I’m going to see my parents this week in Louisiana. They head to Red River NM every summer to be campground hosts in the mountains. They love it. There are several other couples that work with them, and it is very social. They work two six-hour days, and they spend the rest of the time playing out in the wooded Rocky Mountains. They escape that sweltering Louisiana heat, and they get time to be a couple again. So, I’m trying to get down there for a little while before they leave the first week of May. I’m looking forward to the visit and hanging out on Belle River for a few days. Here is a blog I wrote about where they live if you’re interested.
Someone posted a blog called The Invisible Mother on Facebook this week. I posted it on the Midlife Moments Blog Facebook Page, and I shared it on Twitter if you’re interested in reading it. It compared the work of Mothers to building cathedrals. It’s often invisible work. There is no compensation and, often, no recognition. I wouldn’t be who I am without Momma. That’s for sure. But, I also want to talk about the importance of Fathers. Mothers and Fathers BOTH have critical roles in developing people. I married two men whose fathers died when they were very young. It is a loss that they never got over, and they had no role model to teach them how to be young men, brothers, employees, husbands, fathers or any of the other roles that men play in our society.
I chose not to be a parent. I remember watching a talk show when I was in my twenties about disabled couples who were trying to conceive. They were going to extraordinary lengths to have children. I called Momma from my Jacksonville FL home. “Is there something wrong with me? Sometimes I feel like something is missing. Why don’t I have the desire to have kids?” She said there was nothing wrong with me. But, I still have that question come up in my mind from time to time. Why didn’t I ever want that lifestyle? I thought about it with intention. I wanted to make sure that I really thought about that decision, because it was really, really important. I just could never see myself in the role of Mother.
When my sister had her daughter, Hannah, it was pretty exciting. It would be the closest I would ever come to being a Mother, and I knew it. I made her nursery stuff. She wanted it all in LSU colors. It turned out beautifully. One day we were talking about her going back to work and how being a Mother had changed her life. “I feel really guilty,” she said. She explained that it was an overriding sense of guilt about ever leaving her child, not being good enough, not doing enough, etc. She talked to another Mom, and she told her, “Welcome to Motherhood. The guilt never goes away.” I know I stay in a state of not being good enough. I can imagine that would be amplified if I felt like I had to be good enough for a little one or, especially, a teenage daughter having to navigate this world.
In my generation, Fathers were often working. That’s how they supported the family. Back then, Moms stayed home, and they took care of the house and the kids. Fathers had a role, but it was not as close emotionally as the one the younger Fathers I see today hold. I think that was a great loss. My second husband did a lot of personal growth work with a men’s organization called The Mankind Project. During the initial weekend, there is personal work done around issues that the men want to heal. We were talking about the fact that he had lost his Father when he was six, and in some ways he idealized what life would have looked like had his Father lived. I asked him how many men were on his “weekend”. He said there were 18. I asked him how many of them had Father issues. He started to grin. About 17 of the men had Father issues that they had to work through. The role of Father is vitally important in building men.
I believe that our souls come to this earth to learn lessons. I believe God knows what those lessons are. And, earth is not an easy classroom. It’s not for the faint of heart. That’s why some people – a lot, actually – check out early. Many can’t face their lessons so they numb out with all kinds of things. I think that the classroom is built in the original family. And, I think the parents we have are chosen for us because they will set the stage for us to learn these lessons. I believe that, once I am aware, it is my responsibility to heal those wounds. I went through a period of time when I was angry about my parents’ imperfections. Anger was a necessary part of the process. But, as soon as I started to look at the log in my own eye, I realized they were just like me. If I’d had kids in my 20s, I’d have given them a few things to work on as adults! When I work with women in early addiction recovery, they usually have BIG grief, shame and remorse over how they have treated their kids. I always tell them, “If you’d known better, you would have done better.” The most important thing for them is to be honest about their feelings with their kids and to begin to build a new relationship. Over time, most children appreciate seeing their Mother grow.
I went to an African-American Church here in Memphis one Sunday. I’ll tell you what – black people know how to do church. It was 2 1/2 hours of the best worship I’ve ever experienced. The minister was preaching on “Why Men Don’t Listen, and Women Never Shut Up.” He was talking to the men about their daughters. He said to the men….”When your daughter walks into your living room in her sexy new prom dress, I know the first thing out of your mouth is going to be How much did that cost? But, you better hold your tongue. You’d better be saying how beautiful and wonderful she is. If you don’t, she’s going to hear it from some 18 year old boy with one thing on his mind and get herself in a compromising position.'” Fathers are critical in helping their daughters understand what love looks like….what it feels like…what it means.
The reality is that nobody is a perfect parent. I just admire people who do it. If you read the story about The Invisible Mom, it mentions that nobody sees what she’s doing. I see what you’re doing. I see Moms that work their guts out to make things right with their kids. And, sometimes, their kids are their primary motivation because they don’t love themselves enough to do it for themselves. I see Fathers that work their tails off to make life better for their kids. One of my hometown friends said he was reckless and crazy, but, when he started “feeding people”, he had to straighten up. That’s no small responsibility. I see you parents out there trying to make it work with whatever crazy situation you have. I can’t imagine it’s easy. I admire you for who you are and what you are doing. I actually think a Cathedral is small stuff compared to what you’re building. Step into that and embrace your imperfections as a parent. When you model that, it makes it okay for your kids to be imperfect, too. That’s a legacy worth leaving. It’s a legacy of love.