“I promise you son; you don’t really mean that.” I took a deep breath in and held it. For a moment time stopped. Only the sobs from my son filled the space between us. How many times have my children unleashed their accusations against me or their dad? How many times have words been flung like poisoned arrows in hopes they will change the stance of an unyielding parent? How many times will my children put me or their dad on trial for all the mistakes we have made?
How many times have we done the same to our own parents?
Today marks the anniversary of my mother’s death two years ago. Just a few days ago, my husband and I were in another battle with our teenage son. Today, as grief revisits my heart, I find myself contemplating parent-child relationships.
It’s no secret I was estranged from my mother, but also, from my father. Somewhere along the way, the once in-love couple who bore three children fell apart. Instead of photo albums filled with a lifetime of fond memories, we were left trying to put the shattered pieces back together. Only we cannot fix what happened between our parents. We can only—hopefully—learn from them and pave a new path for our own families.
The only problem with that romanticized idea is dysfunction tends to run in families. Patterns are repeated until someone recognizes that the root of all dysfunction is sin-filled men and women and humbly choose to learn another way.
I was determined to not be like my parents. I judged them for everything they were not. I focused on everything they failed to do. I racked up their many mistakes in my mind and heart until it became a wall of bitterness, anger, even hatred. I stood as their accusers instead of allowing myself to be flesh-of-their-flesh. I cut them out of my life and ignored their pleas for mercy, forgiveness, and grace.
I was going to be better than them. I was going to be a better mom and wife. Instead, I became the very people I despised. The choices and mistakes my parents made, the ones I held in contempt, became my sins. Then I began to understand.
Understanding does not absolve my parents. They made horrible decisions and suffered dearly for the consequence of their own actions. I know my mother had many regrets. I am one of them. Not because I exist, but because the poisoned arrows we flung at each other kept us a part until it was too late. I fear my relationship with my father will end the same.
In understanding, I became open to seeing them not just as my parents but as people. People who are no different than I am. I learned about the families they came from and the secrets they hid in their hearts. I discovered my parents own humanity. Their failed dreams, but also, their hopes and aspirations. My focus on their failures shifted to seeing all of them; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Something I discovered that is inherent to us all.
I realized my mother had amazing strength and resolve to overcome unsurmountable obstacles. Her will to survive was nothing short of remarkable. When I no longer stood as her juror and judge, my heart opened to my mother and I saw a woman who had the unbelievable grace to wait for me to return to her.
Truth is, some of the things our family went through was horrible; in fact, downright deplorable. My parents would not have won the parents of the year award. It so easy to idealize other parents, especially if their faults are not as blaring as your own. But they are my parents. The whole of them—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and one day they won’t be around. Nothing will be able to bring them back; not rivers of tears or a thousand apologies.
Today, I am going through things that only a seasoned mother could understand or even relate to. Despite all that was between us, today and so many days since her death, she is the one person I wish I could talk with. I wish I could tell her that after walking in her shoes, she became my HERO.
Mom, I finally realize the best of me is because of you. Thank you. I love and miss you.