Six Things I Can’t Tell My Kids

food stupor

I know how she feels

I was a perfect mother before I had children.

I do everything I said I wouldn’t do. My kids eat chicken nuggets and hot dogs and mac n’ cheese. They watch TV.

I say things like, “The next person who touches me is going to bed!

I try to teach them to be respectful, to have manners and good posture and to remember their pleases and thank yous.

I’m doing my best to prepare my kids for adulthood, but in some ways it’s a futile effort.

Think about it. What did you imagine being a grown up was like when you were little?

Dreaming of Jordache jeans and bottomless sherbet

Dreaming of Jordache jeans and bottomless sherbet

I was going to be a veterinarian who lived in my split level house with a couple of boyfriends(I had multiple crushes going in elementary school) and my dog and my hamster. I would stay up late and eat bottomless bowls of orange sherbet, in between crimping my hair.  I would wear sparkly blue eye shadow and I would have money to buy Jordache jeans. It was going to be amazing.

This is how I know there are some things I can never tell my kids.

The following list would break their little spirits. They would never understand it, because I didn’t, until I lived it.

dollar bill1. You will worry about money. A lot more than you thought. This is not about whether you wind up rich or poor. You will probably end up somewhere in the middle and you will still worry about your mortgage, the grocery bill, the private school tuition, the one summer week at the beach for the family, the college tuition, the 401k, the catastrophic illness you didn’t see coming that ripped the bottom out of your safety net. You will worry you spend too much at Target and that your husband will ask, “What did you buy for $170?”

You will want things you can’t afford and sometimes you will buy them(you will convince yourself you deserve it), and then you will regret it. You may need us to bail you out, and we probably will, if we can.

You will be shocked at the cost of diapers/daycares/nannies/tutors/sports/school tuition/summer camps. You will yell at your kids to turn off the lights when they leave the room and you will get out of bed to make sure someone turned down the thermostat. You will clip coupons. You will stop clipping coupons. You will clip them again. You will pump the cheapest gas and you will be annoyed when your wife goes out to lunch with her co-workers too often. You will tell yourself not to worry about money. You will still worry.

the moments they love each other make all the other moments bearable

I will remember this as the pre-stumble years

2. You will fail and you will disappoint people. You will disappoint yourself. I’ve been divorced and I’ve been fired. Both came as a pretty big shock. I could explain how my firing wasn’t personal and a bunch of us got canned by a new boss as soon as he took over. But I still got fired, and I still got divorced (and that was very personal and I won’t explain that one). I thought both would kill me. They didn’t. But they did change the course of my career and my life.

Your failures will change you and the course of your life. You will have small stumbles —  a bad grade, a speeding ticket, a college rejection letter. You will have bonafide falls —  a car crash that is your fault, a bad review at your job, a forgotten anniversary. You will be tempted to blame life. You will want to sit on the couch muttering how unfair it all is, and how this stuff only happens to you. Have your pity party, then get your butt off the couch and go back to trying to get it right. Admit you screwed up. Say “I need to drive slower.” Say “I’ll work harder.” Say “I’m Sorry.” Just learn from it and do better.

3. People you love will die. When I was 12 years old, my cousin Jamie died from leukemia. He was two years younger than me and the first person I knew who died.  I remember my aunt screaming and screaming as they took his coffin away. I still recall the hollow feeling in the center of my chest that day, like it had been hole punched out.

You will feel that way. You will know a kid at school who gets sick and dies. Someone you know will die in a car crash after high school or college graduation. You will hear about a friend of a friend who is sick or who has died. Then it will be your friend. Or your friend’s husband. Or much worse, your friend’s child. You will go to funerals. You will be terrified of losing your wife or your husband or your kids, because you now realize you don’t get to have forever. You will question why some people are so unlucky, and you will feel guilty for being so grateful that it’s not you or your family. You will realize your mortality and it will make you appreciate your life that much more.IMG_0706

4.You will experience incredible love. I can’t guarantee this one. But I pray it happens for both of you, because when you find the right person, it brightens your life all the way back to the darkest corners. It won’t be the giddy kind of rush that comes from butterflies. It will be the kind of deep contentment that comes from feeling like you have finally found your way home. Your dad is my home and you will hopefully seek out an imperfect-yet-happy marriage like ours. You will think you’re never going to find him or her. Then you will. You will know it. When you tell us two weeks after you meet that he/she is the one, I will worry you have lost your mind (your Father will probably be his happy self and will try to remind me about us. I will ignore him).

5. Then will come the love you never knew existed. This one I can guarantee. If you have kids, you will love them so fiercely you will frighten yourself. When you were born, I realized I was capable of murder. I have played out the various ways I would extinguish anyone who tried to lay a finger on either of you. Parenthood is terrifying like that.We connect with the animal side of ourselves.jude born

In exchange, we discover a love that goes so deep it is beyond reason, and it is the most miraculous-life-affirming thing I have ever known.

Don’t get cocky. You both make me crazy and I could throw you out of a moving car sometimes, but I would kill anyone else who tried to throw you out of a moving car.

