Having children is a miraculous and life changing event which sets in motion a series of emotional, physical, and mental transformations for parents and children alike. Navigating through and surviving motherhood is an epic journey filled with moments of victory and defeat.
This weekend we will watch our third son graduate from high school. Aside from the disbelief about being old enough to have three adult children, my wife and I are excited, and a bit teary eyed about how quickly time passes. Victory.
Admittedly, we are both enjoying being in the final miles of the parent marathon. Bidding farewell to diapers, play dates, and the buzzing energy of young boys has not been difficult.
There is a light at the end of our parenting tunnel. Our role as mothers has changed more rapidly than their height marks on the wall or the rate at which they have out grown their shoes. Our job has become more supervisory and less line worker. We are tapping the wheel along as they begin their adult lives.
Now for the hard stuff. Fair warning. What follows may rub some the wrong way, sound like blasphemy, or be difficult to comprehend. React. Rant. But pay attention anyway. The message is important and directed to any parents who may be prone to forsaking themselves for the sake of their children.
My children’s existence has brought countless moments of both joy and aggravation in the past 20 plus years. They are fantastically amazing and incredible people whose beings occupy every inch of my heart and soul. But I have a confession to make.
My kids may be my heart and soul, but they are not my life. Cue the gasps. The prevailing theory is that terrible parents fail to put their children first. Parents who practice self-care are often considered selfish or disconnected. Giving up your life for the sake of children is seen as a necessary part of being a good parent.
Life Before Children
Can you remember what life was like before children? It is difficult isn’t it? Parenting feels like a wearing a suit made of mushy cheerios while riding in a bullet train moving along a curvy track. It is expected for parents to focus every thought, effort, and action towards the bundles of joy we brought forth in to the world.
What happens when a parent discovers they are not living authentically and need to direct their thoughts, efforts, and action toward themselves? Many women who come out later in life struggle with the impact their actions will have on their children and are overwhelmed by the guilt and responsibility associated with such a huge change.
There is no manual or set of rules for deciding how or when the perfect time to break up a family should happen. It is hard. Every minute. However, the more difficult, damaging, and dark choice was not to be authentic.
Concern for their children is the most common reason why women question, doubt, or repress their authentic selves. Defeat.
Ideally, a healthy family allows decisions to be made that benefit the individual family members as well as the whole. Imagine the horror associated with a mother having the audacity to figure out they are gay after being married and having kids. How dare they?
The fear of hurting a child is understandable. No parent embraces any harm that is directed at their child. “I don’t care if my kids get hurt” said no parent ever.
A Mother’s Love
As mothers we would gladly jump in front of a bus or a bullet to save our child from danger and physical harm. Protecting their emotional and mental well-being at our own expense may sound like a noble venture, but the long term impact is not constructive or healthy for any one.
Sacrificing my own needs and authenticity for the sake of everyone else was tempting but not the answer. My sexual orientation, if not acknowledged, was going to affect the whole exponentially. The happy family formula which encourages parents, especially mothers, to suck it up for the sake of the kids is flawed. In the quest to stay comfortable, fear wins.
Putting your own needs and authenticity on the back burner during the parenting years is a dangerous practice. Selflessness, while virtuous, should never involve rejecting your own inner being and giving up your right to happiness and peace.
No matter how hard I tried, I could not put the toothpaste back in to the tube or “unknow” the information. Sooner or later the truth will keep pulling at your pant leg like an impatient toddler in the grocery store line demanding attention.
Becoming a better parent required total honesty and a willingness to step in to the fear. Stepping in and accepting my right to live my truth helped lessen the guilt and freed us to move forward toward a beautiful new normal. I know it is easier said than done while in the midst of the storm but remember no one is stronger or more capable of doing the impossible than a mom on a mission.
The goal of creating the most comfortable life for everyone else diminishes our own self-worth and creates more issues than it remedies. Feeling unfulfilled and stuck is a miserable way to exist. My coming out journey confirmed that giving yourself permission to live authentically does not cause irreparable harm to a child.
If the thought of putting yourself first makes your heart race and brain hurt, you are not alone. Look within and trust what you know. To those who are struggling I offer this advice. Consider the notion that offering the best version of yourself to your child is the greatest act of love possible.
Will they be upset? Probably. Will they need reassurance, kisses, and hugs while they work through their emotions? Absolutely. Will you be able to offer those things if you are feeling guilty, ashamed, or afraid? Definitely not.
Take a deep breath and remember authenticity and peace are louder than fear and guilt. Think about who you are apart from your children. Eventually they grow up and leave the nest. Then what? The empty nest will not feel so lonely or sad if you are at peace with who you are. There is no better time than the present.