Some of Us Never Meet Our Heroes. I Got To Raise Mine.
Being a mother is the hardest and most important job I've ever done.
I was young when I became a mother: 20 yrs old.
I feel like I have an obligation to my child. He is here (alive, on this earth) as a result of the choices I made. As the adult, it was my responsibility to educate and prepare him. His dad chose to not be actively involved in his upbringing, so I took on the responsibility by myself.
I have always treated my child with respect, as an individual. Even as a baby I spoke to him as a person. I think this is important.
I got divorced when my "baby" was 2 yrs old. I was granted sole custody in the divorce. The divorce really shook things up for me. I was raised with the idea that my husband would provide, and I would be a stay-at-home mom. Things didn't work out that way. I had to learn to provide for myself, and parent this precious child on my own.
A few years after the divorce, my ex-husband sued me for custody. I was working full time, going to school, raising a bi-racial male child, and had to fight against the man who'd promised to love and support me, in order to keep my small family together.
I gave the custody battle the attention it needed - communicating with lawyers, getting documents together, etc. and I tried to shelter my son from all of that, and provide him with a safe, loving, comfortable, and consistent home.
I focused on meeting all of my son's needs, to the best of my ability.
There was a time when I was working graveyard shift. I'd go home from work, sleep a few hours, and wake up to go eat school lunch with him, then I'd go back to bed for a few more hours. I made that sacrifice (my sleep and health) in order to spend time with my son, in "his environment" of school. An added benefit is that I earned the trust of his classmates, and was present when things happened that needed to be addressed at the moment.
The divorce wasn't my son's fault, in any way. I didn't want him to suffer because of it. He deserved to have the love, support, and structure that could be provided in a 2-parent home. I tried to provide that for him.
I worked long hours, and did my best to provide all the physical comforts possible, to make sure he had a comfortable home. I also had to work a lot, to pay for the lawyers, court costs, and trips to court. I also had to pay for the babysitters that I needed, in order for me to go to work.
I provided in-home babysitting, because it was less disruptive for him. Erich was able to go home to his home after school, and go to bed in his own bed, even when I wasn't able to be there, because of work.
I tried to be fully present with Erich, when I was home. I was raised by a stay-at-home mom, in a close-knit community. My mom had a lot of control over my environment, or at least she had connections to know what was happening in the community. I had to approach parenting differently. I developed a relationship of trust so that my child would feel safe talking to me. When he was little, he would tell me about things happening at day care. I listened to stories about one child taking a toy from another, etc. When more serious things happened, we had the rapport where he felt comfortable talking to me about what he was facing. I think this is an important part of parenting. It's the parents' responsibility to prepare our children to face life, to know how to think critically, and make wise decisions. Also, life kinda sucks sometimes, but knowing there's an adult with more experience that’s got your back makes it easier to face.
We would plan his homework schedule, based on when assignments were due to make sure his work was done on time. It kinda hurt when he told me he wanted to wait until the next day to do his math homework because his babysitter Kristie would be there, and he wanted to work on it with her. It hurt that he preferred her help over mine, but at the same time, it confirmed to me that I'd made a good decision in hiring her. She was another adult who he trusted. He knew what he could count on her for, and planned his responsibilities based on who he could count on. As a working mom I had to let go of some of that pride.
As a teenager, Erich would call me and ask what time I'd be home because he wanted to talk. He was worried about life decisions like college, career, etc. He wanted my input. I think that's unusual in teenagers today. Because I had maintained a relationship of trust, he knew that I cared about his well being, and wanted nothing but the best for him. He wanted my advice on his future plans. I consider that a privilege.
I feel like a large part of parenting is to prepare our children to face life, to teach them how to make wise decisions, and to accept responsibility for their decisions and actions. To look critically at all the available options, and to trust their own instincts.
Erich is alive as a result of my choices. I feel like it was my responsibility to provide for him, and to prepare him for life. My child does not owe me anything. I owe it to him to give him the best opportunities.
I view my child as an individual, not an extension of myself. I don't try to live vicariously through him, I don't push him to make the decisions I wish I had made. Some of the decisions he made were not decisions I wanted him to make. For example: he decided to join the military. As a parent, I want to keep my child safe. I didn't want him to enlist in a career field dedicated to violence.
When he was about 15, he asked me to take him to a military recruiting office. He asked his questions, and decided he wanted to become a Marine, the elite fighting force, the most demanding branch of the military. He got the list of physical fitness requirements, and on his own worked toward meeting the minimum requirements.
When he was 16 he started doing Physical Training (PT) with the Marine recruiters once a week. He talked to them about enlistment options, then came home and tried to convince me why it would be a good idea for me to sign him up early. I declined. I would not enable my child to get alcohol, tobacco, tattoos, guns or anything else that has an age limit. I wasn't going to sign him up for the military before he could do it himself.
I made him wait until he turned 18.
Right after turning 18 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. About a month later an order came down from higher up, strongly suggesting that he apply for the Navy's ROTC scholarship. They wanted him as an officer! He was awarded the scholarship, and is in college on the Navy's "dime". He got what he wanted, by joining the Marine Corps. I got what I wanted, of him getting a college education, and staying safe, for at least four (4) more years.
Being a mother has been the hardest, most challenging, and most satisfying job I've ever had. My "baby" is the love of my life, my anchor, my reason for living. Now that he's grown up, and doing his own thing, I feel lost. I can also see it as an opportunity to explore, and decide what I want to do with my life now. I was young when I started the parenting journey. I am less-young now, but still pretty young.
I am proud of my young man, and in awe of the amazing person he has become. I love spending time with Erich as an adult. I get to enjoy the fruits of my labors, without the responsibility of providing, protecting, etc. that I carried for so long.
While I wished some things could have been different, I faced my challenges, did a lot of soul searching, and intentionally provided what I thought was most important. Some people never meet their heroes. Some of us raise them.