By Terin Marlae Benavente | Featured Contributor
Not long ago, I had a critical yet honest conversation with my mother. During this conversation, she mentioned several times how now, at the age of 61, she feels she missed out on certain parts of her life. As the eldest daughter, I not only must listen with an open heart but truly understand her as a friend and confidant. While this may seem easy for some, it has been hard to step out of my comfort zone and respond from two very different perspectives. But this has been long overdue since her best friends in life (her sister and mother) passed away just eight years apart.
Missed Opportunities & Why They Matter
During this conversation, my mother mentioned when we were little and how she often felt the weight of parenting on her shoulders and the internal struggle she always felt…of deep regret. Of all, one stood out to her the most. How different would her life have been if she had believed in herself enough to pursue her interests and opportunities? What does that even mean exactly? I contemplated this statement for weeks. I knew life then was different, but I never understood how different. Women’s roles as a “good” wife and mother were to care for the home and children while men went to work.
After all, her mother did it before her, so who was she to break the mold? I imagine she asked herself this, always internally conflicted on what was “right” and what was “wrong.”
Why do we do this to ourselves? As mothers, we are expected to adhere to our families and society’s archaic and unattainable expectations. We are expected to be perfect and consistently giving, never worrying about our needs, wants, or desires without seeming selfish or less of a mother. Give this and that until we are nothing more than an empty shell of a person. One who lives and breathes her children and nothing more. If this is to be, how are we ever to evolve and grow as a person? After all, before them, there was me. At the time, I did not think my mother had any idea of the clarity she was providing to her 35-year-old daughter and how impactful it had been on my life thus far.
Regret Comes in Pairs
Sadly, I see this happening to my mother-in-law, who is now retired and feels lost. She had spent her whole life working from home to raise two very successful children—yet she now feels unfulfilled. Almost as if she has no purpose now that her children are grown and gone. As a mother, she is grateful for her children and their time together. Yet, she now feels as if something is missing. But what is missing? Both of these women lived almost identical lives but are from very different backgrounds. I can’t help but wonder,
Am I destined for the same? A future filled with the loss of purpose, an emptiness so hollow and achingly filled with regret?
Lessons For 2021
As her daughter, I always appreciate our time together and the deep conversations, no matter how painful. Interestingly enough, my mother often calls these conversations her ‘offering of wisdom’ (or so she adds in her thick, southern accent.) When she says this, I laugh. Since last year, I strive to be ever-present and relish in each moment as if they would be our last. A few lessons I have learned from our previous conversations:
1. Take care of you, Mama
- An empty cup cannot pour into another cup. As cliché as this sounds, it is true. Take care of yourself. Go—take the bath you so desperately need. Need to reset? Go to the gym for an hour and stretch those muscles. Or, have that cup of coffee with your girlfriends. It doesn’t make you a bad mother to focus on you every once in a while. Doing this helps you to recharge and reset.
2. Be intentional
- Wake up each day with a purpose…whether it be big or small. If you are waiting for the “right” moment to come make a change, you will be waiting forever. Unhappy in your career? Change it. Want to go back to school? Do it. Life happens when you are busy making other plans.
3. Never lose sight of your direction
- Never lose sight of who you are and what you want out of life. Just because you are a mother does not mean you will not have the life you want. You can. You have to be intentional in your direction and demand the best for yourself. Everything else will follow.
4. Stop worrying about what others think
- Never, and I mean never in my life have I ever worried about what others have thought. Is that good? To me, it most definitely is. Perfection does not exist; if you keep trying to be, you will live an unhappy and unfulfilled life. When you stop worrying about what others think, you will inevitably give yourself newfound freedom that is delicious. Trust me on this.
5. Believe in yourself (even when no one else does)
- Even on your best days, people may not believe in you. Support yourself and your dreams. They may even say you cannot do it. That is perfectly fine. It is your life to live, not theirs. There is no better time to start shaping your future than today, so start now.
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