“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.”

― W.E.B. Du Bois

I saw this quote on a friend’s facebook timeline yesterday, and it had me up most of the night. It might be the wording, but I fear if this is true, my kids have no chance. 

What I am is a screwed up mental case who probably shouldn’t have had kids to begin with.

It’s possible I had no business bringing tiny humans into this world. Somewhere in my mind I think I knew this, but let the pressures of all the things “should” dictate these choices.

My oldest was thirteen when the boys were born, and I might have known better. Her life thus far had been my evidence. But I thought so much had changed, and I knew I had help now. I convinced myself that might be enough.

What I am is a fatally flawed human being doing her best.

I’m constantly making it up as I go along. I work through struggles daily, to the best of my ability. What I am is not what I want my kids to be. I do my best to behave in the ways I want my kids to and to be an example, but there are many days I fail miserably and fall flat on my well-intentioned face.

I don’t always respond in the ways I’d like to, and sometimes I react in ways I definitely don’t want to. I don’t always have the right words to express how I’m feeling, because they’re not always age appropriate feelings. I do the best I can with what I have, but sometimes the bag is empty. Shake an empty bag for a minute, and see what falls out. Nothing.

My children will be better than I am.

I try to teach them to make better choices than I did and do, because they have my experience to guide them if they choose to accept it. I try not to torture them in the ways I was when I was their ages. I do my best with the triggers that motherhood and my children provoke, and I try to take the actions necessary to combat those things before they arrive; to be as proactive as possible. This is not always easy, and I’m not always the kind of mother I want to be.

What I am is a work in progress.

The good news is, what I am is not necessarily who I am.

Who I am is a survivor of what I am.

I spent much of my life believing I would never be who I wanted to be because of my circumstances. I thought my today had to come directly from my yesterday. I didn’t know I could change my circumstances. I didn’t know I could change who what I am set me up to be.

Who I am is imperfect. She often changes with the wind. I do my best to keep up, and have learned to adapt in incredible ways.

I believe in the power of healing and transformation. I understand and admit when I’m wrong — A LOT. I’ve made a million mistakes and misstepped, and have remained willing to learn from, and through, all of it.

Who I am is powerful.

I am a compassionate human being with infinite possibilities. I create my own destiny. This is not always pretty, but I have learned to take credit for the good, bad, and horrible situations I have created in order to move through them and come out stronger on the other side.

Realizing that no one else on this planet has the ability to make me anything, allows me to keep the power in who I am.

Who I am is a kind and loving person, with an amazing capacity for forgiveness.

At the end of the story, the ugly duckling finds out he was never a duckling at all. My life has been a series of these moments — trying to fit some mold or idea. The ideas have not often been my own, and I have conformed;  warped myself to look more like a duckling than a beautiful swan.

If I can teach my children anything, it will be to worry less about labels and how they are viewed by others — even me. I want them to understand they can be whatever they want, regardless of their circumstances.

What they choose to be doesn’t have to dictate who they are. Where they came from won’t either. Maybe they won’t blame me for as long as I blamed my parents. Perhaps they’ll have more of a fighting chance at genuine happiness.

There is no mold to fit, and we are all free to be whomever and whatever we want. Pretending this depends on something outside of ourselves is where it gets dangerous.

If my children take on all of my horrible habits and become miserable adults, do I have to take 100% of the responsibility for that? I would argue not. Even that thought stresses me out and turns me into someone I don’t want to be.

Who I am is proof that what we are does not have the power to dictate who our children will be.

Let’s teach our kids that they are not bound by our limitations and mistakes. Maybe then we can breathe a little easier, let go of the pre-guilt and shamefest, and be better parents overall.

Let’s be imperfect, out loud. Talk to them about the fact that they get to make their own choices, with the info you provide, and become who they want to be.

Your children don’t have to be you. That role is covered. Let’s change the narrative.


“Be who you are, so your children won’t have to be.” ~ Julie Maida

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