Your children will be the greatest surprise of your life. They won’t be perfect, they may have special needs, they will disappoint you, and they will sass you. They will be selfish and demanding and unreasonable. They will stumble and fall (see above section) and when they do, you will feel as if it’s happening to you. Their disappointments and pain will be yours (and you will pray and bargain with God to make it be you instead, but it won’t work). You will remember that I told you, “You’re only as happy as your least happy child,” and you will be so annoyed that I’m right.

6. You will wonder what happened to your dreams. As a non Jordache wearing, non veterinarian with just the one husband, I have wondered how my childhood dreams morphed into this other thing — a thing filled with crazy high utility bills and kids who could care less what I want to be when I grow up (that’s another thing no one could have explained to me). Your exterior will start to age and it will scare you because inside, you’re still you, and you still have things to do, but there’s no time because it feels like all of you is committed to everyone else (bosses/husbands/wives/kids).

This is when I want you to remember something I have told you so many times it will have become white-noise-parent-heckling — ‘If you focus on what you don’t have, you will never have enough.’ Until now, you will have shrugged it off as another one of my ‘Mom-isms.’

Here’s a confession. I have despaired. I have thought, ‘What’s the point of all of this?’  During those times, driving down the road, clenching the steering wheel, I would make my list: your father, nana and pop pop, your aunt Lisa, my best friends, you two.

Life is not about the what, it’s about the who.

In the end, heck, even in the beginning, that’s what life is about — love. Your greatest and worst moments will be because of  it — your wedding day, the birth of your kids, the inevitable loss of us.

kids together

Life will strip you to the bone. More than once. And love is the the only thing that will save you. I have given you love of God, love of each other, love of yourself. I have given you all you need.

Someday, you will live what I’ve written.

I pray you learn what I did, that the reality of the life and the love I had, surpassed anything I could have dreamed.

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41 comments on “Six Things I Can’t Tell My Kids
  1. Jeremy Campbell says:

    The thing I CAN tell from reading this: you’re a great mom.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thank you, but you’ve clearly never seen me during meltdown time. I’m way past toddler-hood, which means I have no excuse.

      • Danielle Galer says:

        Melt downs are needed, like you said so you can recoup pick it all back up and start again. I am in toddler-hood with a 3 and a 2 and it is the most amazingly frightening thing i have even been through and everything in this is so true. But all so worth it for those two smiles every morning and random snot filled kisses!

        • Jaye Watson says:

          Danielle, I did 3 and 2. It is exactly as you describe. At 7 and 8, there is not as much snot, but the kisses are still as sweet.

  2. Jim says:

    Nicely done! If there were a Like button here, I’d click it.

  3. Lea-Anne says:


  4. Kim Schulman says:

    Tears to match the rain outside… beautifully written. And, so very true!

  5. Richard Crabbe says:

    The best thing you’ve ever written.

  6. Ellen Crooke says:

    Beautiful. Lovely. True.

  7. Sherlyn says:

    This is great. I’ve never had my own kids but was blessed to help raise my husband’s daughters and I wish I had written this for them.

  8. Marla-Deen says:

    Well said. If only I could get my sons to read this.

  9. Elizabeth Jackson says:

    OMG! You took the words right out of my heart.

  10. Lori Chance says:

    Wow! Beautifully written….hit me straight to my core!

  11. BJay Pak says:

    Very well written. Good thing you are not a vet!

  12. Wow, you bottled and expressed in such eloquence what I WOULD love to tell my children.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thanks, Lisa. I would love to tell mine, too. I think I can talk to them about this when they’re my age. I’ll have to turn my hearing aids all the way up to hear them. Thanks for reading.

  13. Will Partenheimer says:

    I had been missing your posts and saw this one as I got to the office. Wow! I stopped everything and really enjoyed reading it. My style as a father appears to be very close to yours as a mother! Thank you for sharing this.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Thanks for reading, Will. If your parenting style is close to mine — then there’s vast room for improvement? 🙂 Take care.

  14. Trudy Kremer says:

    Heart, hard and true. Love you!

  15. Karen Browning says:

    Jaye – Thank you for posting this for your children… and for all of our children. Karen

  16. Sharon Rinaldi Lake says:

    So beautifully written!

  17. Mary Sigmond says:

    I was never going to be married, be the vice president of something, and was never going to have children. I am now CEO and Domestic Goddess of a wonderful home with a man who believes I am a better person than I think I am and the mother of three wonderful kids who forgive me my flaws on a daily basis.

    My meltdown can beat your meltdown.


    • Jaye Watson says:

      I bet you’re an awesome CEO. But I can’t yield on the meltdown — I am exceptional in that area. Thanks for reading.

  18. Ellobie says:

    Thank you for this! Really beautiful.

  19. Heather says:

    Beautifully written! Thanks for sharing.

