I’ve been thinking about my mom a lot lately. My usual thoughts about how much she would have loved these boys of mine and how much they would have loved her. But also about how, in motherhood myself now, I have grown to maybe understand her a little better.
I had a complicated relationship with my mother. With both of my parents, really. I spent most of my childhood either trying to blend in and not draw attention or, conversely, trying to draw as much positive attention as I could to myself. I was a people pleaser. I still am.
I frequently wondered if my parents really loved me. I know, of course, that they did. But a child doesn’t have that logical reasoning. And I know that sounds dramatic. But it seemed as though by the time I came along, my parents were over the whole parenting thing.
I was left to my own devices more often than not or passed off to my half-sister or godparents on the weekends. These were the weekends I lived for, by the way. I never felt like a burden or out of place. I remember shopping with my sister and feeling so grown up. My godparents would take me to the local zoo or baseball games or other fun things up the northern New Jersey hinterlands.
By the time we moved to South Carolina and I started high school, I was fairly self-sufficient. Fast-forward to when I got my license and a car … I was pretty much fully cooked in my parents’ eyes by then. I had a job, did well in school, and could get myself where I needed to be. I was done.
I knew when I graduated high school, I was heading to college and out of the house. In college, I was the one who had the ultimate goal of studying something that could get me a job, preferably one before I graduated so that I could pretty much move straight from my dorm and into adulthood.
My parents were too involved in their extremely toxic on-again/off-again relationship to really talk to me about any of this. They seemed proud, but by that point, it didn’t really mean much to me. I know, I sound like an ass.
I made peace with all these feelings a long time ago. I am very much a person who believes that all that I’ve been through is what has made me the person I am. I’m flawed, yes, but who among us isn’t?
The reason I bring all this up is that I’ve recently come to a new understanding: My parents, my mother in particular, really did the best they knew how to.
My dad was 44 when I was born. He was pretty much done having kids long before I ever entered the picture. My mom struggled, hard, with her mental health. She had bipolar disorder and a host of other maladies. Both of my parents struggled with alcohol addiction.
Balancing all these things was harder than I gave them credit for. I struggle with my mental health. I struggle with addiction (food issues, not alcohol or drugs). And I’ve had more days than I count where I consider my parenting successful if I’ve managed not to shout more than once or twice.
I feel like that’s a pretty low bar. But it’s the best I know how to do sometimes.