I never fell apart.
I felt bereft for hours and sad for days; but what most strikes me about the weeks and months after my mom’s unexpected death was that I never fell apart. (I got “the call” 7 years ago, today.)
I was sad and lonely at the thought of facing life without either of my parents (Dad died when I was 8, plus I’m an only child). And I was overwhelmed by planning a funeral and closing an estate. But I never fell apart.
As parents we stress about our kids measuring up to our expectations. We “just want the best for them”, (but secretly hope they’ll be the smartest and most talented and most accomplished…oh, and happiest.) We want them to win at Field Day and avoid broken hearts. We hope they’ll “go” Ivy League, find the perfect mate and live better lives than ours.
And their accomplishments make us feel like successful parents.
I know my mom felt that way about me. I earned straight A’s, won piano festivals, got the lead parts, competed in college sports and received trophies and scholarships. So Mom got to brag about her over-achieving son in Christmas cards. And that’s fine.
But what does this all mean? I knew how to compete, charm, and work my way to the top? But did it mean my mom was “successful”? In part. She raised a well-adjusted, kind, hard-worker. Those are skills passed down from her.
But I believe that her time spent as chauffeur, cook, vacation-planner, homework editor and over-zealous academic cheerleader, pale in comparison to my realization AFTER her death.
My mother prepared me for a successful life without her.
In base terms, this is proof or her overwhelming success as a parent.
It doesn’t matter how she did it, or if it was the sum of all her contributions, or the fact that our last few months of communication were our best. The fact is: my life didn’t fall apart without her. I miss her terribly and, damn, I wish she could know my kids.
But isn’t it a simple tenet of species survival and life endurance that we want our children to be able to thrive without us? We need them to do so. Humanity needs it. Happiness, intelligence, social adjustment, fortitude and focus add up to kids’ independence, but they mean nothing if our kids can’t live on without us.
Our smooth adjustment to life without our parents is the strongest benchmark of their parenting success.
And while I don’t want to parent with an eye on my own demise, I hope I can give my boys the same preparation that my mother gave me.
I suppose I’ll never know whether I parented as well as my mother.
No matter. I’ll work toward it.
And make damn sure everyone’s striving, honest, and hard-working in the meantime.
Oh, and happy.
What do you think? What is your “single measure” of parenting success?