When I gave birth to my first child, I was filled with a feeling of indescribable love. Up until that point, I thought I knew what love felt like; I mean, I loved my parents and siblings and I loved my first husband (I think?). And yet, it wasn’t until I gave birth to this special little person that I had the undeniable instinct that I needed to become my Best Self so I could take care of her in the best way.
Less than two years later, I was love struck again when my second daughter entered this world. In fact, it was only three months after she was born that I begin writing my very first book. I was awakened with love!
My love for my children has never lessened. Not one single bit. And yet, as they grew into young women (they are now nineteen and twenty-one) there were many times I felt frustrated and exhausted, beyond belief. Good parenting is the hardest job in the world!
The trouble for so many families is that they aren’t aware that ‘we learn the most’ about ourselves through our loved ones—through our closest relationships. We see where we are intolerant or too tolerant; where we haven’t healed our own childhood wounds; where our fears are being cornered and our insecurities challenged. Kids bring out the best and worst in us! No differently than a spouse or partner does.
As we all know, as children grow, they develop into their own person, with their own opinions, needs, and dreams. But they learn how to communicate by watching and listening to us. They decide if their family is a soft spot where they can lay their head to rest and refuel, or if home is a scary place where people attack each other and you never feel truly safe.
In my case, growing up, I learned that family was the fiercest of all relationships—one where you could easily be destroyed if you didn’t fit in properly. It was ‘their way or the highway’. If you didn’t agree, get out! And don’t come back. Ever.
I knew I could never be a parent who treated my kids this same way. But how would I treat them? What was the right way to parent? How could I be so certain I knew what I was doing, when I didn’t know what I was doing?
All I knew was that I had to learn how to communicate with my children at each age and stage of their lives in order to keep them close. I had to overlook many of the obvious things parents get angry about; telling myself these were ‘age appropriate’ improprieties. I also knew that I couldn’t let my guilt of becoming a single mother overshadow my need to discipline them. In other words, I couldn’t let my marital status become an excuse for poor parenting.
All was well with my kids until I decided to remarry after being a single mom for eight years. Whoa! I now had to share myself and my love between ‘three’ people—two, who were used to having all of me, and the other who now wanted all of me.
My biggest problem was that I wanted everything to be lovely. Everyone to be happy. Perfect. Kind. Polite. Nice. Softly spoken. Loving. Thoughtful. Considerate. Healthy. Appropriate. Acceptable. Hmmm . . . maybe even fake and politically correct, in order to keep the peace? I don’t know. Maybe not?
I just know that I had good intentions and wanted everyone to be happy. I wanted to be the mother that I’d needed. I wanted my children to have the home I needed.
When my new husband would get angry with my teenagers for things that he felt were inappropriate or disrespectful, I didn’t cope well. In fairness, neither did he. Parenting is hard work and step parenting is even harder! But because of what I went through, I needed my children’s lives to be lovely. I needed my children to feel no pain. Never be yelled at. Certainly, not judged harshly. I needed to protect them. Maybe I overprotected them to the point that I would argue with my husband just so that he wouldn’t argue with them.
Do not talk to my children that way, I would hiss at him.
So there I’d be fighting with my husband so that he would not fight with them. Over time, he began to resent them, which only made me resent him. They would hear our arguing and that made us all even crazier!
But I just wanted peace. And the truth is, so did he.
We just had different Love Languages. Yes—we all spoke English but our definitions about parenting . . . about life . . . about children . . . about reprimanding . . . even about loving . . . were different. Who was right? Him or me? And did being ‘right’ even matter?
I think the most important thing a couple can do, right from the get go, is to figure out how they see their lives moving forward: Do we have similar values? Do we have similar morals and principals? Do we have similar sexual desires and sexual appetites? How do we feel about money? Are we savers or spenders? Do we scold our children in the same way? And if not, can we find middle ground? Healthy, assertive, compromise? And most importantly, Are we both willing to dig in, communicate, and figure it out? There is always a solution if we are both committed to finding it.
Oh . . . and let me promise you if you aren’t a parent yet and plan to become one, if you don’t figure out how to reprimand your children in a healthy way, you’re screwed! And quite frankly, so are your children. They need your love but sometimes, love is tough. And sometimes acceptance is all you can give them.
The secret is letting your children know there is nothing you won’t do to help them be happy, successful, empowered people but there is nothing you will do to help them become unhappy, unsuccessful, dis-empowered people. You will always throw them a life raft. You will always love them. Always. Over and out. That’s what a good parent does. Caring is hard work sometimes. It honestly is . . . but oh, so worth it!
I tell my children now that love is perfect but people aren’t. Besides, families—especially the blended kinds—can get messy. Very, very messy. We have to sometimes just accept someone without accepting his or her behavior. We have to set boundaries. We have to sometimes argue. Even yell. It’s okay. It’s not fun. It’s maybe even yucky. But it’s real. And it’s life. No two people are ever going to be at the same place at the same time on their journey. That’s impossible. But you can continue to love someone throughout all of it.
I recently saw a meme on Facebook that I thought was perfect:
In this house
We do second chances
We do grace
We do mistakes
We do real
We do I’m sorry
We do loud very well
We do hugs
We do love
We do Family
Doesn’t that just about sum it up perfectly?
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