I Wanted Them To Understand (But Maybe Not So Much)

What mother hasn’t thought to herself “Oh, just you wait!” in foretelling the day her kids finally understand what responsibility for self, home, and family is really all about?

The expectation is that some day our kids will see – and understand, maybe even thank us for – the countless hours spent in caring and providing for them. It’s almost like we taste justice coming; some imaginary scales tipping just a little higher for us as our kids take on the weight of their own worlds.

This isn’t my typical mentality about parenting (in fact, I’m strongly opposed to the emotional debt we tend to place on children), but I have found myself going there some days. And now that I have two grown children, I’m beginning to realize that it’s no party when your kids finally begin to understand it all.

My oldest daughter, Hannah, had her first baby in June – a cause for celebration, to be sure. Baby Lois is healthy, beautiful, and thriving. As a little family, Hannah and her husband are working on a routine, getting used to new normals, trying and testing what works for Lois and what doesn’t. They are doing so well.

Hannah and family

And yet, I know Hannah struggles. I know she needs constant reassurance that she’s doing the right thing. I know she feels tired, and overwhelmed, and lonely. I know she’s eager to embrace her new life, even as she mourns the loss of her old. And I know that she knows now what I felt like as a young mom myself, with each and every new child who blessed our family.

My second daughter, Maddy, graduated high school in June. She has been an enormous help at home this summer. Playing with our youngest son, running errands while I work, even doing chores without me asking.

Today she expressed frustration as she yet again tried to clear the kitchen counters of dirty dishes. “I do a load every day,” she said, “and 10 minutes later the sink is filled. It feels like what I do doesn’t even matter. I just keep doing the same tasks over and over.” She caught herself at one point and said, “I think I understand now how you must feel.”

It’s true. With a full house, weeks easily become a never-ending cycle of daily chores, where little progress is seen from day-to-day, and it’s impossible to feel I’ve actually accomplished anything.

But did I really want Maddy to feel that, too? Did I really want Hannah to have to wrestle like I did with fears and insecurities she never even knew she had? Absolutely not.

My daughters’ lives are better for learning these lessons, because it’s the only way they will grow and learn to persevere. But my life as a mother? It’s not really made any better by my kids finally “understanding it all.” It’s a hollow victory, to watch them struggle.

What DOES make my life better as a mother is being able to offer support, love, and guidance, all from a place of having already gone through what they’re going through now. My life – and theirs – is made better by empathy.

So the next time I’m tempted to think “Oh, just you wait!” when selfishly looking forward to a little acknowledgement or recognition, instead I’ll trying saying “I’m not worried, I know you’ll get there some day. And I’ll be waiting to help you through every bit of it.” No scales, no justice, just love. Lots and lots of love.