Mothers in general have a tendency to wonder, “Am I raising my kids well?” As a soon-to-be childcare professional, I am already wondering this about myself. Will I screw up the children I work with? Will I be able to stick to what I’ve been told works? Will I remember to utilize what I’ve learned when I have my own children? These are just some of the questions that flood my head — and I’m not even in a relationship.
Then, I remember my mother and think, “If she could do it, I can do it.”
My mom home schooled my brother and me for the majority of our primary education. She researched proper child development practices before the internet was in full swing. She and my dad went out of their way to plan field trips which correlated to what we were learning in history. Once a year, she drove an hour away to a place where she could exchange and buy educational books which were needed for our curriculum. For two years during middle school, she home schooled another child from a single parent home along with us. She worked hard to give us a classical Christian education.
But, this was just one side of the story. My mom suffers from depression. During childhood, she had Mono. In college, she had chronic fatigue. For reasons which we do not understand, this has left her with both dead and active Epstein bar virus. Her body is constantly fighting this virus. As a result, whenever she gets sick, her immune system cannot fight both the Epstein bar virus and the additional illness. So, she has symptoms of the illness and Mono and chronic fatigue. Think that’s a lot? There’s more. She had difficult birthing experiences with both me and my brother, nearly dying in both cases. With my brother, she suffered a hip injury which she has never fully recovered from.
How did she do it? How did she manage to be a good wife and mother with all of these potential barriers?
I won’t lie, there were times when it was difficult. She was usually honest with us about her health issues. I did not fully understand her depression until I was 14 years old, partly because she kept it out of site during our early childhood years. I’m thankful that she did this. When she became more open about it, it was far from easy as her child. But, communication helped all of us.
Because my mom knew that she had limitations, she taught my brother and me to help out around the house from an early age. We were usually responsible for the dishes and folding laundry. With time, we increasingly cooked dinner more often. The older we got, the more we were able to know when she could do the housework and when she needed to go rest. Last year, a particular incident occurred which revealed how well my brother and I had come to understand what our mom needed. Our mom was debating whether she should get up and cook dinner or lie down and rest for an hour. My brother was 19 at the time and is a very blunt person. He came into the room and said, “Mom, you are not allowed to make dinner today. You need to lie down and rest. We’ll take care of it.”
As my brother and I enter adulthood, our mom sometimes says, “I’m sorry you have a messed up mom.” I want so badly to deny it and say, “You’re not messed up.” But, when I am honest and examine the barriers she has struggled with, I start to wonder if she really is “messed up.” I have come to the conclusion that what ultimately matters is that she’s my mom. Is she “messed up”? I don’t know. Did she raise me? Yes. Did she teach me well? Yes. Do I love her? Absolutely.
My mom is not the only woman out there who struggles with health issues and/or mental illness. I have a friend who struggles with childhood trauma. She wonders if she will be a burden to her future family. She has said to me before, “I don’t want my kids to have a messed up mom.” What solace is there for such women?
As the child of a woman who struggled, allow me to offer some peace of mind: No matter what, you will always be your children’s mother. Yes, there will be days when you feel like a failure. Yes, there will be times when your children wish you did not have to struggle. Persevere. Take it one day at a time. Communicate with your family and friends. Be willing to accept help. Your children will see you for what you are: a human being fighting to win against all odds. Do not despair.