-friends.  I’m looking forward to reading your responses in the comment section.  Don’t miss the little face at the end.

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I have mentioned coming from a large family. A great family. Very much intact and loving. Still is. My father couldn’t get enough of the chaos and energy his kids brought to the house. He thought we were the best thing since sliced bread.

But I do remember feeling like we kids were “a lot of work” for my mother. Until five years ago, I did not understand that was a lie. It left us feeling confused. We were great kids, high-achieving students, mannerly, consistent, helpful, etc.  None of us gave our parents any grief. My mother did not intend to send that message, but she did with her ongoing fatigue and constant look of exasperation with all that had to be done. She was/is type A. She would say there is no point in doing anything without excellence. That sounds great but is not sustainable. Understanding that the way she raised us, lived her life, was her choice and was not a mandatory rule from God.

I see many, many mothers from large families who have healthy boundaries about what they can and cannot do.

We were cooperative children. I can see now that she had a need to have everything perfect, all the time, with all the kids, and in all areas as a way to show the world she did not “make a mistake” or “get in over her head” with so many kids. It was a crisis in her mind only. Certainly then I didn’t realize that non-perfection was an option because striving to be better seemed ambitious and wise. Joy left the equation.

She is enjoying the grand kids but did not love, love the dailyness of raising children. What a pity for her. But who would covet the days of young children when you were aiming for something impossible (perfection)?

Anyway, I say this to encourage you to believe that your kids really, truly do not care if they have the picture perfect anything – meals, parties, clothes, family times, home…

Nothing brings a kid from a large family more joy than seeing their mother, especially, happy. I actually go out of my way to be nice to myself in front of my children. I have heard them comment to others that their mom loves this or that and has fun doing this or that or laughs a lot when she does this or that…

I remember writing to you once that as a child I dreaded holidays, etc, as my mother would function on like two hours’ sleep for months in advance. It zapped any enjoyment for us children of that which she imagined was the perfect Christmas, Easter, birthday, etc. All these years later she still lacks insight.

My father has…died. I saw him most everyday (he would stop at my house without my mother knowing, since he could relax here.) My mother never understood that wanting to relax is not the opposite of having a productive life.

My dad was a content man versus my mother…even her joy is complicated. It feels like there is less oxygen in the house since he died.

It’s sad, really. In my mother’s quest to maintain her museum-like home, nothing about the house spoke of my father ever living there. Indeed, his very DNA has been scrubbed away. They were married for 65 years!

After my father died we children thought it might be nice to have something of his to remember him by (other than our inheritance). I never stopped to consider that the only possessions that meant anything to him in that eight thousand square foot house were on his nightstand. [Especially] his leather wallet which was stuffed and I do mean stuffed, with pictures of us children and the grandchildren. He used thick elastic bands to keep it together. It drove my mother crazy that his weary wallet was bulging, which in time broke down the integrity of the photos.

The ever-evolving photo wallet brought my father such joy. Honestly, he would literally laugh and smile at absolutely any picture of any of us doing absolutely any little thing.

I say this to say that even in – especially in – a large family, it only takes random photos inside a bulging wallet to bear witness to a child that they were seen and that they mattered.

We children are all still struggling with remembering that we are not and never were responsible for our mother’s well-being. Her well-being was the elephant in the room, and we children were expected to manage that. In our collective minds, we believed that if only we could be good/clean/talented/respectable/tidy/behaved/responsible and obsequious enough, all would be well. We could write a book on lies we believed.

The really sad part is that my mother missed out. We siblings had each other, and the synergy was wonderful.

~An online friend

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Unrelated recent photo of Baby of Happiness because blog posts are always nicer with pictures, right?

