Unintended Lessons

Molly, Michelle and Meagan, circa 1988
Molly, Michelle and Meagan, circa 1988

My great-nephew recently went through an event in his life that could be life defining. He had to watch an adult he admires and loves make a difficult decision that impacted many people. His mother, my niece, was supportive and proactive in teaching by example. She showed him when to reach out to help and support and also how to step back and let others make their own decisions.

Our children learn by watching us and we are their primary role models. We teach them lessons with intention and forethought, but we teach even more by our actions and reactions. We so often send messages we never intended to. It’s hard to walk your own path without leaving some unintended collateral damage on the side of the road as you search to find your way.

Even though my oldest daughter is thirty-six years old, I can still remember the first night at home with her. She was sleeping in the family bassinet, an apple basket in its previous life, that’s been in the family since my mother was first placed in it as a newborn. I leaned over the basket and looked at her, my heart filled with love and with tears running down my face. I wanted only the best for her, but even at twenty-one, I knew that despite my best efforts I would make mistakes that she would have to live with her entire life. It was, and still is, an overwhelming concept.

If you were to ask my daughters what lessons I gave them, I’m sure at least two of them would go for the funny ones, the ones said in anger or frustration:

  • “If you’re going to end up on the psychiatrist’s couch anyway, let’s make sure and give you some interesting stories. You don’t want to grow up to bore your shrink.”
  • “I am your mother, not your friend. You can find a friend on every street corner, but you only have one mother and I’m the one you’re stuck with.”
  • “Do you want to be a bitch? I’ll show you how to be a bitch and I’ll win that contest EVERY TIME.”

Yes, I’m pretty funny and I still smile when they bring these sayings up. However, it’s the messages I didn’t say, but that I showed them with my actions, that I worry about: I leaned into the men in my life more than I would wish and I put up with behaviors I would never want my daughters to tolerate; My own insecurities caused me to stay with jobs I didn’t like because I felt like I had to prove to some invisible judge that I could do it; I played the game of the corporate world for way longer than I would have liked instead of getting out when I first realized what a poor fit that was.

  • Was I strong enough? Probably; at the end of the day, I am a strong woman. My vision of what’s the right thing to do may be blurry at times, but I always try to come from a place of strength. My favorite quote from my own mother is, “Quit reacting and start acting.”
  • Was I patient enough? Nope, patient is not an adjective that has ever applied to me. I’m sorry, girls, I tried.
  • Did I show them that adults were human too? Yes, I never spent my time trying to make my kids feel sorry for me, but if something made me genuinely sad I let them see it. I never wanted them to feel they had to hide their feelings.
  • Did I teach them to laugh? Hell, yes. The one thing that they inherited from both their father and I, is the ability to see the ridiculous in the world around them and find the humor in it. A dry sense of humor is a family gene they received from both sides of the family.

What would I want to teach them now?

  • Anger in life is inevitable, but don’t let yourself be consumed by the intensity of it. My daughters saw me lose my temper a lot as they were growing up. My anger was a safe place for me to protect myself from the things I feared. I’ve learned that anger comes from a place of fear, but I still fight the balance of allowing my emotions to flow without letting them sit in my soul and fester. When I see one of them getting angry now, I regret that I showed them such a bad example of how to deal with anger.
  • Be grateful every day of your life. I have never been materialistic, but I didn’t always take the time to appreciate what I had as the girls were growing up. I was too busy trying to earn a living and working through my own issues and patterns to teach them to always look for the good in every day.
  • Don’t be in such a hurry for your kids to grow up. I spent much of their childhood wishing they were at the next phase. My primary memory of our life as they grew up is a swirling blur of little girls running through the house. I can remember individual milestones, but there are huge chunks that passed by unappreciated as I tried to survive the hurricane of raising three daughters.
  • My main wish was, and still is, to always let all of them know that they could do anything or be anything as long as they were willing to work at it. I never wanted any of them to care if other people told them what they could or couldn’t do. Things that come easy are nice, but the really great things are the ones you have to put your heart and soul into to achieve.

For all of the things I did right or wrong, the main objective for all of us is the end result. How’d I do? I think I did great if you look at the women all three of them have become. I am proud of them. Really proud.

One thought on “Unintended Lessons”

  1. What? Those are quotes that all moms say to their children? I know 100% that I’ve already told my kids that they don’t want to bore their shrinks later in life. You did a great job raising us! Love you!

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