Some women enter motherhood with a solid foundation, a strong sense of identity and a clear plan for raising their families. They have vision, roots and a sense of family. Then there are those women who pull into the hospital labor room with a U-Haul full of emotional baggage that has to be sorted with the diapers and bottles. I’m a card-carrying member of the latter group.
Before I could say breast pump, I was neck-high in depression and undiagnosed PTSD. I had no idea that having children would unearth unresolved childhood issues — the painful source of my depression and 20-year eating disorder.
Motherhood and depression don’t mix well, so my early years of mothering were pure survival. My daily plan consisted of eight words: Feed them, love them and keep them clean. I knew my kids deserved more culture than the Baby Mozart and Baby Beethoven videos that I played over and over. But doing the basics took everything I had. Plus I couldn’t relate to other moms. I felt marooned on the Island of Bad-Mommy.
Seven years ago, I couldn’t hold it together any longer. I had a complete breakdown!
Out of desperation and love for my family, I started counseling to find healing, clarity and direction. I dug into the deepest parts of my being and put everything on the table to be examined.
It wasn’t easy to look at what I saw there. But as I sorted through the pieces of my history and considered what they meant and how they’d shaped me, I found gifts in my roots. They were not gifts that I would have ever asked for. They were gifts of character and perspective. They were the unique pieces of my history that I could bring forward to help shape my own family’s story.
It took us many years to get a solid footing. But my husband and I put together the pieces of our stories and created a set of mantras to guide our family’s identity and story.
We make room for mistakes. Freely admitting mistakes creates a safe place to work out our faults and allows our kids to know: I can be wrong and loved at the same time. We focus on learning, not perfection. And our goal is to deal honestly with whatever happens, and move on. Character is best built in wide-open spaces with a lot of room for mistakes.
We keep very short accounts. We say we’re sorry to each other (often).
And that fills our relationships with intimacy. I lost my mom 108 days after her cancer diagnosis; we simply don’t have time to hold grudges. We deal with it and move on.
We feel our feelings. We lost six close family members in seven years. That’s a lot to feel. We want to be “in it together,” so we feel things openly. We teach our boys how to feel. We have a variety of tools to handle the emotions when they come up. We talk, cry, write and do art therapy. Some moments of sadness need only a loving hug; while deeper pain might require taking a break from schoolwork so we can deal with it appropriately. This has been vital to the emotional health of our family.
We love our friends. Having trusted friends is very important to us. We’ve intentionally widened our inner village beyond family, and that’s part of the reason our life is so full. From barbecues and fun camping trips to late-night hospital bed prayer vigils, our boys know that friendship includes both having a good time and being there during the hard times. Friends are our chosen family.
We learn together. We believe a big part of our job as parents is to help our kids discover their unique talents and aptitudes. By pursuing their passions, we aim to connect them to the joy of learning and the concept that education is 24/7, not 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (and, thankfully, learning doesn’t end with college graduation).
We develop our faith together. Our faith in God is at the core of who we are. The values of how we treat people (loving, not judging) stem from the principles in the Bible. Praying and reading Scripture together are very important to us, and we try to shape our life around the teachings of Jesus.
We’re a team. One of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis is, “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” When good times come, we celebrate together. And when hard times hit, we count our blessings and encourage each other to hang on and expect better days ahead. Our kids know that our family is an inseparable team dedicated for life. Few things fill my mommy heart more than watching our boys apply that lesson by supporting and encouraging each other.
We never give up. Period.
Lori Lara is a writer, blogger (lorilara.com) and martial arts black belt. She’s passionate about sharing God’s hope and healing in her own raw and personal journey through motherhood, depression, PTSD and addiction.
Write Your Family’s Story
We take our roots with us whether we intend to or not. But we can choose how to let those roots shape our family. We can carry on the parts of our history that give our family’s story a rich heritage. For those uglier parts, we can be intentional about changing the legacy for our children. And for those things that have shaped us, we can consider the gifts that our wounds have given us and pass on the richness of character to our kids.
Set aside some time to honestly answer the questions below
List your positive and negative answers alongside each other, because both can be influential in choosing the values that you want to shape your family’s story and identity. If you’re married, compare answers with your husband. Identify the most important values and traits to consider as you navigate your family’s story with intentionality.
What values did you gain from your childhood? Which ones shaped you for the better? What values do you want to pass on to the next generation?
What did your parents, grandparents or other adults say frequently? Were their mantras empowering and life-giving? Or were their words spirit-crushing or negative?
What life events have shaped you the most? Why? Did those experiences help you see the world in a new way? Or did you gain a deeper understanding about life, or love or faith?
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Hello, Darling titled: Finding Gifts in My Story. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can purchase a copy at mopshop.org or, subscribe to get Hello, Darling in your mailbox every season.