Be the Mom You Want to Be
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Daily Life Producer
How can I be a good mother? It’s a question that most moms struggle with as they raise their children. There are many reasons that moms question their parenting skills. Some may have experienced childhoods filled with pain and abuse, and they want something better for their children. Others may have picked up unhealthy parenting skills because of how they were raised, and they don’t want to repeat those patterns.
Regardless of how good or bad your own childhood was, good parenting isn’t something that just happens.
Author Suzanne Eller wants to help women be the best moms they can be. Her book, The Mom I Want to Be, shows women how to break free from the mistakes of their past and give their children the gift of a great future.
In her book, Eller shares about her own struggles with motherhood and speaks candidly about the importance of forgiveness, how to let go of the past, how to set boundaries, how to identify generational patterns, how to deal with past hurts or failures, and how to develop practical parenting skills.
She recently discussed the book.
Why did you decide to write this book?
I have taught “Pushing Past Your Past” workshops and keynotes for the past few years. I was approached by a great moms organization (Hearts at Home) and encouraged to write the book. I had spoken at their events several times, and the response to the workshops was amazing.
They wanted me to put this in book form so that it could reach women beyond the conference setting. My first thought was, “No.” I loved that a book could help thousands of women, but feared that it would harm my mother. It just wasn’t a good trade.
But something phenomenal happened. I told my mother about it, and she said, “Suz, you need to do this.”
Your mom also tells her story in the book, how difficult was it for the two of you to remember past painful events from your own childhood (and hers as well)?
The pain was in the memories. I have been whole for a long time. It was surreal bringing up events that I had let go, forgiven, and yet here they were again. But it was more difficult for my mom. In my childhood, she was a busy mother, a working mother, a woman who struggled with outbursts and emotional instability, a woman crying for help but not knowing where to turn. Some of her memories got lost in that. Several specific memories were crystal clear for my siblings, and me, but lost to my mom.
But understand, this is not a book that is a memoir of painful childhood memories. It’s a celebration of what God can do in relationships, in your own heart, but especially for women who want to draw a line that says dysfunction ends here. It’s filled with spiritual and practical helps to face the past, learn from it, let go of it, trust again, look at life through a healthy mirror, and how to parent in a way that your children’s memories and family life are whole and healthy.
You write that once you realized what your mom went through as a child you better understood the dysfunctional parenting patterns that she brought with her into motherhood. How can learning about our parents’ past help us heal?
It allowed compassion to enter the picture. Sometimes men and women continue to relate to a parent through the events of childhood, even when a parent as changed. I realized two things as I looked at the past as an adult: 1) my mom desperately wanted to be a good mother, but didn’t know how; and 2) there were parenting patterns passed down like tattered luggage from woman to woman in our family. Almost as if saying, “This is all I know to give you, so deal with it the best you can.”
Compassion allowed me view the brokenness of my mother’s earlier life through God’s eyes. It didn’t excuse the abuse, or the behavior, because all children deserve to be loved and nurtured, but it created an adult to adult relationship, which opened the door for second chances.
It let me move on, and my mom to grow.
Will this be the case in every relationship? Sadly, no, because change and growth are a personal decision. But this is the secret. I grow whether others choose to change or not. I am free to become what I was intended to be from the very beginning. The past is no longer my frame of reference.
How do you forgive a parent that has caused you pain?
I’ve heard stories in my workshops that have made me weep. There are a lot of women (and men and children) who have suffered greatly through addiction, sexual abuse, controlling behavior, emotional or physical abuse. The question I hear most often is, “Why?” “Why should I forgive when I didn’t do anything wrong.”
My answer? Because the effects of the abuse continue to harm you long after it has ceased if you don’t. How many women are angry, or bitter, or carrying patterns into their relationships with their children, spouses, or even friendships because of a lack of trust, or rage, or a fear of being vulnerable?
We choose to forgive even if they don’t say they are sorry, or if they don’t receive adequate punishment, or if we say we forgive and they say “What for?” We forgive because it is the first step to being whole. That’s what I want. I want to fly! I want to see who and what I can be, free from the angst and anger of the past.
Forgiveness truly isn’t just about the other person. It’s not about their response. In a perfect world, that person would accept your forgiveness, change, and your relationship would prosper, but it doesn’t always work that way.
Forgiving doesn’t mean that abuse is allowed to continue (which is why I wrote a whole chapter on boundaries), but that you are moving forward whether anyone else chooses to do so or not.
But where do you begin? For some, forgiveness may seem impossible, but are you willing? Maybe that’s enough for today. Let God know that you are willing, but it’s too big for you to do alone, but with his help you want to begin the process.
Why is forgiveness so important in the journey to becoming a better parent?
As you become a person who forgives, you discover you can also forgive yourself when you fall short. The same passion you once devoted to nurturing resentment or anger or bitterness is released for better things.
What is the difference between someone’s “looking glass self” and their “true identity,” and why is it so important?
A “looking glass self” is a term coined by Charles Horton Cooley. It simply means that we identify ourselves by the words and actions spoken over our lives. For me, I heard words like “I wish you had never been born.” That shaped the way I viewed myself.
What happens when we continue to see ourselves through our looking glass selves, is that everything is filtered through it, especially in parenting.
Let’s say our child throws a tantrum in the grocery store. A healthy response is to understand that our child is a work in progress and needs to learn a gentle life lesson on how to behave in public. But if it is filtered through the looking glass self, a mother may think, “Why is he embarrassing me? Doesn’t he know everything I do for him? What will people think?”
This is unhealthy and breeds anger, rage, disappointment, and many times an inappropriate response. It’s become personal, rather than an opportunity to train or teach a child.
