Acceptance is where connection forms.
It’s in the light of realness – acceptance and truth – that we find hope in our relationships. It might not feel like any kind of hope we’ve ever felt before. It’s messy and awkward, but it’s real.Rachel Macy Stafford, Live Love Now
The number one priority in my life is my sobriety. For most of my life, I would have been aghast at that statement. First of all, sobriety was not something I aspired to because it was not something I thought was possible. I absolutely did not think it was possible to move through this world and survive it without alcohol.
The second reason I would have taken issue with the idea of putting my sobriety first was that if anyone asked me in any minute on any day of any year since the autumn of 1992 when I gave birth to my beautiful son, I’d have said being a good mother came first. Before everything.
Problem is, I have learned at long last and at great cost that without my sobriety, being a good mother is simply not an option.
The thing about mothering is that you don’t do it alone even when you do. Your family of origin is part of your mothering, the community you live in, the world at large factors in. Your mental health, your trauma, your addictions inform how you mother. The era in which you live, politics, money, culture, technology – all of it. Mothering does not happen in a vacuum.
That’s not to say I am not ultimately responsible for the kind of mother I become. I am. It’s more along the lines of Radical Acceptance. Do you know about that? My understanding of it is:
Given ALL THE THINGS. Given the people involved, the lives they’ve lived, the choices that have been made, the diagnoses in play, the trauma that’s occurred – given EVERYTHING – Of COURSE this is what happened.
And then you accept it as a fact. Don’t have to agree or approve or absolve. Just accept. Simple and hard.
A couple of weeks ago, I got an early copy of my friend Rachel Macy Stafford’s new book, Live Love Now in the mail. Included was a beautiful handwritten note of encouragement, because that’s Rachel.
If you’re not familiar with Rachel’s work, it is such a gift. Her previous books have been the books I give to friends with young kids – and this book will now be one that I recommend to every parent of every teen forever and ever, amen.
I am not someone who typically suggests parenting books, even if someone asks me for a recommendation. Let’s be honest, a lot of them are… not helpful. I bought so many when my son was young and I would walk away from my quest for advice feeling less than, judged, and like I was failing in real time.
Rachel’s work is never like that. Other authors offer tidy testimony (I think that’s a Jen Hatmaker-ism) – they present expert advice that they either gleaned through study or just seem to have figured out. I am sure there is lived experience and pain behind much of it, but it’s seldom shared. I know for me, advice always lands differently when the person offering it has some skin in the game. There can only be “me too” if someone else is brave and goes first.
Rachel is brave.
Rachel writes about her struggles with trying to feel safe by way of control. At one point in the chapter she refers to herself as a manager.
“Forget about living. Forget about smiling. Forget about experiencing gratitude, peace, or fulfillment. When you base your happiness on tasks being completed, plans running accordingly, and a certain image being portrayed, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. No wonder I’d lost my joy.”Rachel Macy Stafford
When I read that, I put the book down and cried. I messaged her later to tell her and said the beautiful thing about her writing is that I cried out of recognition, not shame. Rachel never shames.
I grew up in pain and fear and scarcity. That’s not to blame anyone, it’s just what was. Given all the things. My reaction to having grown up that way was to assume that the pendulum swinging all the way in the other direction was good.
That looked like me trying to protect my children from pain, unless I was the one inflicting it by being tense and reactive and rigid. It looked like protecting my children from their own bravery. It looked like being focused on making our life look beautiful rather than be beautiful.
And then it looked like me spiraling into alcoholism and emotionally abandoning them when our family fell apart. I hate writing that. I’ll likely have a huge vulnerability hangover after I publish it – but it’s the truth. It’s what happened. Given all the things.
Reading Rachel’s book made me wish I could time travel and go back and be better. I wish I could go back and be more mindful and present. I wish I could have seen more clearly who my children were and celebrated it in real time rather than worry. I wish I had cared less about what the world thought of the job I was doing and more about the job I was doing.
I love my children more than anything in the world, but I must accept that I have not always loved them well.
Every now and then in a meeting I’ll hear someone say with pride that their kids have never seen them drink, and my heart shatters a little. Mind did, and I did so much damage during those years – but if I’m being honest, I did a lot of damage in the years before my drinking escalated. I parented in reaction to my own childhood, without having done my work. It was the best I could do at the time, and it was not nearly what my children deserved. I feel the weight of that every day.
I can’t time travel. I cannot go back and give my children what they deserved from me. They are such spectacular humans. I am sure every parent has some measure of feeling that way at some point in time. It’s all so hard and we’re all trying to figure it out as we go along. It took being an unforgiven mother to truly understand how unforgiving I had been.
I will spend the rest of my life trying to repair what I broke.
I was teaching myself how to limit my availability to the world so I could be available to those who are my world.RMS
Today I can be available. I can be present. I can listen and hold space without trying to fix or manage. I can see the people I love clearly. I can love better.
Even though this book is probably geared toward parents of kids still at home, I will be carrying Rachel’s gentle wisdom in my heart as I work toward healing and rebuilding. Her special gift is that she always leads with her own mistakes and pain and grief and then shares how she found her way back to who she is intended to be.
That’s all we can do in the end. Own our missteps, identify where we strayed from the path, and then share the map with someone else who is lost. Rachel isn’t a lecturer, she’s a guide.
I say it all the time in reference to addiction and sobriety: Do you know what the discernible difference between being hopelessly lost and nearly found is?
Nothing. They feel exactly the same.
If you have lost your way as a parent, if you feel overwhelmed and harried and lonely and disconnected – stop and breathe. If you despair at seeing your kids faces lit up by phones and not by human connection – be still. If you’re beating yourself up because you’ve been so focused on accomplishment and achievement, you feel like you are missing the small and sacred moments of raising your kids – forgive yourself immediately and relentlessly.
You have been doing your best. Given all the things.
Maya Angelou (another guide) famously said,
“Do the best you can until you know better.
Then when you know better, do better.”Maya Angelou
I’m so grateful to have read this book and I will use it in so many ways. I will treasure the reminders to tell the truth, encourage, and guide – not just with my children, but in all my relationships. And I will treasure that there are people like Rachel in the world who are willing to hold the map and cheer me on.
V.J. Knutson says
A brave and honest post. Thanks for writing. Happy Mother’s Day.