Anyone who is a parent knows, it’s a thankless task.
Do it well and one day you’re out of a job.
We were only blessed with one child … a daughter who is now 20. Whilst a son came when she was 6 that was not meant to be and ended in devastating loss.
I never had a great relationship with my mum. It was okay when we were little and she was always there for us, but as I got older she was having a few issues that strained the relationship. Once we’d all moved out she and my father separated and she very much lived her own life. I stayed in regular touch with her however – in the days when ‘staying in touch’ didn’t rely on apps like Messenger; when there were no mobile phones and you actually had to call or meet up.
When I had my daughter I was (I’ll admit it) actually hoping for a son – for no other reason than my own relationship with my mother and the fact I felt I could, as a result, give very little to a daughter. The universe begged to differ. And so a daughter was born.
I vowed at that moment NOT to be my mother; not to repeat the errors she made.
My mother wasn’t there for me when I became a mum – when I was sick and asked her for help with the baby, she was “too busy”. And “I did it all on my own – three kids under 5.”
I wanted to foster a better relationship with my daughter right from day one. For the most part I was successful. At least, I thought I was successful.
I left my job when I had her and actually started a business when she was 6 months old in order to be available for her. I wasn’t one of those mothers who was 100% about the child, did nothing but talk about kids, acted like I was the only woman on the planet to ever have a baby. But I wanted her to know I was there for her, and would always be there for her. I wanted to be involved in her life and to be a guide for her.
I was not a helicopter parent though – she was taught resilience, responsibility and that she would need to learn to fend for herself – after all one day in the future, she would have to depend only on herself. She needed to be independent and strong. But this was always tempered by so much love and I think she never felt unloved or that she was ever “too much trouble”.
So far so good.
The “Terrible 2s” came and went without so much as a blip on the radar.
The “tweens” were pretty much a non-event.
The “moody, sulky teenager” never really eventuated. It was kind of there but not like others told us their teens were like. Except I guess when we were advised that we should “go inside” after cooking the food at the 18th birthday party we put on for her and her friends.
Every school holidays I would make a point of taking a day off each week to do a special trip into the city with her – window shopping (which always ended up actual shopping) and lunch – catching the train in and out. And always made sure we went to movies, or to the local shops, or just hung out. To stay connected. To stay present. For her to know that no matter what was happening in my life or how busy I was, she was important. Something I never had with my mother. I look back on those times now with so much joy. They were awesome times spent together – we just had fun hanging out.
Friends were envious of my relationship with her – that she would talk to me about anything. Of our closeness. I loved that too. Don’t get me wrong. I never intended to be nor did I ever want to be her friend. It was always clear I was the mum.
“Lead by example” I was always told and so despite the less than ideal relationship I had with my mum I always made sure we visited her regularly, outside of birthday and Mother’s Day; she was always at our place for Christmas. I wanted my daughter to see that even though my relationship was not brilliant with my mum, staying connected was important.
Things began to change as she started university. Not totally unexpected as she began to mix with completely different types of people. In the first year she was home part time and at university living away from home part time. The fights began. Her level of respect for us and our wishes seemed to drop off. “I can’t wait to get out of here” was a pretty regular refrain. We expected this to some degree as she began to spread her wings and whilst painful we knew it was necessary.
Year 2 and she moved out permanently and we stayed in touch with regular Facetimes or phone calls; with messages on Messenger. This was all okay. Actually it was wonderful and we loved how regularly she stayed in touch. I felt our relationship with her was back on an even keel. Whilst the relationship was changing I didn’t feel that it had deteriorated. We were giving her more freedom to do as she pleased; not pressuring her (as our parents had done) to spend time with us; actually sitting back and watching as she chose to spend holidays with her boyfriend’s family. We’d still have the occasional shopping day in the city.
I heard murmurs that we were “pressuring her” to spend time with us or that she was “sick of this only child thing”.
This came as a HUGE shock to us since we were actively trying not to pressure her and become our own parents. Not to mention extremely hurtful since the ‘only child thing’ was not exactly planned…. and how did that then become our ‘fault’? Negatively impacting on her and adding more ‘pressure’?
