To My Kids When I Fail You

It’s not a matter of if I’ll fail you, but when. It’s as certain as the sunrise.

Do all moms feel like they’re failing? Maybe. I feel like I’m epically failing at least once a week. Sometimes more.

My parents failed me in many ways. I doubt they even knew all the ways they were screwing me and my siblings up.

And after all these years there’s a residue of anger left over. Anger that was never talked about or reasoned with.

I was reminded of that anger as I watched my mom in her hospital bed from my window seat. My mom was dying of liver failure. Liver failure due to a lifetime of drinking.

This is probably not the typical story for most moms. Most moms feel like they’re failing because they forgot it was your turn for snack day, or because they couldn’t afford to buy what you wanted for your birthday. Not because they were lifetime alcoholics.

But either way, we moms are terribly hard on ourselves. Big or small, we fail our children.

I can’t help but wonder if my mom was hard on herself this way. But I can no longer ask her. There are so many things I’m sure I’ll long to ask her that I can’t.

I don’t want my kids to wonder if I knew I was failing them. So kids, this is for you…


Do You Hate Me Yet?

I’m not sure I hated my mom. I thought I knew more than she did though. I rolled my eyes a lot and thought she was ridiculous and embarrassing and a mess. I knew all the ways she could fix things. It seemed pretty simple to me.

I can only imagine what you guys think of me. I’m not sure I want to know. I want you to like me, to love me, to someday miss me when I’m gone. I want us to have a meaningful relationship. To feel like I brought value to your life.

But my job, is to make sure you’re good humans that can take care of yourselves and deal with life. That’s my job as your mom. And sometimes that means you won’t like me all the time.

Hopefully you won’t like me because I won’t let you learn to bartend at 12. Or because I won’t let your boyfriend or girlfriend stay the night. I can deal with those reasons not to like me. Those are reasonable reasons.

You won’t understand why I do the things I do. And you’ll think you know a better way to be a parent.

I thought that too.


Trying Not to Repeat History

The history of my childhood is filled with both good and bad. I am who I am because of the childhood I had. I like to think I’m traumatized just enough to make me funny.

But some of my childhood was bad. Some of it was actual trauma. Some difficult things happened to me. Things I don’t want to pass on to you.

Things like sexual abuse. And while that one was bad, the one that’s been the hardest to deal with lately has been all the beliefs I realized I have. Beliefs tied to growing up in an alcoholic home. Watching both my parents die from alcoholism. They drank every day. They had “breakfast beers”.

When my mom passed just recently I was going through a box of her old photos. She had a letter I’d written her when I was a teenager. It said I was going to live at my dad’s house until she stopped drinking. It said “You should love us enough to do this for us”.

Just thinking about one of my kids saying that to me is excruciatingly painful. And it hurts my heart to think of how it must have hurt my mom. But she still didn’t stop drinking. She drank until it killed her.

Maybe she couldn’t stop. Maybe she didn’t want to. But I won’t do that to you guys. That’s my big evil. The thing I refuse to burden you with. The pain of feeling like someone didn’t love you enough to get their life together. The pain of watching someone die due to things they did to themselves.

When I was young, I’d wake myself up for school. I had a full time job since I was 14. I counted only on myself. I tried to help care for my siblings, and even my parents. I was giving them life advice by 12. I was always serious, never silly. I sound like a responsible and good kid right?

But it also made it hard for me to trust anyone. Hard for me to allow anyone to help me. I wanted to do it all by myself. I didn’t think I could count on anyone.

I thought it was my mission to save everyone. A mission impossible. As seen at the end of my mom’s story. I would never be able to save her. Yet I tried. Just like I tried to save everyone I came across. Making it my mission. And failing again and again when they didn’t want my help. That starts to hurt after a while.

I had to be serious as a kid, and that made it hard for me to have fun. To relax and be silly. I’d spent so much time trying to hide my family life. I was embarrassed. So as an adult, feeling even a little silly or embarrassed was the worst thing in the world. It reminded me too much of all the years I’d spent trying to keep my head up and pretend I didn’t know the drunk people at the bar causing a scene.