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22 Responses to “Happy mothering! Perspective from a former child”

  1. Maureen says:

    That’s sad. :(

  2. Addie says:

    I find this sad because I can relate to the mom – she was probably doing the best she could with what she knew how to do (and doesn’t seem like with much help) – that was just her love language – she took care of her kids the best way she could and she seems like she did a great job of meeting their needs. Struggling is hard and some of us choose to do the best we can even though its not really what our personalities dictate is best for us – we do it because its best for our kids and its sad that she did her best but it doesn’t seem good enough. I feel that way often myself, but this makes me wonder if it really doesn’t mean much.. if my trying just means Im still not good enough as a mom

  3. Amy Joss says:

    Oh, Susanna! How I needed this. My kids and I have soooo much fun together – but I am always upset over the condition of the house. I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent on my knees over this – for the Lord to just give me more time…more ability…He kept trying to gently show my heart that my kids’ hearts were more important than a clean house, but I just kept shoving that aside…my house needs to be clean, right? This was exactly what I need to understand…

  4. Jeannie says:

    This will be bitter medicine for many of us, I’m afraid. It certainly hits home for me. I agree with Addie that the mom in the story may well have been doing her very best with little help and wasn’t “acting” exhausted and overwhelmed. She WAS exhausted and overwhelmed but carried on taking care of her children and husband and home and even going above and beyond to prepare special treats for holidays and birthdays and such. Most of us look back at our parents and wish they had done something or another differently. We can’t parent with the goal of raising children who don’t criticize us later. But we can (and this is the takeaway for me) remember that enjoying, hugging, smiling at, listening to, and delighting in our children is more important to them than the perfect birthday cake or much of anything else. So I’m going to read a book to said kiddos. :)

  5. Older Woman says:

    1. Anyone who starts an essay with the idea that having a lot of children isn’t REALLY a lot of work isn’t being honest.

    It’s true that as the first born crop of children get older you can train them to do adult chores such as your housework and the physical care of the younger children, but that, in and of itself, takes time and energy.

    I’m not applying a rightness or wrongness to larger family being a lot of work for the mother. Some can handle it, some can’t and need to use the older children as labor when they can’t get it all done. But make no mistake, a larger family is more work.

    (Anyone who’s ever washed a dish knows that washing post, pans and dishes for 15 people is a lot more work that washing up for 4.

    Same for laundry. Same for every other chore that comes along with living.)

    It behooves us a Christians to be honest about that.

    2. The Bible says: “Honour thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise;) That it may be well with thee, and thou mayest live long on the earth.” Ephesians 6.

    This is a command from the the Lord. Not an “option,” or an “if you feel like it” type situation.

    The writer would do well to ask herself if the publication of this essay honors her mother.

    3. Her idea that ‘We were great kids, high-achieving students, mannerly, consistent, helpful, etc. None of us gave our parents any grief,” flies in the face of Scripture.

    The Bible says that “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child.” That’s just the truth. There are no perfect children, or perfect adults. Children sin.

    If the children has better manners than most, she should thank her mother for the time and energy the mother spent instilling such behavior rather than pretend that this large family wasn’t a large expenditure of the mother’s energy.

    For me personally, the bottom line is

    1. Admit that having a lot of children IS a lot of work. Why should there be shame in the idea of honesty?

    2. Honor your father and mother, as the scripture says.

  6. Barb says:

    I am the mom of 3 and I let go of perfection a long time ago. Now that my kids are college and almost high school, I wish I would have spent more time with them when they were younger. Enjoy every day, enjoy every mess, enjoy life, enjoy time….it truly does fly by…

  7. Carol says:

    After struggling for years with anxiety and depression, I finally booked an appointment with a counsellor the other week. The first thing that came up in our session… perfectionism. I can see it in my parents, I can see it in myself, and now I can see it in my daughter. So these thoughts very timely for me. I think it is possible to honour our parents and still reflect honestly on the ways they have hurt us even with the best intentions (as every parent is bound to do since we are all imperfect people). It is helpful to reflect so that mistakes are not repeated and carried on in parenting future generations. I just pray for God’s grace to cover my kids because it feels like I am bound to mess them up in some way…

