When my daughters were little girls, I was a devoted mother. I showered them with love, read stories to them at bedtime, made nutritious meals, cared for them when they were sick, and gave them gifts and presents. I loved to sew and I often made them all matching dresses, and they adored that. We didn’t have a lot of money, but we managed to always put food on the table and have enough left over for emergency doctor bills and birthday presents and new clothes for school each year.
So many people in our small town loved to watch our family. They thought we were the model of a happy family. That allowed me to take pride in the fact that I was doing something right as a mom. And that meant a lot to me, because my own mother had died when I was only fourteen. And my father died two years later. So at age sixteen, I had no parents to model parenting for me. Of course, I learned by the school of hard knocks. But at the end of each day, my children had full bellys, a roof over their heads, a warm bed to sleep in, and the feeling of being loved. I was a good parent.
My third daughter is now twenty and in her second year at our state university. I like to say she is on the “speed plan” for college. She took several college-level classes during high school and earned credit for them when she was accepted at the university. Her first year at the university she took eighteen credits each semester (a usual course load is twelve). This, her second year, she is taking twenty credits each semester. She is planning to take some courses over the summer and is planning to complete her undergrad education in a little over one year. She is in a field of study that usually takes five years to complete, but she will finish in three.
On top of her course load, she participates in a sport that takes up an enormous amount of her time. She has about six weeks off from this sport over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. And her sports schedule in February and March is not as demanding as the rest of the year. But in June, July, and August, she trains up to fourteen hours a day.
Because of her course load and her decision to be a committed athlete, she doesn’t have time for a job, any kind of job. So she doesn’t earn any money. None.
In her way of thinking, I am the most despicable parent on this planet because I will not buy her a car so she can conveniently go back and forth from her sport and classes instead of having to take incredibly long rides on public buses. She made the choice to live in an apartment near the university, but off-campus where there is no food service. And I am an uncaring mother because I won’t buy her a car so she can get to the grocery store at her convenience. Because of her sport’s intensity, she ends up with a lot of doctor appointments and physical therapy. She wants to sue me for child neglect because I won’t provide her with a car to get to these appointments. Did I tell you my daughter is twenty years old?
I cannot count the times I have told my daughter that she has choices. She can quit her sport and get a job to afford her own car and not have to go to the doctor anymore. She can take a lighter course load and get a job and buy a car. She can move back home and share the family’s car. And every time I say such things to her, she tells me I don’t understand anything about life. According to her, I am a horrible parent, a terribly bad parent, worse than pond scum.
And lately, I’ve begun to believe her. I was a really bad parent all those years because I made everything look so easy. I gave her not what she needed, but what she wanted. I showed her unconditional love as a mom. And through all of that, I taught her to believe she is entitled. In her distorted thinking, she believes—and has told me to my face—that because I gave birth to her, I am responsible for her life. At age twenty? Not happening!
At twenty years old, both her mother and father are alive. She goes to bed with a full belly. She has a roof over her head and she sleeps in a warm bed. Her father and I and her sisters tell her we love her. Her father and I both tell her we’re proud of all that she’s accomplishing. And yet, she wishes some other woman had given birth to her.
I am the bad parent who did too much good for my child. I cannot help but wonder, what would I have done differently if I had to do it over again? It’s a moot point. The reality is, I am a bad parent.