I'll try to get to the point, though it will be difficult, as my kids tell me I am incapable of understanding much.
I write because it has come to my attention that I am a disappointment to my children. For me, this is something of a surprise.
I don't mean to sound arrogant, but I do a lot for my kids -- more than a lot. I do pretty much everything for them, and always have. My kids come first.
Still, every year about this time, the season of joy and giving, my sense of sadness and guilt that I've done something terribly wrong in raising them starts to creep in. Although I am pretty successful at denying that my kids are what my mother would have called "spoiled brats" throughout the rest of the year, at Christmas time I'm unable to successfully avoid seeing what is in front of me -- two greedy, lazy, entitled teenagers playing computer games, instead of doing their homework or helping a just little bit around the house, whining about wanting the latest gadgets technology has to offer, even though I've spent more than I could afford on my one income buying them the gadgets they now consider outdated or uncool. Most of the time, I can tell myself my mother is wrong, that my kids are just like all the other kids, and ya know, that's just how teenagers are. But at Christmas time I just can't pretend. I want something more for my kids, but I don't know what.
-- Seasonal failure
Before I start in on a meaningful and necessary tangent about your relationship with you mother who was always right, let me say, I like the way you think. The ability to question oneself is the foundation for having good and meaningful relationships with others. It takes courage to admit something isn't working.
Now about your mother. You portrayed her as something of a judgmental and withholding lady. It appears she hurt you. As a result of the injury you suffered and still seem to suffer, particularly at Christmas time, you seem to have cut a deal with your heart that you would never be like her. Your life and all its most-beloved inhabitants (your children), would dwell in the warm land of comfort and care far from the frozen tundra of your mother's constant criticisms and unreasonable demands. You learned early on, all your love, embraces and good grades, none of it could melt mom's resolve that you weren't good enough.
If even a fraction of what I've invented about you and your mom is true, I'm guessing that asking anything of your children makes you feel dangerously close to becoming just like this cold creature who bore you. Instead of identifying with this implacable lady, who would have no compassion for the struggles you are having with your less-than-perfect children, you chose to continue to do things as you've always done them. You are the doer, the fixer, the hope, the glue and still, just like mother, your kids are never satisfied, they want more.
Guess what? You know who wants more? You. You want more. And I believe you can get it. But first you've got to stop trying to please everyone into loving you. It didn't work with mom and it won't work with your kids.
When you attempt to say "no" to your kids and they grumble or complain, pay attention to what goes on in your heart and head. If your primary feeling is fear, fear of losing the love of your child, or worry that your child will feel so sad without getting their way and you're afraid of what they might do, think again. Contrary to popular belief, giving children what they want when they want it will not make them happier, more giving, human beings. There's a good reason for this. Research shows that the most successful and happy people are those who have the ability to delay gratification. These people aren't led like small, helpless animals by the tight leash of perpetual desires. When we lovingly help our children to learn how to manage through not having their way, we actually give them the greatest gift of all, the gift of internal satisfaction. The difference between you and your mom is that your decisions will be informed by a brave heart, one willing to question herself. That openness makes all the difference.
Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you would like to submit to the Ask Mom panel, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-399-4179.