Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina opened with, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Mr. Tolstoy, I disagree. I believe all families are unhappy and happy in their own way. And furthermore, the families that say they are happy are faking it. Not every person in the family is happy all at the same time nor are they happy with their parents or the parents happy with their children. Can I get an “Amen?!”
I have five daughters, ages 20, 19, 9, 2, and 2. The first three are from the first marriage. The last two are from my third.
The father of my first three was sentenced for wire fraud in 2013 and sentenced to serve six years in a Federal Prison. Coupled with the subsequent divorce, and leaving the Mormon religion, the life we knew as a family radically changed.
I home-schooled the two oldest from Kindergarten through the fifth grade and without their father, I worked outside of the home for the first time in their lives.
My relationship with my 19-year-old suffered. She had been my sidekick/little mama since she was three. She was not close to her father, but I had grown distant from her. When I wasn’t working, I was either training or running races every weekend to keep my mental state above water. We only saw each other in the evenings.
What I didn’t understand was the feeling of abandonment she must have felt during those years. I couldn’t explain to her what I was going through, because I knew it would scare her. I did not want her to see the part of me that was broken, depressed, and had no idea what I wanted to do with my life post homemaking and Mormonism. I was 35 and had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. As far as she knew, I was her strong mama that could get through hard things and run 100 miles.
The Mormon Dream in a nutshell. At the age of 19, I was married in the temple for all time and eternity to a returned missionary. I would have babies, be a good mother, live out my days in the day-to-day grind of Mormonism, die, and be reunited with my family in the afterlife, hopefully in the Celestial Kingdom.
Because of our strained relationship, she went through a rebellious stage. She became this heavy eyeliner-wearing middle schooler hanging out with the wrong crowd, failing classes, and doing all the things she knew would disappoint me.
I learned that if I only talked to my children about chores, schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and what they wanted to be when they grew up, they were NOT going to tell me what was going on in their life.
When my daughter shut me out from hers, I had to learn how to be a private investigator, cracking cases like, What in the sam hell is my 13-year-old daughter doing walking around the neighborhood with a boy I never met?
I had to constantly ground her, telling her she couldn’t hang out with her friends, taking her iPhone, and having her give me her passwords. I laid the chores on thick with random ones like it’s time to clean all the window screens, wash the outside of the windows, and deep clean the oven. I endured weeks of eye rolls and whatevers and other what did you say moments.
Then a miracle occurred. She asked if she could come and run with me. Our relationship began to mend and heal. During our weekly runs, she opened open up about the difficult time she had during the first two years of middle school. I was shocked to find out about the things she had done with her friends and it broke my heart that she didn’t feel comfortable coming to me during that time. She was hurting and I wasn’t there for her. I had to forgive myself. Be. Here. Now. became my new mantra in life.
It is a fine line between friendship and being a mother during the growing-up years. I had to know when to correct her and when to be her confidant. Being her friend gave me the rare opportunity for her to share things about her life freely. Once the resentment and anger lifted from her heart, I no longer had to force information out of her. I have learned to provide her with love and respect. Listening to her with an open mind and an understanding heart changed her attitude from hopeless to hopeful. She has grown into a beautiful, intelligent, responsible, overachiever, occasional hypochondriac, with a heart of gold and I’m blessed to be able to call her my daughter.
Like I said earlier, she is one of five daughters. My relationship is different with each of them. With all of these unique individuals, I am learning firsthand about what it takes to love them and be there as their mother and friend. One thing I know for sure is that loves and hugs go a long way.
How can you improve your relationship with your child? The right questions can help you along your path. Relationships with children take time. Be patient with them and yourself. When you show genuine interest, your child will respond. I’m sharing a few questions to get you started. You can also refer to Care.com or Family Zone for more questions to ask your child.
Did you want to tell me about your friends? What do you like about them?
Tell me what you enjoy doing. Don’t talk about the things you want them to do.
What things do I say that annoy you? What would be a better alternative? I hate coming across as Charlie Brown’s mother.
What consequences should you have when you are late for curfew? This gives them the opportunity to set rules for themselves. They can’t get mad at you for something they had decided. Make sure to get it in writing.
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