Monday, May 7, 2012

Mothers, on Mother's Day, Love Your Children Well

Classic Grimm’s fairy tales and countless Disney films portray the lonely world in which motherless children dwell. Snow White, Jack of Beanstalk fame, Bambi, and Simba grow with doubt and danger, sorrow and despair threatening to crush them. Still they are spunky, endowed with a faith that good thrives. And for their faith, they earn love.

How equally miserable are those children whose surviving parent remarries and abandons them while still on this earth. I recall two students in particular, their mothers alive and well, but devoted more to their new spouses than to their own children.

One young lady cut herself, tiny little slices up and down her arms. She slept through class whenever possible and grew less and less likely to complete homework. When I finally tugged the truth from her, she revealed that she didn’t sleep well at night because she was forced to share her bed with her half-brother, a toddler and bed-wetter. She lost sleep every night changing and washing sheets. She was also deeply depressed because her mother refused to cooperate in completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), a necessary step in achieving a college degree. The completed application informs colleges and universities just how much parents can contribute, how much federal aid the student can expect, and how much more students will need. Unless a student has met the standards for emancipation or can prove that he is independent of his parents, the FAFSA is essential.

My student’s mother had advised her that she would not cooperate in completing the FAFSA because her second husband, the father of her youngest child, her one and only son, intended to use all the family money on his son and spend nothing on his step-daughters. He would not allow their mother to reveal anything about the financial state of her second marriage either. My student had no recourse because in many states, there are no laws to compel a biological, divorced father or stepfather to help support a child who is eighteen years of age, but the custodial parent must still complete the FAFSA before colleges or universities decide upon financial aid. So without her mother’s help, this young lady was out of options.

She thought this unfair. She felt disowned and orphaned even though her mother lives still. Her grief was so large that she took a razor blade to her arms and legs, and she gave up on graduating high school.

A young man faced similar challenges. As a sophomore, excited to become part of Youth and Government, he had to stand at attention and make a persuasive argument in order to earn the right to buy a suit, tie, and dress shoes, requirements for Youth and Government activities. His mother abdicated and left the decision about new clothes entirely to the stepfather.

As a junior, the young man dropped out of all extracurricular activities because he needed part-time work in order to pay for his clothes, school lunches, and social needs. As a senior, he had to find a somewhere else to live because his stepfather placed Draconian demands upon him, demands that he now had the spine to resist, but he soon dropped out of high school—a very common outcome for kids who lose parental support—and he joined the Marines. There he earned his GED and managed to survive basic, but when his months in training ended, he was still not welcome in his mother’s home because it wasn’t really her home. It was his stepfather’s to command, and his mother refused to stand up for her son or defend him against her second husband’s bitter resentments. She forsook her eighteen-year-old son and denied him a warm homecoming.

He tried to be brave. He tried to believe his mom loved him, and he did not break ties with her. But his future changed from a boy who aspired to learn the law and hold public office into a boy who served his country on the hot desert. The promise and hope of this child broke under the critical eye of his step-father and the negligent eye of his own mother.

The young girl was still working as a waitress six years after her high school graduation. She spent the first year establishing her independence and supporting herself. She spent the next five working full-time and attending college part-time. She was still one year away from a degree and a career. A counselor and several teachers mothered her until she grew tough enough to bear the cuts delivered by a thoughtless mother who favored her man and son over her girls. Still I wonder about long-term, permanent damages, and I wonder what she might have become if her mother had not betrayed her.

So, Children, on this Mother’s Day, I hope you don’t have to remember mothers who neither deserve nor earn a call from you. Children don’t deserve to be betrayed by their own mothers just because they found another man to lie beside at night. Mothers, remember that you bore those children. They are your responsibility all your days. Don’t make them fulfill their promises in spite of you. Help them fulfill their futures because of you. Love them unconditionally.