The Reluctant Mother

Even the less than stellar pictures of my sons make my heart melt with love. This was taken in 2007

Even the less than stellar pictures of my sons make my heart melt with love. This was taken in 2007

I was a reluctant mother. My mother was extremely depressed until her death a few years ago. Her depression during my childhood marked me and I didn’t want to be my mother. I thought the best way to avoid that would be never having children. I wasn’t one of these young women who dreamt of procreating and having a brood of children to love and nurture. I was horrified when I came up pregnant through birth control and I briefly considered termination because I was so sure my mothering skills would be haphazard at best.  I wept throughout my pregnancy from a horrible fear and loathing because I didn’t want to be my mother nor did I want to visit the family legacy, Depression, on a child. But I was my mother (briefly) and the legacy lives on in one of my children who bravely works with it most of the time.

I’m sure you’ve guessed I wasn’t a Kool-aid mom. I was the “leave me alone and play by yourself” mother.  Those other mothers, the Kool-aid moms mystify me. It’s like they speak a foreign language or something. Why would you want a houseful of children? If the kids were hanging out at someone’s house it wasn’t mine: too noisy. Oh the horrors, I might be expected to make snacks. Or bake something, yikes!  I did a portion of a part when my sons were in preschool and elementary school. I swear that preschool teacher at our co-operative knew I was a reluctant mother and paid me back with the messiest crafts on my days in the classroom.  I wrote more checks when Ev was in elementary school and didn’t volunteer much. Most of the other mothers were much younger and/or Uber Christian. I was the “divorcee” and there was some question about the gender of my new partner. Now it makes me laugh the Evil Mommy Cabal of the Sweater Set didn’t want to expose their little dears to divorce. But at the time it made me angry so I threw my hands up and didn’t volunteer with those small-minded bitches. But I did go to the big things and included my lovely partner. We were mostly invisible at events, too. People didn’t know how to deal with it so they pretended we didn’t exist.  Win-win for me.  I wasn’t asked to volunteer.

My sons were accepting of her and their relationship with her was just as fraught with me, their father and their step monster. They were pre-adolescent and adolescent. No matter what I did it would equal a tragedy in their lives. But it wasn’t until just this January when Evan was getting ready to take all my money and go back to school I realized the impact we had on my sons. We were having lunch and Evan lamented how he spent this Christmas holiday packing up his room at his dad’s like he did the year before. Poor kid is the victim of both parents downsizing. And then he surprised me: “But last year was worse because the house in Denver felt more like home. Karen made it more like a home and I always felt welcome there.” Again, I had no idea he felt displaced at his father’s. I assumed he felt displaced at my house. His father was the parent with the house in the only neighborhood he was born in. I couldn’t remotely afford to live there so I left after the divorce. When he was with us, he always had to commute to school and having friends over was never casual because there was a big drive involved. But despite the logistics he was most at home with his mother and her lesbian partner. The simple act of an authentic and happy life created a home. All of the sudden it didn’t matter I hadn’t pined for babies my entire life. It didn’t matter I couldn’t give him the material comforts his father could give him. What we gave him was more important than those suburban trappings. We made him a home.

I may have been reluctant but I’m not sorry I had children. Sure I joke about it and say gallows things like: “Hey thanks for ruining my body!” But given my penchant for stupid decisions when I was a young woman, chances are I would have made terrible decisions and probably never fully matured without the responsibility of a child.

It’s rare I refer to myself as a good mother because I truly believe I made every mistake possible as a mother and then as a co-parent. I was impatient, bitchy, sometimes out and out mean in front of my kids when I dealt with their selfish and self-righteous father. I was impatient and bitchy with them. I didn’t put them in tons of after school activities because I was lazy. They played too many video games and vegged in front of the television because that’s what they wanted to do and it was easier than inventing stuff for them to do. Or nag them to stop playing video games. I gave up on the older one and school work. It wasn’t happening for him so we both gave up. The only reason the younger did as well in school as he did is because he was born going on 80. My oldest–despite me–is making a great life for himself and has a good job. Sometimes I wonder why they aren’t sorry they had me for a mother.

My sons make me look good given how they have grown and matured into men, they make me look like I was a stellar mother with a ready arsenal of fun activities, healthy snacks, and interesting after school activities just for them. So maybe I wasn’t that bad. I couldn’t have been that bad if I have two or the funniest, sweet,  and compassionate young men calling me mom.

About Laura

When my nest emptied I moved from the big city to a little big town to tend to a ramshackle yellow house on the edge of town. These are my Yellow House Days.
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9 Responses to The Reluctant Mother

  1. You’ve captured one of the ‘right’ ingredients for creating a good life for our kids–being happy and in a relationship where there is love and support. Part of why I ended my marriage was for my teen sons to see that it is acceptable to make hard choices and that staying in what “looks like the right thing” isn’t always the best choice. Honesty and love conquers many things!! And, it sounds like you kids benefited from that.


    • Laura says:

      Way back in 1999 I announced in therapy I loathed being married to my husband but I would do the “right” thing and wait until 2012 to divorce because then Evan would be 18 and finished with school. I will never forget what my therapist–an ex nun and minister in our Methodist church said to me: “Please don’t put yourself or your children through that. Teach them happiness and self-care rather than misery and self-sacrifice.” I’ve never forgotten that and I think her words may have saved my life.


  2. There is no “right” way to be a mother. We all do/did the best we can. It sounds to me like you did a good job!


  3. I was the same kind of mom! I couldn’t stand for other kids to come to my house and “mess” it up. I wasn’t very involved when I should have been and mine turned out pretty terrific. My oldest is struggling right now with some demons that were not my creation (PTSD) from watching to much death and destruction in the Marines stationed in Afghanistan and Japan(during the Tsunami) but I have faith he will pull though and I am proud of him and love him. My daughter is amazing and surprises me daily with her strength. Maybe by being a reluctant mom we did a better job than if we had been a helicopter one?!?


    • Laura says:

      I think my complete lack of helicopter parenting has helped my sons in some ways. I do believe if I had been more proactive with the oldest he would have been more successful at school. That’s maybe my only real regret outside of wistful wishes I had paid more attention that time he did that thing.


  4. Erica Jagger says:

    I adore this. I think one of the best gifts we can give to our children is authenticity, which you have in spades. Also, if you’re ever strugging with more mommy self-doubt, look at Roz Chast’s Bad Mom cards. You aren’t alone.


  5. Carolann says:

    I think we are always harder on ourselves then we need to be. It sounds like you did a better job than you thought as your kids are living proof of that. Being a mom is by far the toughest job out there!


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