This crosses over into other relationships as well.
We need to look in another mirror. I look at my Heavenly Father and see purpose, love, identity, and my true self.
As we start to look in that mirror, the personalization becomes less and less an issue. We stop focusing on our feelings or past pain, and see things as they are. It’s not always about us. When a child misbehaves, we see the real need instead of feeling wounded.
How can mothers ensure that they are giving their kids good memories to take with them into adulthood?
1. Enjoy the moment. Have fun. Slow down. My children are college-age adults now. I’m a mother-in-law to three amazing additional grown children. When I had three under the age of 2-years-old, people told me that time would fly. I didn’t believe them. And yet, now it seems like it zoomed. The things they remember aren’t my perfect house (because it wasn’t) or the lovely smell of Pine Sol. They remember the little things – zipping across a yellow slip and slide, jumping on the bed together, adventures in the park. The little things really are the big things in the long run.
2. Refocus. Your childhood memories are important, but do you understand that you are shaping your children’s memories now?
3. Learn from your mistakes. If you mess up, step back and ask “What went wrong?” If you are a mother of three little ones and you’re exhausted and losing your cool, do you need one afternoon at a Mother’s Day Out program so that you can nap two hours every Friday? Do you need one night a month out on a special date with your husband so that can reconnect with your spouse? Do you need resources to give you practical tools to discipline so that things aren’t out of control?
What if you’ve made parenting mistakes in the past? Is there a way to start over?
I wrote another book called Real Issues, Real Teens: What Every Parent Needs to Know. I asked hundreds of teens several questions, but one was about this topic. I asked, “If your parent as made huge mistakes that have affected you, are you willing to start over?”
The answer was almost 100 percent yes. Children need their parents, even if they have made mistakes. They may not always show it, but you are the most influential and powerful person in their lives.
But there were some requests:
1. Don’t just talk about it. Make tangible changes.
2. Don’t make excuses. Admit to yourself and to your family that harm was done, but that there is hope for change in the future.
3. Give me time. I want to trust you, but it will be a work in progress.
Ah, the wisdom of teens!
Admit the mistakes. Lay them on the table and look at them. This isn’t an excuse to heap condemnation and guilt on yourself, because that’s not healthy. Exchange guilt for anticipation! What can God do in your life and family? What resources do you need to unpack unwanted parenting methods to exchange them for methods that will work?
Recognize the land mines that once blew your family to pieces. Don’t play with it, flirt with it, or think that you can handle it. Tangible changes mean that you stay away from the things that once harmed your family, or you.
Apologize. One mother talked with me after a conference. She said her college-age daughter had shut her out of her life, even though the mother had changed. I asked her if she had said she was sorry for the years of harm and chaos in her daughter’s young life.
The mother bristled. “I’ve changed, and that should be enough.” She said when her daughter tried to talk about it, she shut her down, because “the past was the past.”
I asked her to consider writing a note to acknowledging that the things that took place in her childhood and to ask for her forgiveness. Her daughter responded. It was a healing step for their relationship. It opened the door to talk about things that needed to be addressed in order to move forward.
Was it easy? No, but it was a tangible step that said “I’m growing as a person and as a parent. Will you join me?”
You write in the book to look at your family “without the filter of your childhood.” What do you mean? How does that help you heal from a painful childhood?
I just interviewed someone for a new book that I’m writing on forgiveness. Her father was an alcoholic who abandoned her in her childhood. He became a believer in later years and wanted back in her life. He had changed. She slowly let him back in, but with reservation.
One day she saw her father sitting on a bench in the back yard. He was praying with her tween daughter. Something inside of her broke – and she saw him in a new way. He wasn’t perfect, but a father she could get to know now, rather than a mosaic portrait of the alcoholic father, the neglectful father, and the father who wanted to be in her life. It was a fresh start.
Later she found out that he shared with her daughter how he was not a good daddy when she was growing up, and how Jesus had changed his life so drastically. It was the beginning of a personal relationship with Christ for her tween daughter.
If your parent has changed, perhaps it is time to let a new relationship begin.
But maybe your family is still fractured, or you have a parent is still abusive. Then you have to set boundaries—not to punish them, but to work toward a healthier relationship.
With Mother’s Day coming up, what suggestions do you have for people who do not have the best relationship with their mothers? How should they celebrate the holiday?
Look at what you do have.
You may not have the mother you wish you did, but what do you have? Are you a mother to a beautiful infant who trails her finger down your face while nursing? Do you have toddlers that climb in your lap and fiercely hug your neck? Do you have a spouse that thinks your sexy even after child #3? Do you have friends that love you? Do you have a church family that is loyal and supportive? Do you have grandparents that adore you? Do you have a Heavenly Father that has your name imprinted on the palm of his hand?
Celebrate all the big and little things that you do have. Celebrate your opportunity to be a mother. It doesn’t remove the hurt or the wish that things were different, but it allows you to enjoy the gifts in your life.
What do you hope women will take away from your book?
Though the past may shape you, it does not define who you are or what you can be!
Want more parenting advice? Purchase The Mom I Want to Be. Also, visit Suzanne's Web site at http://daretobelieve.org.
Read more from T. Suzanne Eller:
How to Have a Good Fight
A Different Type of Adoption
Parenting by the Faith Factor
Beyond the Dos and the Don'ts
What You Teach Me About God
For more stories like this one, sign up to receive Family News from CBN.com in your email every Friday.
CBN IS HERE FOR YOU!
Are you seeking answers in life? Are you hurting?
Are you facing a difficult situation?
A caring friend will be there to pray with you in your time of need.