I never had dreams of being a parent.
Looking back, I never really thought about getting married. To me, growing up and becoming an adult meant living on your own and having a career. For some reason, the fancy white dress, handsome groom, white picket fence and 2.5 kids never really entered my mind. It's not that I didn't want it; I just didn't think about it.
So when I got married in 1995 and then pregnant in 1996, I kind of took it on like any new job or other challenge. I studied everything I could get my hands on, talked to as many people as I knew who had experience, and set myself up as best I could for this new parenting gig. I took my prenatal vitamins, ate right and exercised. I had a doula and a birth plan that outlined my wishes to have things happen as "naturally" as possible. I breastfed for a year, introduced solids at the recommended age, kept a baby book to record all the milestones and made sure my newborn son wasn't lagging behind in any areas of growth.
After Leavenworth, we moved to Chicago and by then I was no longer working at all. I started two playgroups in our neighborhood on Tuesdays and Thursdays so my son and I would meet people and have some social interaction. We joined a children's museum and went every Monday. We took art and tumbling classes at the local community center. On weekends, we'd play in the sprinkler in the summer or stroll through one of the big malls in the area when it was cold, or go home to see my parents when his dad was out of town or had monthly Drill.
After two years in Chicago, we moved back to Peoria and into a neighborhood teeming with kids. I hadn't thought about having another child - once again, it just never entered my mind. I loved my son, but I hadn't planned on being a stay-at-home mom and didn't really have the confidence in it that I had in my career. But after living on a street full of families with multiple children, we welcomed another son a year later.
During that time, their dad and I divorced. My biggest fear was that when my kids grew up and someone asked them about their childhood, the first thing out of their mouths would be, "Well, my parents divorced when I was a kid." I didn't want that. Neither did their dad. We actually went to divorce counseling to learn how parent effectively in spite of our failed marriage. The day after we told our oldest son, who was seven at the time, we all went out shopping for furniture for his new bedroom at dad's and then out to lunch. We never argued about visitation or what time to bring the kids home or who's buying this or that for them.
See, my ex-husband and I are very different people. He's laid back; I'm pretty rigid. He's more spontaneous; I'm a planner. He goes through life happy-go-lucky for the most part; I'm constantly anticipating the fall of the sky. His way of life and his rules for the kids are less stringent than mine. In some ways, he's a grown up who decided he didn't ever quite want to grow up. And that makes him incredibly appealing to my kids, especially my oldest one.
This used to bother me, and I'm not going to lie, sometimes it still does. But I know both of our roles in our children's lives are equally as important. I have said it more than once that my kids are lucky they don't have two parents like their mom and just as lucky that they don't have two parents like their dad.
My kids are lucky.
They are lucky that they have their dad and me as their parents. The boy who never wanted to grow up and the girl who never thought she'd marry and have kids grew up and married and had kids. And we did our very best.
I'm sure if you ask my kids they can tell you a plethora of additional things I did wrong. But here's the deal. I did the best I could. And I think I did more good than harm. I truly believe that there is no job harder in this world than being a parent. I used to tell people that if it were in fact a real job I would have resigned long ago. But that's not how it works - and the days you love it just barely outnumber the days you don't think you can go on. So you keep trying your best, because you know what's at stake. You're raising another human being. He's looking at you and that in turn makes you look at yourself and think, "Regardless of whether I think I'm effed up or not, I'm going to try my damndest not to eff up this kid." So you suck it up and wake up every morning and do the very best you can.
My kids won't realize this unless they become parents - and frankly, that's up to them if they want to go down that road. And until then, my oldest son may continue to blame me for his shortcomings, or his issues, or his problems, or his faults. He may say my Type A personality dominates his dad's Type B, but what he needs to understand is that sometimes it takes the Type As and Type Bs together to make the proper decisions - especially when those decisions are big ones. It's the strong-willed one telling the passively mellow one that something needs to be done, and the passively mellow one calming down the strong-willed one so she doesn't go too far.
So no, I don't think I am the root of my son's issues, nor do I think that how his dad and I parented him is to blame, either. In fact, after thinking back on the last 18 years of parenting - that parenting I never thought I'd do - I'm confident and even have - dare I say it? - a touch of serenity - that I did the absolute best job I could do, and therefore refuse to carry that burden of blame. And if he looks back on his childhood and thinks he got a raw deal, then that's something he needs to work out on his own.
There are very few things I'm proud of in my life, because I have made an assload of mistakes in just about every arena. I have many regrets. But I don't regret having my children, and I don't regret how I parented them overall. In fact, I'm actually kind of proud of it. I've abandoned many things in my life for a variety of reasons, but my kids weren't one of them. There is nothing I have put more effort into and there is nothing I've ever tried so hard to be better at every day. And as far as my adult child is concerned, well, I'll always be his mom, and I'll be here in the capacity in which he needs me to be. But I will never, ever apologize to him for how I parented him ... because I know I did the best I possibly could.