I once read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells. In it the narrator refers to her mother, a woman with whom she had a complicated relationship, as a “mixed gift pack.” When you get a gift pack, aren’t there always a few unwanted items mixed in with the treasures? But the nature of the package is that you have to take the lot.
As I read Wells’ novel, I realized I am a Mixed Gift Pack mother. I know how to laugh and be goofy; I am affectionate and praise my children for things they do and who they are; I have put a lot of effort into building their character and looking after their mental, emotional and physical health. But I have unwanted qualities too. I can be impatient, selfish, uptight, and controlling — and sometimes these qualities overshadow the good ones.
A few years ago when my kids were about 12, 10 and 7, I had one of those epic breakdowns where they must have been stopped dead in their tracks. I had had ENOUGH of it all: the endless cajoling, reminding, and arm-twisting required just to get them out of bed and through the morning routine; the constant digs and nit-picking and bickering; the daily queries as to what we’re having for supper, and then the subsequent disappointment or complaints from at least one child; the never-ending whining and arguments when it is chore or homework time.
Usually I feel angry about these things, but that day I was simply exhausted. Example by example, I tearfully told them why I was frustrated, including what had set me off that day: at lunch the eldest peered into the pan on the stove and asked suspiciously what I was making, and then added, “Maybe I don’t want to know.” Son No. 2 commented that the sausages were dry. The youngest grossed everyone out by saying she likes sausage film, and then made a comment about a crumb counting as another sausage, which the middle child had to dispute because, how ridiculous, a crumb doesn’t count as a full sausage!
While giving this itemized display of my grievances, my middle son got upset because I was making him feel terrible about himself, my daughter started sobbing and hugging me and apologizing, and the oldest couldn’t understand why I might be mad at him since he hadn’t complained about the food or argued with his siblings in the past 10 minutes.
Having diligently explained how my firstborn should cast his net wider to contemplate how I might be including him in these examples, I blinked and saw how embarrassed and upset I had just made my children feel.
I tried, with only marginal success, to explain that I wasn’t saying they were bad kids. They were great kids, and there were a lot of things they did well, but there were also some things they needed to work on, like being courteous, holding their tongues sometimes, pitching in without complaint, and being kind to each other. I gave each one a kiss, and told them I loved them, but in the end I sent them back to school with all of us feeling lousy.
In moments like these I think about how God can redeem my mistakes, and I pray that my intended message sticks, rather than the emotional dressing down I gave them that day. It’s OK for them to see me cry about my frustrations. It’s even OK for them to feel bad about their behaviour sometimes. But I am sorry I couldn’t convey my expectations or share my discontent in a way that honoured their worth.
So yes, I am a Mixed Gift Pack mother. I suppose we are all Mixed Gift Pack people. Love, joy, laughter, encouragement, patience, and truth all mixed up with anger and harshness and selfishness and criticism. There is no way to separate these things into neat piles; you just have to take the whole package. But what I hope is that my children will be able to look beyond my shortcomings, the way I can look beyond theirs, and see the treasures in me that I easily (usually) see in them.
As Rebecca Wells puts it, “When I get home, I will hug my four babies. I will hug the man I have married. I will do my best to give thanks for gifts, strangely, beautifully, painfully wrapped” (HarperPerennial, 1996, p. 281).
Sheri Porrelli works as an ADHD Coach in Saskatoon and is active in her faith and school communities. She is married with three children and is the daughter of regular Prairie Messenger contributor Lloyd Ratzlaff.