I want to protect you from the things I grew up with. I want you to allow others to help you when you need it. Or help you because it makes life easier to do it together. Life isn’t a solo operation. We’re all meant to help one another.

I want you to be able to be silly. To have fun. I don’t want you to worry about what everyone else thinks. I want you to be so secure in your life that it doesn’t matter what any of those strangers think.

So I’ve focused hard on those areas.


Protection Has a Price

By focusing on the specific areas I want to save you from, I’ll miss some other stuff. There are things that never happened to me that will happen to you. I will hurt you (without meaning to) in ways I was never hurt. Things I didn’t know would hurt.

The big evils in my mind are the evils I grew up with. But there are other evils. Things I won’t think to protect you from. Or things that’ll be out of my control entirely.

My daughter recently said she felt like her parents choose their relationships over our kids. That’s true sometimes. And as fate would have it, I felt that way about my mom. It was a trait I inherited without realizing it. One I didn’t even think to protect you from. But now I’m glad I didn’t.

Looking back, it made me feel unimportant. I felt like I should be the MOST important thing. But as shitty as it sounds, our kids can’t be the center of our universe all the time. You guys are so important. I love you more than I love my own self. You matter.

But if you’re my whole universe, and one day you grow up and move out, I’ll die. I’ll have nothing left to live for. I don’t want to be one of those needy moms that won’t let you have your own life away from me. The insane mom that shows up on your doorstep uninvited with a casserole you don’t want and force myself on you.

I want us to be close. I want you to want to be around me. But you can’t be the center of my universe for that to happen.

As a whole and rounded person I need other interests. My writing. A job. Friends. Social activities. These are all important for every person to have.

The worst relationships are the ones where the two people can’t do anything without the other person. We are all individual people. Get to know yourself. Have your own space, be your own person. Then the people in your life will be there because they want to be there and not because you need them or they need you.


When You Seek Counseling

I can imagine each of you talking to a counselor about your childhood. Honestly, I hope you do. I wish I had. I would have figured some of this stuff out a long time ago.

But when, or if you do, please remember I did the best I could. No words can tell you just how much I love you. I can’t describe it. I feel immensely lucky to know each of you. You are all individual and unique. None of you like the other. And I genuinely like who you are as people. I’m proud to be your mom. I love you guys so much.

I won’t always get it right. I might not even get it right half the time. But that’s okay. Everyone out there has a childhood. Everyone has scars from growing up. Growing pains. Some worse than others.

Some look at these things as trauma. (I’m really starting to despise that word.) I prefer to think of it as a unique set of challenges you were born to overcome. You aren’t broken. Every person you know has this stuff. No point in wishing your challenges were different. These are yours.

You get set on a path and it’s your job to figure out who it is you want to be.

Not who everyone else wants you to be. Not what these “traumas” have forced you into. Yes, if you have a serious trauma you’ll be seriously messed up sometimes. But even the worst of the worst can be healed and overcome if you work at it.

We all have junk to work on. And as we work on it, we grow, we learn. We go on a journey for our souls. A journey of self discovery and self mastery. Every journey has hardships. Every journey has a bad guy, or a bad time to overcome. Otherwise the good stuff wouldn’t matter.


Grown-Up, But I’m Not Done Growing

As we talk about this life journey, don’t think I’ve completed mine. I’m still learning and growing.

We joke about teenagers thinking they have it all figured out, but it’s just as laughable to think we “adults” do. None of us know what we’re doing. That’d be too easy. We’re unravelling the threads of our childhoods and growing into the people we’re meant to be. We aren’t suddenly done because we’re parents now.

Life is one big learning experience from birth to death. I imagine I’ll continue to grow until the day I die. Each layer revealing something new to work on. And each mastered layer giving way to another one beneath it I didn’t know existed. We’re never done. There is always more to be learned. More ways to grow and stretch and exist in this world.

