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Letter to my Son - Help (long)

Posted by Temmie on August 28, 2003, at 10:58:02

Dear Moms and Dads. Dear friends on Psycho-Social Babble. I am having ... lots of guilt and concern today about my role as a parent. Primarily, my feelings of failure .... I discovered a 10-ounce water bottle of straight vodka when I unpacked my son's bags in his dorm room (3000+ miles away in California), and elected to leave it with him -- rather than pour it out.

I've also found some correspondence in his room that details depression ... especially depression related to the loss of his girlfriend (now attending college on the east coast). Raising J in my parents' home has been a mixed bag. I was going to say mixed-blessing, but that didn't feel right. We're in the epicenter of the family abuse that seemed to focus on me .... I've had my issues. I haven't always done the best job, apparently. Who can? Is there anyone who gets through parenting feeling good about what they've done? Sigh. Not me. J is a National Merit Scholar and received a $36,000 to attend this school in the west .... His (basically absent since J's birth) father is furious with me, and feels the vodka was a "cry for help," which I blew. He's out and out detailed my many failures -- including my candor with J about events in my personal life ....

Where does one draw the line? What to tell. What to keep private? Apparently I never knew (and still struggle with this issue). If you have time, would you please read the following letter I wrote J and let me know if what I've said sounds as though it's coming from the heart -- which was my intent -- or just too much information?

Feeling lost and alone. Much obliged for your help.


* * * * *

Dear J,

This is not the kind of letter that should come via email, but I wanted to talk with you right away, and this seemed the most expedient method. Before I begin, I just wanted to say that I walked outside to look at Mars tonight, and it’s so exciting! I bet you had a terrific view of the stars from up in the mountains, and hear there will be a Mars Party or two sometime this week. I hope you’ll be able to attend. I hope that you’re enjoying yourself. I hope you’re settling in okay. I hope everything is going just as you should, and that your experiencing all the freedom and fun you've long desired and deserved.

I talked with your dad about your bottled water, and he was very upset with me that I didn’t take a stronger stance. My view is that you’re an adult now. If you’re old enough to get drafted (and old enough to move away from home as an independent), you’re old enough to make your own best choices – and come what may, should things go awry -- to deal with whatever consequences come your way. As I said at our partingmake good choices.

Just make good choices.

While I understand adolescence involves a fair degree of experimentation that all of us have lived through, I’m somewhat concerned – especially given my experience with those who have trouble “feeling their feelings” and instead, who grease the wheels with things that make them feel a little better. I realize parting with Ali was perhaps the most difficult thing you’ve ever had to go through, and while my heart breaks for you – I also believe in my heart of hearts – that life has beautiful things in store for you. Just keep looking up. Keep moving forward. Keep turning inward for the strength, guidance and courage you need when things seem more than you can bear.

That said, I’m also well aware that depression runs in the family. I’ve told you before, and will say it again – if you get to a point where things just don’t seem to be working for you – talk with me – or talk with whomever you trust most, and find your way to a health care provider who can be of assistance ....

Daddy is laying a big guilt trip on me for being a bad mother. For not setting a better example. For the candor I’ve shared with you in my struggles with Paul .... One can’t help ... I can’t find the words here .... Sometimes one can’t help, or can’t stave the flow of love and affections they feel for another – even when that “other” is less than perfect or whole. I certainly didn’t know about the extent of Paul’s challenges – and while perhaps a “better” mother would have kept such matters to herself – I’ve always been open, honest, and up-front about what I’ve been dealing withgood times and bad included. This includes moments of frustration about living with Grandma and Grandpa – although I hope you know, underneath it all, I love them dearly, of course – and am grateful beyond description for the stability they’ve provided you and me – even though it’s been a framework I’ve often resisted and resented.

It has cost a great deal ... personally ... to “give up my life” as I knew it – to surrender my music, my art, my social networks, etc. – being in this house .... When I was in therapy with Pam we often talked about it being a necessary sacrifice to provide the stability I best needed for you. And that's the truth. We would not have had such a stable life, had I been struggling along on my own.

I’m just sorry that “stability” came with such a price.

I am not a perfect mother by any means. I’m an old soul, an imperfect being, and a woman who bears the guilt that only a mother can know. I’ve tried to do the best I could for you – although I’ve been aware for a long time, that somewhere along the line your feelings for me changed from affection to resentment. That said, I didn’t feel it was my place to “pour out your water,” or take it away. I didn’t feel I had that right. I don’t feel I embody that parental role any more for you .... I just didn’t know what to do – but leaving matters in your own hands (with that caution to be smart) seemed the best choice at the time.

