When I was growing up, I only had a mother to look up to. When we were kids, she and my father split up and she moved us far away from him for reasons she believed were valid at the time.
As parents, we mostly learn how to parent from watching our own. To say that my mother didn’t have the best example of motherhood from her own mother would be a gross understatement. But also as parents, we all just do the best we can with the tools that we’ve been given. I know that my grandmother did the best she could, she passed down the tools she had to my mother. My mother did the best she could with the tools she had and she passed her tools down to me. When I became a mother the first time, I was 17. I possessed very few tools. And, of course, I ended up being a statistic. The one that says within 24 months of giving birth, a teen mom will end up getting pregnant again with a second child. They were right. It was approximately 14 months later. And not even with the same guy.
The one tool my mother had passed along to me was the ability to pick the worst possible kind of man. The other tool she passed along was always putting the kids first and doing whatever it took to make sure that they were safe and fed and loved.
I focused all my energy on sharpening that second tool. I told myself I had to do better. I had to be better. I started reading all the parenting books I could get my hands on. When I was pregnant I read What to Expect When You’re Expecting, followed by What to Expect the First Year, followed in no particular order by Between Parent and Child, How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So They Will Talk, Hold On To Your Kids, and many many more. I thought I could study my way to effective parenting since I didn’t have any real life training. And for the most part, I think it worked.
The day I stood in my kitchen sobbing into the antiquated cast iron sink with no electric, I realized I had to do more than work on my parenting skills. I had to work on my life skills. My life skills which included knowing how to take advantage of the welfare system, knowing how to cut up hot dogs and mix them into the mac and cheese from a box I had just prepared, and knowing how to rob Peter to pay Paul. I didn’t know about working hard. I didn’t know about goal setting. I didn’t even know what a goal was.
From the time I was 17 until the time I was 44, I had one goal. Do not die before my youngest son turned 18. That was it. Other than that, I had no plans for achieving anything. I just flew on autopilot doing what had to be done to make sure my kids were healthy, happy, safe, and loved. But I did understand that happy children come from happy parents and since I was the only parent they had, I tried my best to be happy. I bought all the personal development books on happiness. At the time they were called “self help” and were frowned upon in lots of the circles I was included in. Self help was for people who were “sick” or “crazy.” Where I came from, wanting more than what life was dealing out to you was unheard of. But there was always something inside me that said, “this cannot be it.”
And so I just kept quietly reading and searching for that “thing” to show up. And I kept trying to figure out what happiness was and how to get there. And I got pretty good at smiling through the bad. I got pretty good at not stressing out over the things I could not control. And I got even better at saying “it’s all going to work out just keep doing the next right thing.” And that’s what I did.
When things got rough, I just decided it would work out for the best. When things looked dismal, I smiled anyway and decided it would be ok. And you know what? It usually was. So much that my daughter’s grandmother would say, “you’re like a cat, you always land on all fours.” My sister would say “you could fall in shit and come out smelling like roses.” Now, she just calls me “shit roses.” I’ve come to find it endearing. A friend of mine used to say, “you must have extra endorphins, it doesn’t matter how shitty your life is, you are always just still happy. It’s not fair.”
I guess after I learned that life was never going to be fair, I decided that I wasn’t going to take it personally. I realized at a really young age, that I was not special. I was just like every other single teen mom, but I did have the choice of whether I would follow in the footsteps of my predecessors or if I would create my own path. I wanted my kids to create their own paths. I never wanted to force them to live inside a box I created for them. Especially since the box I was created in was not conducive to thriving. I came from a long line of just getting by. And I wanted more than that for my kids.
Now I do personal development daily. I don’t ever want to go back to that place I used to live. I’ve graduated from parenting books to lots of mindset and motivation. I gravitate towards women who are living lives that I would not mind living and I follow their example.
I guess if I had to give someone advice, it would be just that, surround yourself by people whose example you wish you had growing up, because it’s never too late to grow into that kind of person. So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m continuously trying to figure out what kind of person I want to be and what I need to do to get there.
Growth… It just starts with one uncomfortable step in the opposite direction of your comfort zone.