Floundering through life
I have been at the brink of despair a few times in my life.
Disclaimer: Never, ever, do I believe that my children have been responsible for these times when I nearly lost hope. Not at all. Raising children can be stressful, yes. Raising children with disorders, learning disabilities, and mental illness can keep a mother in crisis mode entirely too much. Never have I felt that my children were responsible for my feelings of hopelessness, though.
Here I am today. Obviously, I have never given up. I have not thrown up my hands (not for long, anyway) and walked away. I have been to the brink of despair, looked into the great abyss, and always pulled back to life somehow. No, I have never been suicidal, but I have felt the lure of completely disconnecting a few times. Most of the time, although I was working hard and living fully, I was floundering, not really knowing where I was going. I honestly believe this is because I stopped developing as a person. The maturation process halted at some point and I needed to resume if I were to become who I wanted to be as a person.
Core beliefs: my foundation
I have a stubborn personality. When I think or believe something, I chew on it like a dog chews on a bone. I want to know if it is worth keeping, worth embracing, and worth making a part of my very soul. Yes, I take ideas very, very seriously; consequently, I consider different ideologies seriously. I will share some basic ideas or beliefs that have made it to my foundation:
- The Golden Rule: I believe that if all of humanity treated others as they would like to be treated, all would be well with the world. I know this is simplistic, but this one made the final cut a long time ago.
- Leave the world a better place than I found it. I think I was born an environmentalist. I have always noticed nature. I have always felt connected to the earth. This belief goes beyond environmentalism, though. I have a deep desire to influence my community and my world to be a kinder, better place, one that meets the needs of its people while giving the human spirit plenty of room to soar.
- Women are equal to men and are to be partners in all of life’s endeavors. I have consequently rejected the Pauline letters of the New Testament because of their inherent misogynistic doctrines. Some of my more religious friends gasp when I declare this. This was necessary for me to continue believing in a loving God, though. Women are not to be subservient to men (as human beings), ever. Women and men in marriage, in church, and in life should have egalitarian systems of relationship.
- God is a benevolent being. I wasn’t raised in a religious household. We didn’t pray at meals or read our Bibles as a family. But we did go to a Baptist church for a few years off and on. Before that, though, I felt a cosmic presence. I now see God as a loving, concerned, personal entity. I believe his involvement in this world is as much as people will allow, though. He is not a puppet master by any means, nor is he like Zeus or one of the other ancient Greek gods who love playing around with human lives as though they were pawns on a chess board. Nor is he merely a he. I believe what the Scriptures tell us about God’s supposed gender: “In the image of God, he made man. Both male and female, he made them.” (Genesis 1:27) Male and female humans are made in the image of God. Therefore, God is characterized by male and female attributes, not just the male attributes traditionally ascribed to him. Put that in your pipe and smoke it for a bit — or chew on it like a dog does a bone. Really makes you rethink patriarchal church hierarchy, doesn’t it?
I truly believe these constants in my life are what keep me going. There were times before I knew who I was and what I wanted from life where I felt so very lost. I was angry, confused, and alone. I wasn’t ever really alone; I just felt alone. And that is one of the worst feelings in the world. Out of a desire to NOT be alone, I often made desperate and emotional choices. I let my emotional needs drive me for a good part of my life. And this very long introduction brings me to where I am today.
The humility of knowing
I know who I am and where I am going, as much as any person can at any time in her life.
Oh, I am not arrogant enough to believe that I have arrived, so to speak. No way. I am a work in progress, and will be until the day I die.
The difference is that I have stepped deliberately upon the road that we call life. I am fully engaged.
Let me qualify that last statement: I have always engaged fully in whatever I chose to do. The difference is that I no longer engage based on a desperate need for some kind of external approval or love or human affection (okay, well maybe a little).
I need people. I love the people in my life. I am a devoted friend and a loving family member as long as— Yes, there are conditions to my affection and devotion: do not ever try to manipulate me into doing or being something that I am not comfortable with doing or being. If you cannot accept me where I am and support me in my journey at least a little bit, just get out of my way.
This might sound harsh. Most of you probably know who you are and where you are going, or are content with your lives. I have never really been. And I suspect that even though I feel that my life has some clarity, I will look back twenty years from now and have a completely different point of view. Hindsight and all that, you know.
I know who I am today and am okay with it. I know what I love and I know what I despise. I do not hesitate to declare that which I despise as a part of the world that I will work very hard to keep outside of my inner being. This might sound critical, but it is part of my self-preservation, and necessary for me.
The part of this state of being that always needs balance is never thinking for a second that I have the world figured out and that others must conform to my world view. Never can I allow this to sneak in to my belief system. When I do I will become that which I hate: a self-righteous, manipulative, unloving person.
I have been each of those things at different times in my life, and I reject them as part of my foundation. They don’t belong and they are not welcome.
What does any of this have to do with parenting?
What does this have to do with parenting? Any woman who knows who she is and where she is going will be an amazing role model for her children. She will be (or should be) understanding of their need to go through the same process of finding themselves, allow for personal choices, encourage healthy exploration, and be open to being a part of the whole thing. That is what being a parent is all about.
Yes, it starts out with breastfeeding, bottles, diapers and nap times. It progresses through potty training, teaching colors and shapes, and learning to say “Please” and “Thank you.” It moves through time adjusting to the needs of each child as they grow and mature.
But it all goes back to parents knowing who they are and where they are going — not a selfish, self-absorbed knowing; not one that doesn’t consider the thoughts and feelings of his or her spouse and children; not a knowing that is self-righteous and dogmatic which drives others away — a knowing that allows those in his or her life to explore, discover and know who they are and where they are going.
Oh, and know that you are not God. No matter what you do or how well you parent them, your children will make mistakes and fail in life at some point, at some level. I have told many parents of teenagers, parents who were struggling with some really hard stuff, that, “We pour our lives into our children — love them like we have never loved before — and they grow up and break our hearts.”
Parenting is not for wussies!
This is the way of parents and children. Love them anyway. Pour your lives into them anyway. I can tell you after 35 years of parenting, it is worth it (I have had moments of doubt, though).
Just don’t forget to cultivate and value yourself as a person so that your entire identity isn’t based on who you are as a parent. You must be your own person, always. Women especially, please remember this. Be your own person so that one day when the children are all gone you emerge a whole person, one that you can live with as you move forward.