In honor of my Facebook advice “column” to my girls, I am feeling the need to turn things around a bit. So here goes…
Today’s advice to beautiful me:
You are not responsible for everyone’s happiness. It is hard enough to control your own emotions without taking on the added burden of everyone else’s.
Yet here I sit with my neck and back holding so much tension that they are tender to the touch and the ceaseless thoughts about how to make everyone happy. I know it isn’t logical and I know that I can’t possibly succeed. But the more I know this, the more tightly I hold the thoughts, so tightly in fact that my muscles from the top of my head to my lower back are all knotted up from the effort.
I often feel like a phony in this virtual world. I present mostly cheerful thoughts and declarations about my wonderful family. And they are wonderful. Those who know me best know that I hit the jackpot with my kids, my husband, my mom and extended family. We have suffered no major traumas and for the most part, I have managed by some miracle to avoid the typical teenage disdain felt by most parents. Life really is pretty good.
What I don’t tell the world in my Facebook statuses is that life can get messy at my house. I scream at my kids sometimes, sometimes with cuss words. I pout. I stew. I resent. I get fed up. I lose what little semblance of patience I have. My kids seem to hate me sometimes. They think I “don’t understand” and tell me so. They reject my advice and nagging and do things their own way, to varying degrees of success. And sometimes my perfectly blended family frays at the edges, and I am the thread being pulled tight between the edges that are my daughters and my husband. The stretching and pulling can be so painful at times that I don’t know how to stitch it back together.
I worry. I fret. I obsess. I negotiate…with them, with myself and with God.
This may be the hardest time I have ever faced as a parent. My oldest is preparing to leave for college in the fall and less than two months from her 18th birthday, she is yearning for the independence that comes with her adulthood status. And I cling and grab at the little control I have left and wonder desperately if I have done enough to prepare her, if there is still time to teach the things I haven’t gotten to and whether she will be ok without me. I have been preparing for this for 17 years, 10 months and two weeks. I knew that her leaving the nest would be hard and I have prepared for how I would feel when I dropped her off at college. But nobody told me about the ripping away that has to happen in preparation for that. I wasn’t prepared for it to start so soon and I WANT MORE TIME
My youngest is now in high school. She is at that stage where she is seeking independence and trying to find the balance between her need for direction and her desire to figure it out on her own. I recognize the pattern now and am determined to right all the mistakes I made the first time around. I wrestle for more control and she senses a double standard and resists. Tension. Conflict. A test of wills.
Each day seems to bring a new challenge, a new hurt, a new emotion to navigate. And because I am feeling so unsettled, I do the logical thing…I dig in.. I hold tight. I obsess. I worry.
It seems that all I know about my ability (or lack thereof) to control everyone’s happiness is in conflict with the deep longing I feel for the little girls who hung on my words and smile and who thought I was the best thing in the world. I feel that life slipping further away and my fear and longing resist the logic in the natural order of things. Mark reminds me that this is the way it supposed to go. My mind knows he is right but my heart isn’t ready to accept it.
So friends, know that the advice I give my daughters is just as much my advice to me. And beneath the put togetherness that I project to the world is someone who is figuring it out minute by minute sometimes. I second guess myself more often than not and every day I long for the “do over” button.
Despite all that, I know that I am blessed with a husband who supports me in my neurotic need for control and with daughters who have made being a mom the greatest joy of my life, even when it doesn’t feel like a joy at all. At the end of the day, I need to remind myself that I am enough, and I can only be responsible for what is mine…my emotions, my reactions, my example. The rest I will have to give back to its rightful owner, and maybe then, my faith can take over where my trust has left off.