Daddy is furious, of course. I’ve set a bad precedent. I’ve modeled poor choices in my relationship with Paul. “How is he supposed to know how to make good choices in life when you’ve modeled so many stupid mistakes? He needs a mother he can look up to ....” I’ve probably shared too much with you of a personal nature .... I suppose that’s something of what you meant when you said the afternoon of your dental appointment, “nobody talks with their mothers the way you talk with me.” Frankly, I’m not quite sure what you meant – but I just wish to reiterate – I’m sorry beyond all description for all the stupid, inept, inappropriate things I’ve said and done, and for any and every way I’ve failed you. I think I’ve said this already, but I did the best I could – and believe me, there is noone who knows more than myself, how short that “best” sometimes fell.

I hope you will remember the good times, though. The words we’ve added to the lexicon of our language. The laughter. The road trips. (The fun ones that is ... if you have any remembrances of fun ones.) Our love of animals. Our rocks (remember “Smoothie?”). The piggies.

Be careful with the things you tell yourself about the life you’ve led until now. I was trying to touch on that in my earlier email. We can “rescript” things you know. The mind is a powerful vehicle, and a very useful tool. We can rescript things to accent the positive .... The stories we tell ourselves, they’re very powerful, J. They have the power to shape our attitudes, ideas, beliefs, experiences, and so on. Make sure the stories you tell yourself about who you are and where you came from – that they serve you well.

In other words, try to look at the glass half full, as opposed to half empty. You can do it, and you must, if you wish to be a success. You are not coming from a place of lack, but a place of abundance – experiences that shaped you into an incredible scholar – and, hopefully ... presumably ... experiences that will stand you in good stead for the myriad challenges that come ahead (and believe me, there will be many).

I made a mistake on the Serenity Prayer in my last email. The first line is“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change ....” You can’t change the many ways you may feel that I’ve failed you ... or that your dad has failed you ... or the fact that Ali’s and your time together (at least for the time being) has come to a close. But you DO have the power to change things within your own reach. To dig deep and find the courage (and the growing wisdom) to change the things you can.

You can choose to be a success.

You can choose not to be wounded.

You can choose to grow in the ways of wisdom.

You can create your own destiny by the very powerful images, ideas, and beliefs that you wish to manifest.

All of this leads up to my cautioning you that your dad is WAY flipped out about things. He’s talking about flying out to California to talk with you, and he feels that you need counseling, etc. etc. etc., immediately, and wants to get something set up right away with student health services.

Just be prepared for his call.

My opinion is – that you’re quite smart, quite capable, that you’re on your own .... That kids experiment. Kids make mistakes .... and judging from how well you’ve done with shaping your future – you should do equally well with shaping how things continue to unfold. Still, I wanted to give you a “heads up.”

And, again, I wish to apologize for every stupid, inadequate, and/or just plain wrong thing I’ve done as a parent and as a human being. I’ve said it already, but I am well aware of my imperfections. I am ever working to improve myself – even though you may not choose to see or believe that. This includes working to forgive myself (one of life’s greatest challenges), and to keep looking up, and moving forward myself. My childhood included rape, beatings, physical and emotional violence that has ever changed my emotional wiring – with the hypersensitivity to stress referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder. This is probably way more than you need to know – but when it comes to troubles .... Surviving troubles, and working to come out on the other side of the box – not as a victim – but as a well-meaning, contributing member of society – I’ve walked a challenging path, and it’s not over yet. I know you have an equally tough road ahead of you. (And I know you’ve got what it takes to meet whatever challenges lie ahead.)

I realize I don’t talk to you as “other mothers talk to their children,” and I can’t help it. One of my child-psych professors once said, “Since when do we prepare children for life by protecting them from the truth?”, and I guess that’s kind of become kind of a code that I live by.

I’m sorry if it’s hurt you. Please know, despite our ups and downs, I have always loved you fiercely, and I always will. Like it or not, I’m in your corner, and if that means you wish for me to bow out for awhile, I will do so – but I will never stop loving you. And I’ll never stop worrying and wondering what I might have done (or might still do) that will make things better.

I hope the talk with your dad goes well. I feel he’s overreacting, but perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps you want more of a parent who shows their love and caring by the rules they lay down. Perhaps I’ve also failed you in that regard, but if you want help in getting your dad to back off a bit, I will endeavor to be of assistance. Frankly, I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than having a parent fly out the first week of school to haul their child off for counseling. If I can be of help in any way, let me know. If you want me to back off, let me know that, too.

Bye for now.

Be well
Be blessed
Be loved

You are such an important person, have such important gifts to share with the world -- and being your mother has been the most important and valuable gift I've ever known.

Take good care.





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