How To Let Go Of Our Failures As Parents
My son’s 18th birthday was this week, and it had me feeling all the feels. I know many mamas out there know exactly what I’m talking about. The feelings are so big and so multifaceted. I am thinking about him launching into adulthood and wondering if he is ready. Does he know how to live on his own? Will he eat, sleep, study, and make friends? I could easily drown in the worry from that alone, but then my heart gets pulled to the past. Was he loved enough? Did I teach him enough? Does he know who he is, and is he sufficiently grounded to fully discover that person once he is out on his own?
Even when I attempt to answer all these questions and satisfy my fears, I am then pulled into all the moments where I know for sure I failed—moments and time periods where life was so damn hard and he didn’t get everything he needed. I was managing depression, a hopeless marriage, and trying to build a career, all while making it look like I had it all together within my community. These are the moments and time periods I wish I could go back and change.
For so long I have avoided thinking deeply about his first ten years because they were so incredibly painful. It wasn’t just the realities I was juggling but also the bottomless pit of guilt and sadness I felt for not being able to be the me I am today while raising an innocent, hopeful, and optimistic baby and young man. Oh the ways I wish I could have done it all differently. I am gaining a new perspective on grand-parenting. I see now that this will be a chance to create a new footprint. The wisdom of time and healing and perspective will allow me to connect with those babies in a way I just couldn’t with my own.
Anyway, as I have spent most of this week in a deeply reflective state about my son and wishing and praying for the most adventurous, centered life possible for him, I am also reflecting on my 25-year-old self who gave birth to him. I honestly can’t think about her without crying. She was working so hard to do everything right. She wanted so badly to have a good life and be a good girl and feel happy, at peace, and full of joy. I cry because I know now what she didn’t know then: Motherhood will change every part of who you are. The love and connection with that baby will rip you wide open and cause everything to come pouring out.
Unfortunately for trauma survivors, this experience is messy, painful, and overwhelming. The birth of my first son was the starting point of years of healing and therapy—healing, recovery, and self-discovery that I didn’t know I needed. I can say now that every tear, every counseling session, and every moment of confused hopelessness about what was happening and where I was going was absolutely worth it.
I will always be sad that I wasn’t able to be the centered and grounded mom my little boy needed, but I will also always be honest with him and myself that the very best version of me showed up every day. In the early years, it wasn’t good enough most days, and many of his emotional needs weren’t met. I have had to work hard to forgive myself for this and trust that his journey will lead him to the healing and self-discovery he needs to overcome any deficits he faces due to generational trauma and patterns.
Staying stuck in the regret of the past won’t change anything. It dishonors us as growing and evolving mamas, and it energetically keeps him from freely moving forward too. Grieve the past, mamas, and let it go. Trust that your children have strengths that will enable them to build the future of their dreams and that they will learn from our ability to evolve, let go, and move forward. Staying in the shame and regret of the past teaches them that they have to either let us go to move forward or that they need to stay stuck in the shame of the past too. Don’t force your children to make that choice.
As I launch my son into the world, I want to empower him with the grounded truth, no matter how raw or painful it is, and allow him the space to feel all the grief he needs to feel about it. From this place, he can build a life full of integrity, honor, and a sacred, grounded centeredness for knowing exactly who he is and where he came from. From this place, our children can freely take risks and wield the life of their dreams without fear of failure or pain because they know how to manage and feel both.
I am sure we wish we could all go back and redo our early parenting years; we can’t. So the next best thing is to own them. Feel them. Grieve them and let them go. Use the wisdom and skill sets gained and allow space for our kids to do the same.
Janice Holland is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor and Certified Trauma Model Therapist from the Ross Institute. After graduating from NYU in 2009, she has worked in schools, mental health hospitals and private practice helping people own their stories and curate the life they are proud to live. You can follow her work on Instagram @janicehollandlpc or read her blogs at janiceholland.com
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