It came about unexpectedly. First one child, then another and finally the last called and said, “I’m going to come over to spend the night too!” It happened quickly and without fanfare. Our excitement grew as we realized our three adult children were coming to spend the night and hang out together. We could not remember the last time we had been alone together without their spouses and children.
Annie and Amanda requested pedicures when Andrew picked them up on the 2:05 ferry. He dropped them off at the salon and I was waiting next to two seats and tubs of bubbling soapy blue water. Afterwards we stopped by the farm store and bakery because eating at home sounded better than eating out.
Without direction, we began preparing dinner together. The ease of no nursing babies or grand children or spouses to tend to returned us to an era that had passed almost a decade ago. Without words spoken we felt the holiness of this time and the intentionality of why it was happening. Amanda, our second born, is six months pregnant and moving to New York City in two weeks. Our lives, work, and travel schedules are complicated and this was “our” night that came about out of the blue.
We sat down at the usually over crowded old dining room gate leg table and the spaciousness of “just five of us” felt odd. Dan prayed and we began eating and talking and then he asked,
“Now that you are adults, what surprises you as you look back at your upbringing?”
There was thoughtful hesitation and one child began to account for all the fear and pressure she felt while growing up. The other two nodded in agreement and story upon story came about learning to lie to keep from provoking judgment when they chose to stray from what they knew we wanted.
I immediately felt defensive. Even when I noticed my husband’s efforts to get my attention, I did not know how to back peddle out of the sentences of explanation and justification. After listening to their hurt and anger tears began rolling down my cheeks. I sat silently until I could speak without crying. Everyone is okay with my tears, which don’t often appear in such settings, but we have weathered a psychologist for a husband and father and know that tears are good.
“I am sorry. I am sorry. I wish I had known better as a mom and of course, dear Annie, our first born, you bore the brunt of my needing you to be good and polite and successful academically more than the next two. I am sorry. I am sorry the weight was so great.”
“I wish I had not said that you had to be good because your dad was Dan Allender.” And this is the sentence that unearths the crack in my own story. I learned early never to ask for help. There were consequences to inconveniencing my mother who was a driven, perfectionist “Martha Stewart” but with an unstable psyche. I learned not to ask for help and life was much safer.
When I developed asthma as a ten year old and could not breathe it seemed safer to gasp for air and pass out on the floor then to cry out for help. My skills of survival were well honed. And, thus as a wife, I did not want to bother or inconvenience my husband who worked very hard and traveled frequently.
I did not ask for help. We both lived out our broken stories and somehow made it to another day. And what started out as a sweet meal turned in a direction that none of us could have predicted.
There was silence for quite some time. One child said, “For all your failures, I never doubted that you loved me.” Two other heads nodded and I was left to feel the inexorable weight of both failure and forgiveness.
We adjourned and cleaned up and found our places on the couches to watch a couple of episodes of “Odd Mom Out”, a parody of a mom’s life in New York City trying to get her twins into Kindergarten and the courage and shenanigans that have to be pulled to do so. We hugged and went to bed after Andrew surprised Annie with an E.T. doll from Universal Studios. She screamed in horror almost as loudly as she did as a six year old when Santa gave her the same doll! History can be a very sweet healer.
Dan and I woke up at 4:30 a.m. It had been hard hearing what our kids had said to us. After my first cup of coffee where I can cling to the new mercies that are new every morning, I went next door to his office to pray with him. “Let’s go for a walk and talk.” We did the same walk that we had done the night before and I talked of how we too found fault with how our parents raised us. We too are broken as they were and we too failed. And the kicker is, each generation is broken and different. We walked, we prayed, we talked and we returned home ready…so ready for each child to wake up and be with us.
It was a glorious morning of individual wake-ups and breakfasts! We are like Golden Retrievers, loving our children without remembering a thing of the night before. Our morning was spent looking through old pictures, playing dominoes, and eating leisurely. And what we knew would happen occurred: time passed. It was time. We said good-bye.