It seemed like she just wanted to get the hell away from us! We were totally flabbergasted and had no idea what we had done….
Year 3 and things went south with the BF and so contact increased as she needed help finding a new place to stay, help with set up costs, furniture, moving etc. We were reconnecting a bit better over this time and then a new BF came along. Not long after we left our nearby location and moved further away to a beach location. We felt it was time, that she had matured enough and was capable enough to look after herself.
Instead of this becoming what we thought might be an opportunity for her to spend long weekends, or holidays with us, this never eventuated. It seemed that now we were “too far away” (even though when we lived closer we still didn’t see her because “I don’t want to come back there and run into people”).
Any time we called to ask if she wanted to pop up or attend something fun with us, the immediate response was “No”. Too busy, got stuff on, too tired, working, got uni assignments, too far, no money. Eventually we felt like even these suggestions were “pressuring” her so we stopped. Though we would see her shopping, hanging out with friends, arranging trips interstate – spending significant days that used to be ‘family traditions’ for us (eg Anzac Day, Father’s Day) with her ‘new family’ or friends. And effectively we began to wonder whether she considered herself an orphan… We certainly felt less and less involved in her life. Any messages asking what she was up to were met with “stuff” or “doing something on the weekend”. No specifics. It was like blood from a stone – maybe this was the teen angst thing we’d missed?
When I had her at home while I was running my business she knew I was busy but I made sure she also knew I was never TOO busy for her. Even now, I work hard to let her know I’m never too busy for her. So where did this “lead by example” fall so flat?
The calls became fewer and farther between, Facetiming basically became a thing of the past, and calls we did get were fitted in while she was driving from A to B, walking around the shops, or needed something or wanted to vent. There were no real catch ups. Just cursory connections…. that felt like … duty. Communication became almost 100% Messenger messages. Uni holidays came and went and there were no more shopping trips. I’d given up asking because being told no all the time eventually … well… hurts. Plus I never knew what she was doing and previous attempts were always met with “too busy”.
We kept thinking back to our own 20s – my husband’s parents were a 12 hour round trip away but we would still ensure we spent long weekends or special occasions split between them and my mum. Until we were married I don’t think we ever spent a long weekend ‘just us’.
When we raised this we were told quite categorically: “You need to understand I have a life here.” Ouch.
Clearly one we’re not part of though it’s one we facilitate.
We have a life too … but we have never viewed our lives as mutually exclusive….
We don’t need to be involved in every aspect of her life of course, but sharing what she’s up to and how she’s going surely is just a natural product of the relationship we tried to foster… so where did we go wrong?
Is this the result of raising a strong, independent person? A result of doing “a good job”? If it is I’m not sure it’s all it’s cracked up to be!
I’m sure she has a completely different take on what’s happening as all kids do, and doesn’t feel like there’s any problem at all but that shouldn’t invalidate how we’re feeling about it all, should it? Conversely there’s probably a laundry list of things we did totally wrong that she vows she will never to do her kids!
Can you ever get it right? Parenting … sux.
I remember my father saying to me once: “If it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.” Ironic given he was completely absent during my childhood and wasn’t what you’d call a shining example of top notch parenting.
And then it hit me. Despite all the ground work, despite having tried so desperately hard not to have the same relationship with my daughter as my mother had with me… here we are. I’m not sure why. Does this just happen? Is it inevitable?
Of course it’s inevitable your kids grow up, they move away, have their own lives and friends. We did it! But is it inevitable that they share none of it with you? That all of a sudden your trains head off down different tracks? When did we become the family that thinks Messenger messages are adequate for ‘keeping in touch’? I feel like I have no idea who my own child is anymore and worse, that she doesn’t really want anything to do with us. Are we that bad? Did we do such a terrible job of it? Or did we do too good a job? Am I over-reacting? Is it just part of the process?
Is it like this for other parents? Do you ever get it back?
Let me know your experiences in the comments.
We only got one shot at this and to be perfectly honest some days I feel like we just completely forked it up.