  8. Tami Swaim says:

    An email is very different than an essay. An email shouldn’t be picked apart and scrutinized. An essay ought to be carefully composed with all main thoughts eloquently executed, backed up and document. An email on the other hand we do well to gain something from it’s general gist. The gist I received personally from reading through the shared email is that we moms will do well to beware of adopting perfectionism as the tenure of our home. “A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish one tears it down with her own hands.” Proverbs 14:1

  9. Alice says:

    I feel so sorry for her Mum :( to work so hard and be so un favoured in return :(
    It’s easy to be the ‘fun’ parent when you aren’t the one cleaning, doing the laundry, preparing for the day, planning the meals, shopping for the meals, cooking the meals etc etc.
    I am certainly not perfect but I do so hope that even though my children have seen that I struggle at times with the workload that I do everything because of my love for them.

  10. Jenny story says:

    I greatly appreciate the encouragement. I have nine children and this is such a timely reminder. Thank you.

  11. Keely says:

    What a sweet little face at the end! What a perfect nickname for him. I just love seeing photos.

  12. Deanna Rabe says:

    I think that what this daughter is saying is that her mom had an idea of perfection in mind so that no one could ever have a reason to think that having a lot of children is a bad idea or too much work etc. She had the IDEAL of what was perfection to HER, and strove for it. The email doesn’t mention that the mom did all the chores by herself and that she didn’t have help. It is that the Mom was striving to make everything meet HER OWN expectations. This daughter is saying that they as children didn’t need perfection (which lead their mom to not enjoy being a mother and they knew it) they just needed her to be joyful.

  13. Lois J says:

    This email spoke directly to me…I’ve been struggling with the exact same thing the author’s mother struggled with. Not that I have so many children, but they are close in age and are rather ‘forward’, and it causes me to try strive for perfection in too many areas so that we don’t need to be ‘talked’ about any more that absolutely necessary. It causes me to be crabby, intolerant of my poor children, and I don’t smile nor laugh nearly enough. I’ve been plagued with guilt about it, and tend to beat myself up and feel like I’m ruining my children’s childhood. My husband is generally patient with them and me, and has been kindly trying to help me. I am so thankful for a Godly husband who has vision. Anyway, this writing was eye-opening, and I very much appreciated the gist of it.
    I totally agree with Mrs. Rabe’s above comment.

  14. SleepyMom says:

    What great perspective to consider! There is a fine line I think between helping your children to be grateful and considerate and making them feel like burdens that are sucking away your joy. As a mother it’s always good to be reminded of how a child might see our behavior. Thank you for sharing.

  15. Jacy says:

    Thank you for posting this! I only have two so far, but it is a good reminder anyway. I also totally agree with Deanna Rabe’s comment- you said just what I was thinking, and put it into words so much better than I would have.

  16. Esther Paris says:

    I couldn’t even finish reading coz it made me desperately distresses, like suffocating. :-(

  17. Blessed says:

    This sounds like a story straight out of an excellent book that was really helpful to me in heart-healing this past year: The Mom Factor by Drs Cloud & Townsend. Now, I had to really take a deep breath several times while reading it and remind myself that the point is not condemning mothers or blaming them for how their kids turn out (there was plenty of fodder in that book for Satan to get a foothold of bitterness or guilt, if the reader was not committing to asking God to reveal His truth through the book–and there was PLENTY of truth) The book was about family patterns that can pass through generations and inhibit people becoming freely and fully the people God has created them to be. I am a recovering co-dependent, and it is a real thing–when God first revealed this bondage to me it was under the label “legalism” but co-dependency is very closely related. This mom sounds like someone who just has blinders on and does not see that her value is not in how she performs but in who she is. Period. She does not have to earn the world’s accolades and does not have to justify having a large family. She does not have to be perfect. It sounds like all her fears and worry and self-doubt and skewed value system kept her in bondage, and the daughter is not being dishonoring to her mother by recognizing this now as an adult. In fact, I’m so glad for her, that God has given her the ability to see some of the negative and harmful assumptions and expectations her mother was living under, so she can possibly be free from that bondage (or the hurt it caused her and her siblings) and be free to LOVE her mother and forgive her for being imperfect, as we all are. And like other readers I saw a little of myself in there. We need to be mindful of the subtle messages we send our kids–they take them in.