Twenty-four holy, never to be had again hours together had come to an end. It passed just like the last 35 years of raising children: unexpected, hard, broken, sweet, and full of love. There are moments that summarize a lifetime. There are 24-hour periods that encompass all the years that came before.
Can a lifetime be summed up in a few words on a tombstone? Can all the years of our parenting—labor, worry, heartache, hope, failure, and redemption be summed up in a dinner table conversation?
Of course, a life can’t be condensed to a few words or moments, but in fact it is—rightfully or wrongfully. No matter how violently we may be opposed to ‘labeling’ someone or something, it is how we think.
And what have I again discovered my life to be in summary: broken and harmful—forgiven–and honored and loved. I had no idea a day, let alone a meal, could be a lifetime.
Becky Allender lives on Bainbridge Island with her loving, wild husband of 38 years. A mother and grandmother, she is quite fond of sunshine, yoga, Hawaiian quilting and creating 17th Century reproduction samplers. A community of praying women, loving Jesus, and the art of gratitude fill her life with goodness. She wonders what she got herself into with Red Tent Living!
Thank you for sharing this, Becky. I have struggled deeply with my failures as a parent and it is still hard to hold those failures in a place of forgiveness and honor. Your words are beautiful and inviting.
Dear Jeanette, I am grateful my words might invite you to receive mercy and grace for being human and failing when failing was the very last thing you wanted to do.
Wow, I hear you. Honestly, because I did not own my complete story, I did much harm to both of my daughters. We have spent a lot of time as parents – both of us – listening to and apologizing for what we have done. And the hurt of realizing that we had no example, no help, and very little if any real love from our parents continues to cause pain, actually more pain as the anger passes. What a gift you both offered them to reflect and to continue to reflect yourself. Much love to both of you.
Thank you Sue. This world is a hurt-filled world. Just the fact that you have listened and apologized is huge. And, as far as our stories, I trust you are like me, there is so much more to discover, to remember, to be healed from before we can offer better care to our children and to others. Love to you too!
Oh my yes. Bob and I have sat at that table. Painful, messy, lovely and glorious. Thank you, thank you for the vulnerable tender reminder to hold our children’s hearts well and our own – even when the ache is so deep. So now I’m off to get a Kleenex. Love you both!
Thank you Robyn for your words of being in this parenthood thing together. I am more and more aware of my short sidedness and may my messiness and hearing others and asking for their forgiveness be more often. It will never be easier! Love to you and Bob.
Thank you for sharing your heart and life….now and in so many ways. It is a treasure!
Thank you. Thank you.
Thank you for sharing your tender and precious heart, Becky!
You moved me to fear the day my children will turn and do the same…
But mostly to celebrate truth and grace and Gods redemptive hand in our lives and stories!
Your words are a gift to the world 💗
You are “over the top” kind. Failure is a human quality and failing our children in the worst. I know that…but still, I fail them. Where would we be without God’s grace and mercy?
“Each generation is broken and different.” Yes…so painfully true, and your honesty in recounting how difficult it is to hold your face as your children name their wounds felt so raw and familiar. For me in those moments with my own children, I want to defend myself , to tell them they had no idea how good they had it compared to my childhood…I want to and I can’t. You continue to bless your chilren and give them the freedom to speak the truth of their experiences, which I would imagine has much to do with their desire to keep returning.
Janet, thank you for saying those wounds were familiar to you too! And I totally am like you wanting to defend myself and say how much harder I had it! (I even went into a Sociological discourse of my grandparents and parents and the trends of their parenting during those time periods!!!! RIDICULOUS!!!!!! Whoa. And the fact that you “wanted to and couldn’t” only makes me chuckle and cringe with my knee jerk defensiveness … which was how we survived in my family. SO HARD TO BREAK…. Thank you for taking the time to respond.
Your broken and luminous life could not be more inspiring. Just when we think you can’t get more beautiful – you get more beautiful! What you say, and how you say it, is so important to me.
A stunning reply. I am speechless. Thank you.
