The best gift you can give to your children is not your time. It is not books. It is not college funds. It is not the best private school. It is not the biggest Pinterest-themed Birthday parties. It is not your amazing cooking. It is not your immaculate house. It is not your crazy-good multitasking skills. It is not putting your kids first. The best gift you can give to your kids is your own happiness. I know because I grew up with a mom who was sad.
My mom couldn’t have kids so she adopted my sister and me, but that didn’t heal her sadness. She never fixed herself from her own devastatingly crappy childhood so she repeated the pattern with us. Most of my memories of my mom involve her sitting at the kitchen table, smoking, complaining, drinking, and yelling at us. She didn’t act like she liked us. The most devastating part for me—now that she’s gone—is to think of what could have been. This is a woman who looked beautiful when she dressed up. She had a bubbly, quirky personality that would sometimes emerge from the sadness. When she was kind, she was really kind. But that side of her didn’t show up often enough.
She never got over not being able to get pregnant and have babies. She never got over not finishing college like my dad did. She never talked about, processed or fixed her childhood that involved violence and secrets. Secrets she said she’d tell my sister and me about one day. That day never arrived. She had a father and a brother I never met. I finally saw some glimmers of true happiness in her late 60s and 70s. My sister’s boys—her grandsons—brought her happiness. My dad, retired, brought her happiness. Then she got cancer. She didn’t want to die. Death took her anyway.
Sometimes now I wish I knew—as a child—how to change things for her, even if it wasn’t my job. Back then I was only consumed with navigating my own survival in the crazy chaos that went on inside our postcard-looking home. It’s hard to console yourself with your mom’s death when you can’t tell yourself that your mom had a great life.
I watched my mom cry more times than I can count. I watched her take naps during the day. I listened to her rants. I heard her crying upstairs in her bedroom. I watched her quit numerous jobs. I watched her argue with my dad. I told myself early that it was bullshit and the cycle would stop with me.
I knew as a kid that there was no way I’d come out of that childhood intact so I sought counseling in my early twenties. I was in talk therapy weekly to dig myself out of depression’s grip and to end the pattern of craziness and sadness. I told myself I’d do it without medicating. I watched my mom medicate with alcohol and I wanted to fix myself without any type of pill or substance. Plus, I learned the difference between feeling better and getting better, and I wanted to get better. I did it with talk therapy, writing and processing. And it worked.
Now that I am a mom, I think my number one job to create a happy home and lead by example. I think it’s my job to be a happy person so I can be a healthy mom. I think it’s my job to have a happy relationship with my husband so we can be healthy parents. I think it’s my job to be happy, create happy moments, smile, laugh and exude positivity that fills up our house. It’s my job to live authentically happy—no matter what it takes.
I think it’s my job because I know my girls will be watching.