  20. This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  21. Melanie Bolanos says:

    Thank you for writing this Jaye. I don’t have kids yet but I am married. I was blessed with amazing parents who let me enjoy childhood and see the brighter side of life. Growing up is a challenge. I also believe that it is a process we all should go through. I have been faced with many challenges with growing up but I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. This is a burden a kid shouldn’t have to worry about. They have plenty of time for that and wouldn’t understand the blessings that come from them.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Melanie, it sounds like you have a wonderful, happy head on your shoulders. Your parents did right by you, and you by them. Thanks for reading…

  22. Bill Hartman says:

    You girl …..have talent!

  23. Nancy Stambaugh says:

    Jaye, After reading this with tears in my eyes, I must tell you this is written with every mother’s voice. I am fortunate to be the great grandmother of eight wonderful babies, and these feelings only become greater as I age. Thank you for your eloquent words.

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Nancy, what a lovely thing to write. I don’t pretend I could speak for any other mothers, but it makes me very happy for you to think that. Thank you for reading.

  24. Gail Sanders Walrath says:

    Very thoughtful and truthful viewpoint, Jane. You left out a big one that you haven’t experienced yet–when your kids go off to college and on with life. Even if you were the greatest mom to your son ever, there’s a strong chance he will grow further and further away from you when he marries a gal from another state or country. I envy those with daughter-in-laws who actually make an effort to get to know you; to be a bit fair in sharing your son, even if it’s for one day a year. You spend your children’s developmental years teaching them to fly, and when they do, it rips your heart out. We taught our son, our only child, that his wife should always come first and how to work hard to make his marriage work (our own marriage is over 43 years now). We must have taught him too well for all the free time with my son and only little grandchild is spent at her parents’ house 18 hours from here. It’s not like this with daughters.

    The three of us were inseparable when he was growing up…we laughed and loved, and our son was forever running up to us and saying, “Triple hug!” Can’t believe that I have advanced degrees in counseling psychology, and I missed working on this with him when we were his life. We were so close that I never dreamed it could happen to us. But life goes on….we must celebrate the good things. Our son never was a problem; he made excellent life-choices. People like him, respect him, and he is a great husband and dad. So we did our job right when he was growing up–we gave him wings.

    I finally have learned that peace of mind is not the absence of conflict from life but the ability to cope with it! There’s no such thing as security—only the ability to live with insecurity. My hubby and I are retired, so we use that empty space in our hearts to rescue and foster animals and to mentor needy children. Life goes on it really does!

    • Jaye Watson says:

      Gail, I already resent that my son will spend holidays at his wife’s parents’ house. I’ve spent far too much time thinking about it(and let’s remember he isn’t even 9 years old). And yes, I’ve thought that at least I’ll have my daughter because…she’s a daughter. I’m sorry you miss you son. And while I want both of mine to fly, I know I’d already like to steer them, or at least clip their wings a bit(just the truth). God Bless you for continuing to care for creatures and kids in need. Thanks for reading.

      • Gail Sanders Walrath says:

        Thanks, Jaye! I wrote my last comment minutes after my neighbor, Jane, left from visiting, so I guess her name carried over to my post.My apologies for calling you Jane! Thank you for responding to my comment. If I had the chance to do it again, I think I would explain to my young son the concept of a son leaving home to go to school, have a career and to get married–that while his wife and his own children always would come first, it is nice to be fair and make arrangements to see your own family, too…that grandchildren should know both sets of grandparents. Stupid us! My hubby and I had many discussions with our son about talking with his serious girfriend about a potential married life–to work hard to be on the same page of child rearing, religion, finances. I did tell him how much time his dad and I spent discussing the type of parents we would be together so that we would strive for consistency. Our son watched us work on our budget together and discuss all decisions as a team. We disussed everything it seems other than playing fair and being kind to both sets of parents. I would encourage all parents like you to slowly discuss these things with both children. Your daughter may marry a young man who was very close to his parents, too. Teach her to include both families as best as possible. Basically, we forgot to tell our son to imagine himself one day in the shoes of his parents, the shoes of everyone he loves or befriends, etc. The sad thing is he has a precious four year old son. His wife doesn’t want more children, but my son does. She is a stay-at-home mom-so one day, there’s a strong possibility that my grandson will follow his own wife with no compromises, and my son will be heartbroken. I really do think I could have influenced my son’s thinking when he was young, but I thought it would never happen to us. This is not a selfish on my part and thousands more just like me. I truly believe that it is an opportunity to teach our chuldren even more about thoughtfulness, especially since the world we live in is so mobile now. Most people will have at least four careers in their lifetime; over half of the parents get divorced (if they ever married),etc. Folks now move all over the US at the drop of a hat. Gone are the days when all the parents, relatives, friends stayed in one place until they went to college, and many returned to their hometowns for their new careers. It’s a different world now. If we don’t teach our children early about separation and ways to make the experience best for everyone concerned–well, I worry about the whole concept of family. PS: I love your writing, Jaye–everything is so honest, funny, loving and down-to-earth. I belong to several blogs, but yours is the best I read, and the only one I read consistently!

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