Leave it to a psychologist to ask that kind of question–at dinner nonetheless! 😉 Mark and I have been pondering our parenting mistakes in the last few months as well. We used to feel pretty good about how our kids turned out; God is stripping that pride away as we watch their adult lives come to fruition. So humbling as we watch them struggle with the big stuff of life. Thank you, Becky, for your transparency, for your intentional thoughtfulness, for seeing the redemption in the negatives, for speaking truth.
Thank you Becky. Ahh, it hurts to have our pride stripped away but it is a good shedding, no matter how painful.
Ahh, it is good to have our pride stripped away. But painful, oh my, so painful. Thank you for responding with your life and with kindness.
Thank you for your openness and vulnerability…it is so beautiful. Not being a parent myself I view this more from the aspect of a child and what I see is a beautiful gift you and Dan gave each child to express those feelings…what a gift of being able to share them at the table together, to break and then return to the table to share lightness and laughter at breakfast and playing together.
Thank you for your kind words. And….yes…I still think of my childhood often and wish now I could offer kind words to my parents. So many kind words and apologies. There is not one who is faultless.
What a beautiful gift to openly share story and remain cohesive in the path of pain and joy.
Thank you. I am not sure that I was cohesive…. I blubbered and defended and sat silent for a bit before finally getting it right….apologizing. I have a very long way to go. I am still in the “baby steps” phase. Probably until heaven…
Dear Becky, how beautifully you and Dan gave birth and life to a new season…an invitation to remember and reflect without judgment. A gift unparalleled. Birth always takes us to the brink of death…and your poignant writing is a reminder that a mother will always lay down her life for her children. Thank you for your willingness to die again and to share the life that sprang again from that sacrifice.
Dear Christine, thank you for your kind words. I love what you wrote: “Birth always take us to the brink of death..” Ugh! That is so true and so painful and so scary. And, may I always remember what you wrote: “A mother will always lay down her life for her children.” I think so….and I hope so!
Once again, your words welcome me/us into your heart and give a beautiful picture of how in our brokenness, sin and failures, Christ offers us a deep drink of redemption, grace and hope!
Where, Cheri, would we be without Jesus’ giving us grace and hope? He is so good and so faithful and worthy of our trust….ALWAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh Becky, would that I could be as honest with myself as you are. Pete and I will often say that we just seem to continue to swim in the river called De Nile. I found myself in a position to hear a hard truth but didn’t allow it to pierce my heart the way you did. How sad for my son who shared it. At the time I felt defensive and surprised. Your sweet friend is right, ” You continue to bless your children and give them the freedom to speak the truth of their experiences, which I would imagine has much to do with their desire to keep returning”. I wish I had entered into my son’s pain as you entered into your children’s pain. I’ll always wonder if he would have shared other more difficult truths if I had responded better. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity to say the many sorrys I need to say. Until then the Holy Spirit’s comfort will carry me through. He’s surely waiting for Pete and me to climb out of that dumb river. Hmmm… I’m feeling like a dam is beginning to crack….excuse me while I grab a few tissues.
I love your river called “De Nile”. Hilarious. I trust your heart of love and forgiveness will spur on another good, hard and unforgettable conversation with your son. Thank you for sharing Laura. We are all so much more alike than different. Cracked dams of our hearts are good.
Parenting is not for the fainthearted, so I’m going to take it one day at a time as I sit here beginning to ache with anxiety exactly one week out from taking my girl to live in the dorms four hours away. Thank you, sweet friend, for once again sharing part of your story. It makes me feel brave about the future.
Love and hugs to you after one week of your daughter being away. I am proud of the parent you are and how involved you are with your kids. Can’t wait to hear how she’s doing.
Reblogged this on Saline, Michigan and commented:
We all make mistakes as parents, hindsight is 20/20. Wouldn’t it be lovely to KNOW what we KNOW now….and do it all again. Thank God for his grace.
