By R U Bored
I feel like my life has been hijacked. Like I’ve been – unexpectedly, mistakenly, and very much against my will – taken away from “What-used-to-be” to a strange, previously unknown dimension, where I am now living someone else’s life, living a bad dream or an episode of “The Twilight Zone” where something is seriously haywire and it can’t be fixed and I can’t go back, ever, to “The-way-it-was-before.” I feel tricked – and trapped.
What happened? Seven months ago, due to unsavory circumstances, my husband and I allowed our daughter and her twin babies to come live with us. This is not what we wanted – for ourselves, for our daughter, for our grandsons. It’s a complicated situation, with layers and layers of issues.
Before I get into my rant I want to make it perfectly clear – I love the babies. They are beautiful and precious and innocent. They need and deserve loving care. But I hate this situation. It’s not my intention to hurt anyone by what I say here. But I definitely want to express my raw and intense feelings in words that convey my emotional truth in this.
I made a decision. I gave my consent. I did, and am still trying to do, minute by minute, what I think is the right thing. But I am pissed. I am tasting a new flavor of anger. I know I made a choice. But my feeling is – what choice did I have? It was a choice of limited, all much-less-than-pleasant options. I chose this because the alternatives were worse. I knew I couldn’t live in peace if I didn’t let my daughter and her children live with us. Whatever my aversions to living this way, it was worse wondering, day and night, what was going on with the babies. Were they safe? Were they all right? Or hurting? Not getting their needs met? My heart ached with wondering. I had to let them in.
But I am deeply resentful of being in this position. And railing at the fact that, again, I am second mother to children I had no say about bringing into this world. I grew up the second oldest of eight kids, with a bipolar mother and an alcoholic father. As the oldest girl I was fully expected to fill in the gaps of lacking parental care for my younger brothers and sisters. My grandma helped a lot, but much of it still fell to me.
As a married woman it took me six years to decide to have children. I really examined my motives and questioned my parenting abilities, weighing heavily the responsibilities of becoming a mother. My deciding factor was finding life good and wondrous enough to want to give life to others, to be intimately involved in the process of giving them a chance to experience life for themselves. I chose it, but motherhood wasn’t easy for me, with postpartum depression after each baby. Then, as I gradually realized I had three special needs children, I became a full time mother/advocate/tutor. I was a professional parent for twenty-five years. It wasn’t my plan, but it was what I believed I needed to do.
I believe that we don’t have to look for issues in our lives, don’t have to look for things to do to serve the world in some meaningful way. Things happen in our lives that bring us our issues, that call us to our way of service. That’s certainly been true for me. I believe we need to take a very close look at what life puts in front of us. Life put in front of me mental illness, alcoholism, learning disabilities and special needs. Some of this has come through my children. It has been a complex challenge, but then I like complexity. I accepted this as my path, my spiritual work. And I have done my work. I thought I was finished with some of it, that maybe I could claim some victories and go on to other – perhaps more fun – ways of continuing my service.
Now, life has put two babies right smack in front of me. And their mother, my child, right smack back in front of me. What does this mean? Does it mean this is my service – still? Or is this a distraction from my work of new, chosen challenges? I believe we should work with our true nature, not against it, in our world service. We should do what we’re good at. If our work is a constant, overwhelming struggle, we’re probably doing something wrong.
I’ve never been a baby person. I wanted my children, and planned them. But I’ve never been one to get all oogly – googly about babies or overly sentimental about kids in general. I learned too early how much work they are. Children are relentlessly needy and demanding. And, for me, the moments of cute and cuddly don’t make up for the upheaval. I feel that my temperament, my constitution, is not well-suited to babies. With multiple health issues, I can’t push the limits of my human nature as many people do, and as one has to do as a parent, without risking my delicate balance. From many times falling, I’ve learned to be extremely protective of myself when it comes to personal health care. For these reasons, and considering the genetic fabric of my family, I was ambivalent about becoming a grandparent. If I had grandchildren, fine. If not, fine, too. I wasn’t longing for them, as some people do.
And I certainly didn’t want to be grandma like this. I know that living in this level of stress is absolutely a threat, a detriment to my physical, emotional and mental health.
