The one thing that will be asked of all parents on this journey is to take a good look in the mirror. It was not easy for me to do, but it was necessary. I contend that I am NOT to blame for what actions my child took, I did not force him to make the choices he did, however I did need to take responsibility for my own actions and how they may have contributed to his and our situation. I did not feel guilty, I did the best I could at the time, but now I was capable of so much more and I needed to work toward that.
About a month after my son entered wilderness I started to write him his weekly letter, generally my letters were on the longer side, about two to three pages, nothing crazy. This time it was different, I had started to write and I just kept going, and going, and going. When I stopped typing five hours had passed and I was sitting in front of an document that was eleven pages of single spaced type.
I was dumbfounded at this point I really didn’t know what I was supposed to do with it, this wasn’t a letter if was a manifesto. What teenager is going to read an eleven page letter from his mother? I figured I wrote it for a reason, I just didn’t know what that reason was; so I asked for guidance from the person who I trusted the most at the time, Jeremy, my sons Wilderness therapist and sent him the email below:
I have spent a lot of time thinking about him since I got your email on Thursday morning. I was not shocked that he chose not to write a letter to us. I know that he did that because he is feeling some form of some emotion.
I believe what I find very unsettling is that he is me, I have said it often, and to some degree that frightened me, as I was a tough case as a kid. I spent the last couple of days reflecting upon my childhood and as I did I couldn’t believe what I recalled. I just started to write a regular Sunday letter to him and it turned into another whole world, it became the story of me that I wanted him to know about. It kind of just happened and it is long. I am not sure how you will feel about it, or if you feel that it is valuable or appropriate, But, if you think it is okay I would like to share it with him. Maybe the timing is not right, I understand, but please let me know if it can be shared with him at some point.
The reply was simple:
Cheryl, I think this letter is great, and the timing is good for me to take this to him today.
Thank you, Jeremy
As a parent I didn’t want my son to know of my failures and faults for various reasons, but if we were going to work this stuff out, I had to be honest. For the first time ever he saw me as human and flawed with insecurities and uncertainties. I felt a sense of pride in what I created, but I was so much more proud of the fact he was willing to read it and he chose to show me grace, by not throwing it in my face. This Manifesto was truly the turning point in our relationship.
Selected excerpts from my Mom Manifesto
…..I realize now that what you needed from was so very simple, and well within my ability to provide it to you. You just needed my unconditional love and acceptance, 100% of the time. You needed it on the days you did your homework with speed and accuracy, and you needed it on the days you refused to do it as well…….
…..I put conditions on my love. I doled out my acceptance and love to you as a reward when you met my expectations of success. ………
……….Instead of me learning to accept the unique and good person you are, I tried to change you to meet my expectations…….
……..I was a child who needed help, my being overweight was only the symptom of my deeper issues, issues that I didn’t even know I had or what they were. I just knew that I felt like crap, I didn’t feel loved, I felt judged, and I felt like I couldn’t get out of my own way to help myself. I knew deep down I needed help, and on the rare occasions that I tried to speak with my parents they shut me down and told me to get over it, buck up, toughen up or go on a diet, none of which I was capable of doing at that time……
….I religiously went to therapy once a week and on the difficult weeks I sometimes went twice. It was hard, really hard. I cried a lot, and I mean a lot, both inside the therapist’s office and outside his office…… I learned that I was the only one who controlled what I did….. I learned how to value myself, and that I couldn’t control what others think of me, only what I think of myself…..
…….. I knew that someday I would find my place, even if I didn’t know where it was at that moment…..
…..So you wonder why I am sharing this story with you now….A parent’s love for a child runs so deep, a depth you will never understand until you have children of your own, it is almost blinding. Being a parent is so scary. I was so afraid to fail you and to fail myself. So much so, that I forgot all the good and important things I learned so long ago….. I became consumed with being a successful parent, instead of just being the parent you needed…..
…..So my son in the woods, I have done all I can with sharing my story, there is no more to it. The future of your story is up to you. I will remain open and available to you for when you are ready to open up to me. You will control what happens next, however based upon my past experience, I would like to suggest for your consideration, that you take back control of your life and you learn to speak, share the pain, anger, shame and hurts that you have been carrying around with you. Speak them aloud in the woods, to the sky, to Jeremy, the guides, your friends, anyone who you trust. The truth as painful as it is really does set you free. I lived it and I know it. Try to leave the bad feelings and anger in the woods, or write me a letter and tell me, I can take it, I am way stronger that you think I am. I have gone through the fire and back myself, and I survived. You are so strong and I know you can do it too if you want it, and you don’t need to do it alone, lean on your tribe, Jeremy and G5 are your people right now, they have your back. Trust the process, I did a long time ago and it helped, I just needed to be reminded to trust it again now…..
I feel blessed that I had the nerve to overcome my fears and share my story with my son. I truly believed it may have helped me more than it helped him. Hug someone you love today.