Backing Parents in their Love

While it might be good for some mothers not to choose for their children over themselves so much, our first step has to be to back them completely in their love.

A woman in our parents support group had news. She was full of news, yet she shared it with a certain hesitation. The mother of eleven, she had recently taken back in a grown son and his two-year-old boy. Now one of her oldest, with six of his own, had been evicted. She could imagine no option but to invite them to stay with her while he got back on his feel--bringing the total in the house to eighteen. That was her news, offered with a combination of defiance and apology.

As we had gotten to know each other over the months my respect for this woman had been steadily growing. She had suffered more than her share in childhood and married life, and had a lot on her plate in the present. Yet she faced each challenge with quiet determination, and a depth of love and openness that was remarkable.

Clearly she didn’t need this additional challenge, yet I warmed to her even more as she talked about the events that had led up to this situation, about her own experience with eviction, about her love for her children and her conviction that you never stop being a mother. It was easy to respond to her love and generosity with appreciation, and to wish her the very best in this new adventure.

Only then did the reason for her defensive and apologetic tone emerge. We were the first people who had responded that way. Everybody else with whom she’d shared this news had been horror-struck, outraged that her son had put her in this position, certain that she was making a mistake, confident that she would regret it.

I was reminded of a similar situation in which a friend was making an education choice for her son that looked challenging for her and not clearly sensible for either of them. My husband argued with her as persuasively as he knew how, trying to get her to change her mind. Later on I had the opportunity to listen, and as she spoke about the challenges and how she was reaching for the very best for her son, I wasn’t inclined to argue. Even if it didn’t look like the best decision from my perspective, it was a decision clearly based in thought and love. And she had made it. What I could offer her now was appreciation for that thinking and love, and unwavering confidence in her goodness as a parent.

There may be times when we make bad choices, or sacrifice ourselves for our children in ways that are unnecessary or even damaging to one or both. Yet the love that motivates us in a good thing, a precious thing, a quality to be treasured and respected. It can lead us to do things that may seem crazy to to others, but actually make our lives go better. Nobody else can measure the depth of love that powers a decision in relation to our children; nobody else had the right to criticize a decision based in love.

Having that love openly validated by others may be the best way of helping us to notice areas in which we are sacrificing needlessly, or at too great a cost. If I don’t have to be on my guard, defensive about my parenting, apologetic about my sacrifice, I have more space to notice the effect it has on me. No longer having to focus on protecting my choice from attack, I can more easily consider the possibility of making a different one.

It’s hard to see other parents that we love struggling more than necessary. Yet I think our best tool for helping them in those situations is to listen without judgment and appreciate them unreservedly for the deep, deep love that is their motivation.