This turn of events has caused me to question my principles, values, priorities and beliefs to the deepest depths, to the core of my being. As a long-time, serious spiritual student, I thought I had attained a certain measure of mastery over myself and my life. One of the most upsetting things about all this for me is that I’m wondering if I’m not the person I thought I was.
Most of my life Love has been my Higher Power. I believe in and have been motivated by a concept of serving a Greater Good. My highest guiding principle was to love others as myself, and the virtues I most aspired to were honesty, wisdom, and compassion. Now, hit with what is an extreme challenge for me, I base my choices on simple common sense. It isn’t about serving a Greater Good. I don’t know what the Greater Good is, here, or if what I’m doing is serving it. I’m frustrated and confused. My decision to take in my daughter and her kids didn’t come from any warm fuzzy feelings of love. In my anguish it was the only option that made any kind of sense to me. All things considered, it was the practical, logical thing to do. So, in a hard place, I chose common sense over high ideals.
What good are my lofty principles if I don’t live by them? Am I a hypocrite?
One of my spiritual counselors tells me that love is very practical, very pragmatic. He says that love and common sense are not mutually exclusive. True. I agree, but I don’t feel any better. As strong beliefs collide inside me, it’s hard to sort things out. I believe that people should not have children for which they cannot provide, that reproduction is not a human right, but a human responsibility. I also believe that every child coming into the world deserves and has the right to a good chance of a healthy, happy life. So where do love and practicality meet when my child has children she can’t provide for, can’t take care of alone? What does practical love look like in action then? How does it help me, help us, help society decide what to do in such situations?
My counselor also says that there’s a lesson in this, if I’m open to it. What? What lesson? What lessons? This feels like the Universe made a list of everything I’m not good at and combined it in one miserable predicament to see what I will do with it. It feels like a test that I am failing miserably. What am I to learn from this? Is there any lesson, or is it just a cosmic joke on me?
One thing I’m relearning from this is that sometimes family sucks. Big time. I put my heart and soul into raising my family, invested myself heavily in parenting, did my very best to give my kids a good start in life, and the tools and skills they needed to thrive, only to have one of them come back with her kids, needing so much help it hurts. This is what I get for my efforts? This is a kick in the gut. And, again, not my plan. Is there a plan?
Another reminder lesson is that friends – including strangers – are among the greatest saving graces in life. I have many friends. Good friends. Great friends. And they have been amazingly understanding, encouraging, and supportive. In these times of economic stress, many families are living in multigenerational households, for financial reasons alone. They know that even without other complicating factors, this lifestyle is restricting for all involved. When I grumble and lament about sleep deprivation, natural disaster level messes, and wailing babies, many have said, “I know what you mean.”
No one has said “bad person” or “bad mother” or “bad gramma.” People have reassured me that my children’s choices in life are not a direct result of my mothering. Several women, and one man, have openly and shamelessly admitted to me that they are not “baby people'” either. It doesn’t always help to know I’m not alone, but it does help to not be judged or criticized.
One of my long-held beliefs that has held up in this turmoil is that there are only two things we can control in life – our own attitudes and our own actions. Which has prompted me to observe and ponder how well I’m doing on that. I ask myself repeatedly – “Do I just have a bad attitude, here?” “Am I making my own misery?” “Do I just not know how to cope well enough?” “What is the best response for me in this moment?” To which I often reply, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know……” Some days I do O.K. Other days I struggle. And sometimes I get overwhelmed and just sit and cry.
Life is stressful. Everyone has stress. No one is exempt. And I’m no exception. There’s no limit on difficulties or unexpected events in life. Careers and jobs are demanding. People and relationships are difficult and unpredictable. Life is a multi-level, multi-faceted challenge. And spiritual growth is a long, messy process. I know all this. I get it.
But after my years as sister-mother and at home mom, with my children grown, I was finally beginning to hope, beginning to see a glimmer, feel a hint of the possibilities of ease and freedom in my life. It felt good with my life no longer revolving around other people’s schedules and other people’s needs. I was beginning to trust in the Universe more, and wanting to believe that everything is, or will be, all right, after all. I thought it might be my time to be focused in service of my choice, my time to do what I love, do as I please and maybe – just maybe – just enjoy the rest of my life.
Now – what?