  18. Rachel says:

    I am going to chew on this for awhile. First two impressions:
    1. I don’t need to strive for perfection. I can and should enjoy the seasons as they pass without being hung up on expectations I had for myself/my family.
    2. I am a server by nature and have never been a “fun” person. I struggle with feeling shame/condemnation by the elevation of joy. But… I think she’s onto something here, but as I said, I need to chew on it awhile.

    Second thoughts: I thought of your recent post on Verity being on the autism spectrum and how peace comes from acceptance. Acceptance of… of reality, I suppose. Of things being how they are, not the way we decided they should be. I am learning, in my journey of mental health and family health, that there can be joy in exhaustion and fruit from frustration and peace from discouragement. Those hard seasons and those things that first seemed painful are proving to be the source of a lot of hope.

    Thanks for sharing, Susanna. And… don’t judge yourself for seasons of grief, sadness and depression. Or exhaustion. I like to tell my kids that I am tired, but I am glad I’m a mom while I’m tired. Or if they tell me kids must be lots of work, I tell them that they are, but they are so worth it and I love being a mom. Honesty in the work with truth in the love.

    I’m rambling! Thanks for sharing!

  19. Yvonda says:

    Thank you, Susanna. With so much pain, heartache and turmoil, I’ve forgotten how to smile. I guess I’ve gotten lost in the idea that I’m failing my children in a billion ways, and letting those thoughts steal from me the simplicity of joyful content that comes because God is wonderful and we are His.

  20. Miriam says:

    I can identify with the writer of this email & I completely understand where she is coming from. I love my Mum dearly and I am extremely grateful for all that she has done for me and continues to do to care for me but that doesn’t take away from the fact that some of the ways in which I was parented were damaging to me. Because I love my parents so much it has been very difficult to admit, even to myself that my parents (especially my mother) did/do some things wrong but realising & identifying it have begun to bring some healing.

    My mother is & was a good parent in many ways but she never really pursued a relationship with us. She moulded us, disciplined us, brought us up in the way she thought was right but she never took any interest in who we were, our interests, thoughts or opinions. As the writer said she never seemed to enjoy us. She has always been very stressed, always busy but I am finally beginning to see that a lot of that is unnecessary. I also felt that I was responsible for my Mum’s frequent dark moods and angry outbursts and I felt that if I just did everything perfectly the way she wanted she would finally be happy (and finally love me the way I always hoped she would). As you can imagine that has been pretty damaging to me. I’m 34 and finally learning that I am not responsible for my mother’s happiness. It is still a struggle and we have a complex relationship, but I love my Mum and I pray that God will bring healing to my family & our broken dysfunctional relationships.

    My situation is unusual as I am a chronically ill adult living with my parents so I don’t have any distance from these issues! As I said at the beginning my parents are amazing and I am forever grateful for all That that they do for me. But life is far more complex than can be conveyed in an email or blog comment. It is possible both to love your parents dearly, for them to be good and loving parents and yet to hurt and damage their children. Recognising that is not a betrayal, it is actually necessary to break damaging cycles and heal broken relationships. I am just beginning to learn about these things but I know that if I am ever blessed enough to have children of my own I want to be a different kind of mother to my children but I can only do that with God’s help and work in me and my life.

  21. Cassandra says:

    I think the poster named Deanna Rabe captured the poster’s sentiment well.

    The poster mentions her mom living in an 8 K square foot house and it doesn’t matter where you live in this country, that is a pricey home suggesting few “money problems” that might preclude household help if the mom felt in over her head.

    Good discussion

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