Some of these learning experiences are painful, but they’re worth it. Childbirth is painful. Hiking a mountain is painful. Healing is painful. But when you go through something painful, something you had to work for, it means more. You appreciate it more.

You guys are just starting out in your growth. This is just the beginning. And you have this tiny point of view. Like seeing the whole world out of a tiny bathroom window. You don’t even know yet what you can’t see.

You won’t see the broad picture. It’ll just look like your parents should have done something for you that they didn’t. Like we didn’t care as much as we should have.

As you get older the window will grow larger. You’ll see things from a broader viewpoint. These things that seemed so big before, will grow smaller as you discover how vast the world is.

And with that, hopefully you’ll see all the ways we tried to be good parents. The things we got right. Not just the things we got wrong.


From the Bigger Window

Looking through life from my bigger window, I’d like to think my parents were trying to do a better job than their parents before them. That they had focused on all the areas they’d been hurt and tried to shelter us from them.

My mom’s mom left them when she was only two. She would have died before leaving us. That was her great pain. The thing she refused to pass down.

But in refusing to leave us, she sometimes dragged us into situations where children really shouldn’t be. But she didn’t know that. That was the lesser evil.

I know she loved me. What is enough? Because she chose not to live her life the way I wanted her to? It was her life. Her individual journey that she had to live out on her own.

From this bigger window I know my parents were just trying to do the best they could. And maybe I wish they would have done things different or better. I bet they wish they could have too.

I will fail you. I will let you down. I won’t be enough or I’ll be too much. I’ll hurt you. I won’t mean to do any of this.

You’ll wish I’d done better. Guess what? We aren’t even done yet and I already wish I’d done better.

I wish I’d stayed up and watched that movie with you. Or played video games with you. Or played outside. I already wish I was a better mom. But I can only do so much. I have to work tomorrow, so I can’t stay up late. Video games make my head hurt. I’m inside cooking dinner instead of playing outside.

There’ll be other people that need me more than you. And sometimes I have to take care of me. Sometimes I’m working on healing my own wounds. The better I become, the better I am for you.

There’s a whole world to balance and I can’t do it all. I can’t be it all. I wish I could. I really do.

I’m just trying to save you from the bigger things. The rest… you’ll have to heal yourself.

That’s your lot in life. That’s your journey to trek.

And hopefully if you become parents, you’ll do just a little better than I did. And then hopefully your kids will do just a little better than you. If we all get a little better with each generation, we might just make a difference.


When My Body Fails and I Leave This World

At the end of my journey, if you’re good humans that can take care of yourselves, I did okay. If I saved you from some of the things I endured, I did okay.

I hope you know how much I love you. How amazing you are. That you’re not perfect, but that’s so much better.

I hope you help others when you can. Be good people. Pay your bills and don’t burden others with things you can do for yourself.

Spread kindness. The world needs more of that. It doesn’t feel like it makes a difference most of the time, but to that one person, it can mean everything.

Be true to your heart. Do what makes you happy. Chase your dreams. You only get this one life, so if you don’t do it now… when?

I might not understand. I might flat out disagree. Guess what? This is your life. Not mine.

My hope is that I’ve given you guidance, but also given the freedom you need to figure out who you are.

Maybe I treated you each differently. That’s because you’re all different. What works for one of you is useless for the other. You’re all so different from one another. And I love that.

I’m going to leave you with a mess. I can only try to make the mess smaller than the one I was left with.

The failures of my parents have become tools for me to use in raising you. My failures will be your tools. Use them.

Know that I tried. And know that I know it won’t always be enough. For that, I’m sorry. But also, I’m not sorry. These challenges I leave you with make you interesting. They make you human.

And no matter how I mess you up, you’re going to be okay. You’ve got this. You’ll figure it out as you go along. You’re strong and you’re imperfectly perfect. And I’m so glad I get to be the mom that fails you. I love you more than you know.






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