When my children were little, I thought I had it all figured out. I ran my household like a tight Navy ship filled with short people who obeyed my every command (mostly) and loved me unconditionally.
Don’t ask how the love part fits into the sailor analogy, because it doesn’t. That would be a different subject altogether, probably for another publication.
Anyway, the kids did love me unconditionally and, I believed, adoringly. In return, I strove to be the best mother that I could be to each of them, on their terms, always trying to acknowledge their different personalities and meet them where they were, rather than expecting their needs to fit with my mothering.
It was a challenge, but I did it well. Everyone said so.
“They’re so beautiful ... and quiet!” elderly ladies said as I rolled by with my grocery cart, two babies packed in with the groceries and two slightly taller kids hanging off the sides.
“We were so worried when the hostess seated you all next us, but your children are so well behaved!” people said as they stopped by our crowded table on their way out of restaurants.
“Kristi, you are such a good mother!” my own mother said on multiple occasions, when I told her about the latest challenges I overcame with my children. And I had to agree. I felt like a good mother.
For 12 years, I lived in that blissful state of motherhood, patting myself on the back and basking in the compliments friends and strangers heaped upon me and my children.
But then, to my surprise and dismay, my oldest daughter became a teenager and the rules suddenly changed. All the mothering tricks I had used before no longer applied, and the tight ship of my household became a limping dinghy filled with holes.
I might have had time to learn the new rules if it weren’t for my other three children who all reached adolescence when their older sister was still there at high tide. By the time my son reached puberty, I had become a mess of a mother, trying to hang on to my sinking ship.
Gone were the days of orderly family dinners and behaved children. Meals became chaotic, one daughter pouting over her hamburger, another yelling at her brother for eating his chicken leg too loudly, and another jumping to answer the phone. My motherly commands were no longer effective and just contributed to the madness.
All I can say is, I hope there’s a special place in heaven for mothers like me, whose four kids were all teenagers at the same time. I successfully made it through those years with most of my wits, while my teens survived without getting pregnant, developing drug addictions or becoming hoodlums. Those were my measures of success.
But my story doesn’t end with the close of their teenage years. I discovered, again to my dismay, that the mothering rules changed yet again when they all became adults. I thought my role would be easier when they were out on their own, raising their own families and taking care of themselves. I thought I’d be able to coast through the rest of my life on my new household cruise ship, visiting the delicious buffet of grandbaby love whenever the mood hit me and on all major holidays.
But no, I was wrong. This last phase of mothering is actually the hardest. As my children have grown, so have the problems they face in life. And unlike when they were little, I no longer have control over the choices they make, the people they hang out with, the careers they choose. I can only stand on the sidelines, offer advice and guidance if it’s asked for (and sometimes when it’s not) and pray they are happy, healthy and wise.
This phase may be the last for me, but it will definitely be the longest.
I’ll be in it for the rest of my life.