I remember finding out that he was coming. I was over the moon about it. They told me there may be two of them on their way, but after a few days of fretting about the possibility, an ultrasound revealed one perfect baby boy growing healthy in my welcoming womb. That was almost 30 years ago. It wasn’t my first pregnancy, but it was my first planned pregnancy and the first one I would carry to term.
Sometimes it is mind-boggling to me how much my first pregnancy affected my entire life, especially the way in which I raised my children. When I was 19 years old and in college becoming very liberal, I convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by terminating my pregnancy. Years later, after I gave birth to my twins, I would finally face the enormity of taking the life of my first child, and lay it down at His feet. But from the moment I gave birth to my oldest son, I was fully aware of God’s mercy and grace, although I didn’t claim to be His follower at that point.
I remember thinking something along the lines of “I can’t believe He would allow me the privilege of raising this perfect little boy after what I’ve done,” in the hospital delivery room. I felt like I owed God so much for blessing this unworthy girl with the biggest joy of my life, so I worked everyday to devote myself to being the most amazing and perfect mama there ever was. Which in real talk means I became a neurotic perfectionist.
I made sure that my son felt treasured and protected from anything and everything that might cause him discomfort. I sat up at night in the summer to be sure bugs wouldn’t land on him if a mosquito or fly was buzzing around inside our home. I nursed him for 5 months, rocked him to sleep every night until he was almost 2, read to him whenever he’d allow it, rarely fed him store-bought baby food unless I couldn’t find time to make it myself, talked with him endlessly. When he was older I would stay up at night to fix the periods and commas on his homework so that he wouldn’t have to feel any rejection at school. I couldn’t stand the thought of him hurting in any way. I had a neurotic fear that if I didn’t do things well enough, God would take him back.
I remember once when he was about 6 months old, I made one of the worst decisions I could’ve made. I’m embarrassed as I begin to type these words, afraid of what you will think of me. My son had been sick for several days and his father had come home very late, in no condition to help me. I called my parents and asked them to pick up some things for my baby and they helped, but were vocal about why my husband didn’t take care of this. He worked for them, so they were very aware of his schedule. When we ran out of formula and the medicine my baby needed a couple of days later, I was too embarrassed to call anyone, so I bundled my little guy up, drove to the store and locked him in the car while I ran through the blustery snow to grab formula and medicine. I was only in there for about 10 minutes, watching the car the entire time. As I was leaving the store, a police car pulled up to mine and an angry officer came charging up to me as I hurried to the car. He screamed at me that someone would be coming to my home later that evening to pick up my son because I was such a neglectful mother. He asked me if I knew how much danger I had put my child in. He told me to enjoy the next few hours because I might not have any more time with my son once a judge saw what an awful mom I was. I drove home nearly hysterical and spent the next several hours apologizing to my baby, and trying to make the most of my last few hours with my son.
They never showed up. I never heard from anyone ever again about any of it. I had escaped my deserved fate twice now and I wasn’t going to test the three strike rule.
I’ve never left any of my children in the car alone for even a hot minute. I still can’t believe I made such a terrible decision. My only defense is that I was young, exhausted, alone and I felt desperate to get the things my baby needed and for some reason, I thought the snowstorm was more of a threat to him than being left in a car alone in a huge public parking lot. I know…
Through the years I worked very hard to teach my son how to be giving and generous and most importantly how to love without condition. I talked with him about these things and I modeled it as consistently as I could as I parented him through the years.
His father and I divorced when our son was almost 2 years old. Just after he turned 3, I married his stepdad. I acquired a stepson who is just 3 months younger than my son and I commenced attempting to become the world’s most perfect step/mom. My husband and I decided to wait to have any more children so that our sons could be our focus and they could get a firm foundation of security in our family. Our daughter was born the day before our 4th anniversary and I continued to be a neurotic mama. Again, the vulnerability of losing one of our children to something caused by my neglect or oversight was just more than I could bear. In my son’s 7 years of life I think I had only gotten more protective and controlling. The normal relaxation that parents experience with additional children didn’t happen to me.
I was homeroom mom, PTA president, I headed up and helped with more ministries at church than I can recollect. I was obsessed with our children having wonderful memories and raising them to be contributing members of society who were full of compassion and eager to help their fellow man and follow Christ. The irony is that I thought it all hinged on what I did and said, while leaving very little to Christ. I guess I didn’t model faith very well…
It backfired on me a bit. I found that when you spend all of your time and energy on being a martyr, you raise children that are shocked and angry when you suddenly attempt to have healthy boundaries. This was a shock to me. I was absolutely confident that my children would want to step-up as they grew up and meet others’ needs intuitively. I thought that they would rise up and call me blessed…
They definitely rose up… and then things got really ugly for awhile – kind of a long while. I reacted badly to the part where they spread their wings and leave the nest. They dug their heels in and as I freaked out, I had a lot of alone time to analyse the situation. First I spewed about why my ungrateful brats were completely in the wrong, then I justified why I had done nothing wrong and listed all of the marvelous (perfect) things I had done as their mama, then I beat myself up for all of it. Finally, I decided to close my mouth, reign in my thoughts, open my ears and my heart so that I could hear their hearts. It was not a walk in the park. It did not happen overnight or in a conversation or two, but somewhere along the way, I humbled myself and waded through the hurt to the truth and the amazing thing was that when I did that, my children followed my example and heard my heart. There were lots of apologies, new perspectives and a whole bunch of grace.
He’s forgiven me for my horrible choice so many years ago. It has been very difficult for me to accept his grace because of the magnitude of my sin and my inability to think like He does because of my human limitations. The cool thing is that I find that as I embrace his forgiveness, I am able to have healthier boundaries with the people I care for most, including myself. I no longer see Him as a Father who is just waiting for me to mess up so that He can punish me for not being even close to perfect. He wants me to do the “right” things because I feel led to do it, not because I’m afraid of what will happen if I don’t – and this isn’t news to me. On some level I’ve always known this in my head, but wounds can cause us to live enslaved, making important choices based on fear and guilt. The ripple effect of that can be detrimental to generations. Sometimes the regret for all of my bad choices still overwhelms me. I can see how it’s affected my children in their own relationships and reactions to what life deals them. This mama’s heart struggles to not get caught up in the “what if’s” and the “maybe’s.” I swear when we give birth to our first child, a “guilt” chromosome is inserted into women’s brains. On the good days, when I’m wise, I fall back on Him. I focus on having faith that He has this all in His hand and He will honor and bless my mustard seed faith. On the bad days, I don’t have faith like I do on the good days and then I waste time worrying, making the same mistakes as before and thinking I know best and have control of things. I wish I didn’t have bad days at all, but I still do and I’m thankful that He extends grace to me and He’s all about do-overs. I think that before I would spiral into control mode and for the longest time, that was my slippery slope, but the field has leveled off as I’ve learned to have more faith in Him and now it’s more like a pothole or a quick detour before getting right back on the path. I’m working toward it becoming a divot or swerve in the near future, as I don’t expect I’ll ever be perfect in this area (or any other). I have more peace now and things work out so much better when I follow His lead, embracing whoever and whatever He blesses me with.
It only took me nearly a half a century to get here, but it’s enough…