Actually, that’s probably putting it very lightly. I am downright depressed today, in a really dark place. These kids – these young people… They very definitely carry the power to let me down, to hurt me, to break my heart. Now, if I were a professional social worker, I would be trained to keep a certain emotional distance. But I am not, and do not wish to be, a social worker. I wish to be a mom to young people who need a mom.
I am the person they call when they need advice, or they need a ride because they’re stranded somewhere. I’m the person who helps them with college financial aid paperwork, if I have been so successful as to talk them into college. I am the one who helps with proofreading papers once they’re in.
I drop everything to run and get one of them when they are in a bad situation. I give them a place to sleep when they’ve nowhere to go. I cook for them, I do their laundry, or I at least provide a place for them to do laundry. I give them my opinion about what might be wrong with the garbage disposal in their apartment, teach them how to make a decent meal for themselves on the cheap, show them how to get a stain out of a carpet. I pack lunches, and run those lunches to them at school or work when they forget them.
When they get into trouble, or they’re already in trouble when I first meet them, I make sure they get to their court dates and I sit there with them. I explain why it’s important to be careful whom you associate with, and where you allow yourself to let your guard down and “party”; I tell them how to be safe. I help them make phone calls and ask the right questions when a personal business matter must be handled. I help them open a bank account if they need or want one, and I nag them about the dangers of over-using your debit card and not keeping track of your spending. I talk to them about what a credit rating is and how not to ruin it. When they get a car, I tell them how to buy insurance, and advise them to keep the registration, but not the title, in the glove compartment.
I loan them a vacuum cleaner, or a baking dish, or a wrench. They call me to ask how to make mashed potatoes or how to unclog a toilet. I sit up with them when they’re sick, and tell them not to take too much of anything that has acetaminophen in it. I put ice on their sprained ankles. I take them to the emergency room in the middle of the night when they are too naïve to realize just how sick they are. I stay and make sure they understand the doctor’s instructions.
Probably more than anything else, I spend time with them and talk. Sometimes it’s at the dinner table, and sometimes it’s when I’ve received a “drop everything because there’s an emotional crisis” phone call. We talk about boyfriends and girlfriends, interpersonal boundaries and self-respect, and relationships that aren’t healthy. We also talk about the ones that are healthy. We discuss birth control, responsibility, drugs, and consequences. Planning a life rather than simply rolling with the punches is a common topic. So are reality TV, nail polish, rap music (ugh), and skateboarding. It’s not always a conversation about something heavy.
Are you getting the picture? Are these the sorts of things your mom did for you when you were, say, seventeen to twenty-something years old? Maybe she still does some of them now. Imagine if you had never had a “mom” in that sense. Imagine your mother was either completely unavailable, in jail, battling (or not bothering to battle) her own substance abuse problems, or just simply didn’t care about you. I believe a mom is important, and not just to small children. And so, that is the role I play for those who need one. I usually enjoy it, but one must be willing to take the good with the bad. I know this. This is not my first rodeo, as Dr. Phil would say.
As I said earlier, if I were a social worker I would be keeping a professional distance. However, keeping a distance is exactly counter to what I try to do. These young people have run into lots of people in their lives who are often helpful, but there’s always that professional distance. You won’t have your social worker’s home phone number, and after 5:00 she’s off the clock. That leaves a gap, and it’s that gap that I try to fill. I’m a mom. It’s what I do.
Thus, I put my heart out there on the line. All the time. I can’t be what I want to be and protect myself at the same time. And so, sometimes I get hurt. Right now I am hurt. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Each time, I go through a series of thoughts and emotions that make me doubt myself, question whether I am doing any good at all, and often feel like giving up. “Forget it,” I think. “Go get a mindless job at the mall and just take care of yourself. Live with your dogs; they’ll keep you company. Leave these kids to their own devices. You can’t save the world, anyway.”
Those thoughts run through my mind, I worry, I doubt, I lose confidence, I cry over my hurt feelings. And then, at some point, it always passes. I get back on my feet and recover my motivation and move forward again. After enough practice, I am learning to be aware, even while the emotions are churning, that it will pass. So, I just ride it out. My most important goal in this regard is just to avoid developing so much scar tissue on my heart that I cannot love anymore. They put me to the test, these kids, but I’m not ready to give in yet. Even if the temptations in my mind lean in that direction, I know it’s temporary.
Like I said, I’m in a bad mood today. It’s one of those times. I’m feeling sad and angry and resentful and betrayed. Some of the kids have hurt my heart. They’ve lied to me and betrayed my trust and used me, and – in my view – insulted my intelligence by thinking I would not catch on. It happens sometimes. That’s how it goes when you let yourself get attached. But I don’t regret it.
This will pass. Probably not today or tomorrow, maybe not even next week, but it will pass. I thought I would write about it, though, because so many of my blog posts are so chipper and happy, all about all the positive things that are going on and all the great stuff I do with these young people. To sit down and write on a day like this felt like the honest thing to do. Give the complete picture – just put it out there. I’m not a saint, I’m not a perfect mom, I don’t always do the right thing, and I don’t always get good results. This house does not always run smoothly, and it’s not without conflict. It’s certainly not without painful times.
Tonight I will get out of the house for a while. Probably drive somewhere and just sit with a coffee. Spend a little time alone – a precious resource in my life, that alone time. I will think about things; maybe I will make some changes to how I relate with the kids, and maybe I won’t. In any case, I’ll take a breather and get back on my feet. I do not know any other thing to do.