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Gratitude Heaven

A mother  I interviewed recently—who’d had her five children starting at 17-years-old and finishing in her 40s—told me that she was prepared not to be appreciated by her children until she was “much, much older.”

“There are no absolutes, no black vs. whites,” she said. “A decision you made as a parent with all the best intentions may someday be thrown in your face as the reason for something your now-grown-up child finds lacking in their life.”

Her prediction struck a deep, resonating chord within me.

Having your children older may have more than the obvious price tags or caveat emptors of age-related risk factors, illness, or death.

As childless adults, it is easy to judge our parents—to say: “I’ll never do to my children what my parents did to me!”

There’s a youthful, self-righteous readiness to talk about how we got a raw deal growing up, to chatter to anyone who’d listen about our parents’ shortcomings.

Occasionally, such bragging could easily escalate into a so-called Pissing Contest, to see whose buttocks received the greatest number of strokes from the strap, who got sent to bed without dinner most often, or whose parents had the most Draconian house rules.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, our parents were “square,” out of touch and constantly managing to fail desperately at being “hip.”

Our thoughts and deeds were invisible to them—we could not imagine them being children, teens or young guns recklessly loaded for adventure.

They were tired, outdated, boring. They lacked passion, conviction or hope for the future.

Our parents coveted the notion of changing the world with about as much fervor as changing a tire.

They were “Has-beens.”

Before we were married, Frank and I went for long walks and talked about how we would do it differently—how we would be Wonder Parents.

For example, Frank complained that his parents used the TV as the “one-eyed babysitter.”

I argued that my parents had blindly favored hard-core discipline.

We were—Frank was later to attest—talking about our future children as if they were “Precious Snowflakes” requiring the tender ministering of teachers and parents from the Precious Snowflake School.

But as we all know, talking about becoming a parent—versus being a parent—are two vastly different prospects.

Becoming a parent is the Great Leveler.

Becoming a parent means discovering a breed of humility engendered in Greek tragedy, only it is there to be re-discovered on a daily basis, ad infinitum.

Becoming a parent is a profound awakening—we are shocked into the realization that we know absolutely nothing about parenting, no matter how many books we’ve read.

As mom and dad, we’re like the two idiot-tourists in a foreign land, stranded at an intersection—or worse, at a roundabout like the Griswold Family in National Lampoon’s European Vacation (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/National_Lampoon%27s_European_Vacation)—one reading the map, while the other persists in driving with a glazed look in their eyes.

We’re the blind leading the deaf on a motorized wheelchair without brakes along the relentless daily sojourn into You’ll-Never-Get-Your-Single-Life-Back Lane.

In fact, your life has become a mom-and-pop version of Groundhog Day (http://en NULL.wikipedia NULL.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_%28film%29)—you wake up knowing that you haven’t got your parenting style quite right and you begin to suspect that you never will.

When I was 47-years-old—and Alex was 5 and Lizzie 2—I took a deep breath and telephoned my father in Ontario, Canada.

He was, by then, in his late 70s.

At a loss for the finer intricacies of the English language, I just found myself blurting it out what was on my mind.

“You know, Dad,” I said with a deep, hoarse sigh, “I have an immense amount of forgiveness for you.”

It was said with the humble respect of a Parental Boot Camp graduate. I felt a trifle awkward, not knowing what he’d have to say.

I was wide open. If wanted to take a shot at me—or “get his own back,” as the English say—I was a sitting duck.

That was when I heard a deep, long and knowing chuckle that rumbled up through the old man’s chest and built to a fine gleeful laugh of a man who’s just been tickled pink.

And it’s a laugh I’ve heard many a time since—every time I talk about being a mother and never getting the last word in with my kids, edge-or-otherwise.

But I don’t begrudge him. He waited a lifetime for me to experience motherhood so that he could then receive his due filial respect and gratitude.

Becoming a mother in my forties just might mean that—by the time my children figure it out—I’ll be getting my gratitude in heaven.

2 Responses to Get Your Gratitude In Heaven

  1. Christina says:

    Oh my, I can relate to this! It is SO true. I had all these grand notions before becoming a mom – no sugar, no TV until my child is 3, etc. etc.!! Now with a 2-1/2-year-old and me being a “wise” 50, I sometimes feel at a total loss as to what I should be doing as a mother. Great blog, Angel. :)

  2. Denise says:

    Thank you so much for your article. It is just what I needed. I feel I spent the last 20 years of my life putting my children first and making sure they got everything they needed while working full-time. I prioritized making everything perfect for them and spending way too much money as well as a great deal of time. Only to be told very recently that I didn’t do enough by one of my children – that I wasn’t a good enough Mother. It totally broke my heart. Then I remembered I really didn’t appreciate my parents until I had children of my own. I had children very late in life – I just may be getting my gratitude in heaven as well. Thanks again – it really helped.

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