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Parenting & June Cleaver

2 Comments 25 October 2010

Growing up we always watched Leave it to Beaver.  My brother loved the show.  But in all of the times that I remember watching it, things always turned out perfectly.  My life hasn’t been very “Beaver Cleaver.”  I have often joked when people ask me about my husband’s family and mine that I came from Dynasty and he came from Leave it to Beaver.

Even though our families are incredibly different, we turned out pretty much the same…relatively normal.

My friend Judy talked about Leave it to Beaver recently, as she acknowledged the death of Barbara Billingsley, who played June Cleaver.  In her post, a tribute to Billingsley and her own mother, she mentioned my MH having cut her own hair and the disaster that ensued.  She tried to encourage me with the clip of Beaver’s haircut from Wally!  June Cleaver always made the right decisions and her kids turned out great.

What makes a Cleaver family different from a Carrington family?  What makes a good kid?

My friends and I talking about our parenting and the mystery of what the recipe is for a good kid.  We all know parents who have done it right.  They are loving to each other and to their children and for all practical purposes have done everything possible to produce a great adult, and yet, their child seems to misstep at every turn.  On the other hand, there are admirable adults who grew-up enduring horrible circumstances.

I am not fatalistic, but it does seem a bit like a roll of the dice.  Ultimately, our kids will fail and succeed and we just can’t control it, even if we are a June Cleaver-type!

Around mid-life we begin to recognize just how connected our own worth is to the success or failure of their children.  We have often become the role, therefore our personhood swings, sometimes violently, as our children swing from success to failure.

Having a child with special needs changes the way you parent.  For me, it was similar to having someone take my whole head and shove it into an ice cold bucket of water.  My senses, my awareness, what I KNEW…it is all changed.  I come face to face, every single day, with the reality that I am NOT in control.

No matter how hard I try, or what I do, MH is a mystery and I am humbled.  Before I had MH, I was a self-righteous, and overly controlling parent.  I tried very hard to have a Cleaver family.  I needed for my children to be good so that everyone could see that I was good. I was tough on my first two kids and critical of other kids, and their parents, who I felt were not up to par.

It is human to take credit when our children are successful and to feel defeated when they fail.

This paradigm changed for me after parenting MH was a part of my life.  I really can not take credit for her successes, because ultimately, I have no idea what brought her to that point, and her life is full of failure, in the normal sense of the word, so to take on defeat in every case would lead me to despair.

This has all brought me to a place where I know that my roles, wife, mother, daughter,  do not define me. I am happy (most days) to fulfill them to the best of my abilities and capacity, but it is not who I am.  My person is bigger, deeper and broader than the roles that have defined the first half of my life.

I can not base my identity, my self-worth on who I am as a mother, or as a wife.  And as a result, my identity does not rest on the success or failure of my children.  This is not to say that I am not affected, but it is not WHO I am.

I am certainly no June Cleaver, but my hope for my kids doesn’t rest on me.

How about you?  Are you affected positively or negatively by the success/failure of your children?  I would love to know your thoughts.

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2 Comments so far

  1. Judy Helfand says:

    Jorja,
    Over the past few months you and I have shared ideas about life, marriage, careers, parenting. Two weeks ago my oldest child was married. It was a beautiful day, an event, I like to say the beginning of their story. My youngest son was the best man. He wrote the most beautiful toast for his brother. It was touching. (As a side note, I asked him to email his toast to me, but he said he couldn’t as it was handwritten. I then asked him why he hadn’t used his laptop, to which he replied: “I have only really seen wedding toasts in movies and they are always handwritten.” )

    Over the years, there have been times when I really lived the now famous quote: “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.” I don’t know who said this, but I do know the heartache of watching a child struggle with life, with their health, with school, with work, “friends”…You know what I mean. Mothering/parenting does not define us but it certainly grabs hold of our being and with the grace of fortitude we will see our children be the best they can be.

    With parenting we practice…some days are great and some days are just days. Breathe in, breathe out.

    Thank you for being exactly who you are.
    Judy

    • Jorja says:

      judy, yes, breathe in, breathe out. it isn’t that being a mother doesn’t get the best of me, it does. but i do feel that i am getting better at reminding myself that they belong to god and are merely entrusted to me for a short time. otherwise, if i really felt the weight of their success, i think i might just shrivel-up and die. it is too much. especially with mari-helen. when you get a copy of that toast, i would love to read it. so happy that your boys [men] are choosing well…they have had a fine example. love you!


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“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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