God’s grace is so good and so sufficient. Two quotes from my sister and a friend yesterday: My dad said to my sister in regards to parenting: “We’re only amateurs!” and my friend said, “We don’t get any trial runs!” I loved both of those comments. We want the very best for our children in every way. Regardless of how we mess up.
thank for being a real live human, Becky. I have watched both you and Dan from near and far and your hearts seem so inclined towards goodness. You have both blessed me on countless occasions with your words. It gives me hope that even with such a desire to improve on the last generation, being in the story business and that deep desire for good, you still failed. And brought glory. And have kids who want to be with you. And feel like they can be honest… I will keep asking forgiveness. That’s a good outcome to failure.
Thank you for your words of blessing. It is good to remember that none of us on this side of heaven ever can do it right. I am grateful for our children’s forgiveness and love. That is the best gift of all.
I love everything about this, everything. I have sat in this tension a few times now from the side of the child and I remember just hoping that I would be heard without my parents feeling the need to defend. After becoming a parent, I now recognize the battle of both sides. You put beautiful and clear words to your struggle and your extravagant heart and this is such a gift!
Thank you for your kindness. Thank you for receiving my words and seeing the sorrow and the acceptance of forgiveness and love. Thank you.
Thank you Becky for sharing this sweet, sweet time!
You are so welcome. Is this Deanna way out in D.C.? If it is….I miss you and love how you parent.
The safety you have given your grown children is so evident in their ability to honestly share their hearts this one last time. There is no failure here, just an honest caring, fallen, broken mom doing what she thought was best. As all of us are.
What a gift you were given, what redemption! Thank you for sharing your intimate time with us so that we can own ours when we are blessed enough to hear truth from our own children…..Amazing grace!
I am honored and humbled by your kind words. Thank you. So many gifts that are so undeserved. I am blown away by God’s amazing grace.
Dear Becky, your words invited me back to our own parenting under the roofs of the parsonages next to the churches we served. My misguided desire to help Dane keep scrutiny and judgment at bay sadly invited me to harm our children. I used different words but the same motive to place barriers around our children, heaping huge expectations on them to be what they were not or not be what they were created to be. I sat at the table with you, wanting to join in pleading your case. I wanted you to be exonerated. Because I wanted the same for me. Your sharing moves me to want differently now, to keep my face out, to hear the hearts of our children again and acknowledge their hurt. I want “broken and harmful—forgiven–and honored and loved”. Once again your words invite me to long for the more. Thank you friend for your vulnerability and for lighting a light upon a good path forward.
Valerie, thank you for writing. Once again we see similarities with our mothering and our lives. I think you had it harder with a husband for a pastor. I had the years in a small town in a seminary setting with a husband who traveled 8 days at a time. So much to do as a young mother and wanting to shield our husbands the more demands from their demanding load they bore. Hugs across the many miles.
Becky thank you for sharing just a bit of the pain and joy experienced at dinner. I know that when I set out to be a mom that I had a huge list of what I would and wouldn’t be as a mother. Sadly, what became true was that I repeated many of the patterns but in a way that I didn’t recognize for quite some time. I’ve had many, and will have many more conversations about the places where I harmed. It does seem that through the freedom and honesty of the naming, grieving, repenting, and forgiveness that the good rises to the top. It was so hard for me to see where there was goodness in me as a mom once I began seeing the harm. Both were and are true.
Thank you for the reminder that even in our failings…there was goodness, not only in the intent, but in the “doing”….however flawed we were!
Thank you for your wonderful and powerful words Becky. I would love to see you write a book/share your story in a book because your posts are filled with so much authenticity and honesty – a breath of fresh air inviting others to follow the same path of authentic Christianity, making it easy to share your posts with others.
Paul….WOW! Your words certainly not what I expected to read. Thank you. If you could have seen me in college fretting over every English paper I had to turn in you would realize the miracle. It is quite astounding how I thought I was writing a check to help support Red Tent Living and Tracy said, “No, I would like you to write once a month.” Jesus is so good to have given this opportunity because I never knew I had so much to say!
Honesty, tears and acceptance often come together when we are truly together. Your words bring pain and goodness to the surface…..amazing grace !
Elaine, Thank you for your wisdom to write: “Your words bring pain and goodness to the surface…..amazing grace !”