Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Power of a Promise: One Mother's Message

The month of May brings with it "Mother's Day". For many it is a day of loving remembrance and celebration of mothers who created, nurtured, and protected their children. In preparing to write my blog for this special occasion, I found myself wondering what to write. What could I offer readers that I had not written about or that they had not read already? How could I encourage or inspire mothers, fathers, and their children? And then, I thought about my daughter, my role as a mother, and The Power of a Promise.


The Power of a Promise
Growing up in a chaotic and unhealthy environment, I did not understand what was going on around me. Issues of addiction and anger plagued our family and escalated over time. As our family grew, my mother became more emotionally absent, physically negligent, and psychologically unwell. Most of the time, I felt afraid and alone. By the time I was eleven, I no longer felt safe. By the time I was eleven, I made myself a promise -


 If I ever had the privilege of being a mom, I would do it differently. I would be a good mom.


~ I would do it differently ~
That promise, made so many years ago, has brought me to where I am today - rejoicing in the fact that I kept my word - not just to myself but for my daughter. Reflecting upon my journey as a mother, I share with you how The Power of a Promise changed my life and that of a child.

Power One: A promise served as my compass towards motherhood.

When I made my promise to myself at age eleven, I continued -as I had for some time - to observe and take note of my surroundings. I also kept a pulse on how I was feeling, depending on the levels of emotional upheaval or random periods of calm, and I made connections about their impact upon me. I also studied the home environments of my friends' families, especially when there were loving mothers in the home. One of my closest friends, throughout middle and high school, had an extraordinarily loving mother. I watched and I learned what a healthy role model was for a mother. I carried those lessons with me and called upon them when I became a mom.

As I moved through high school and into young adulthood, my promise continued to guide me in my long-term thinking and planning for motherhood. Recalling the incessant conflict in my home growing up, especially over money, and the horrifically anger-filled manner in which everyday struggles were dealt with, I knew I wanted to obtain my education and start a career first before having a child. I wanted to feel ready and be ready - personally and professionally. Although I understood one can never reduce all stresses which enter into a family, financial or otherwise, I wanted to give my child the best start possible to a stable life.

And lastly, my promise served as a compass in a very personal way. Early on, I felt it would be best for me, if I was going to have a child, to have only one. Of course, my husband would have a voice in this decision as well, and he agreed. After giving birth to my daughter in 1979, well-meaning friends and a few family members questioned my decision. Often times, I was criticized and warned of the harm I would do by having "one" child. I stood my decision and honored my promise.  For me, it wasn't about the "number of children" I had, but about maintaining my well-being in order to give my my daughter the best of me and the highest level of care possible. 


Age - 8 months
Full-filling my promise of being a good mom meant purposeful planning and preparation 
to become one.

Power Two: A promise sparked my healing and sustained my wellness journey.

When I made my promise, I did not have the vocabulary for what was going on in my environment. I just knew I didn't want to repeat it.  After I married and had my child, I knew I did not want to subject her to anything like what I had experienced. I knew I had wounds which needed tending to. I knew if I didn't, I would "mother" her from a place of filling my voids and serving my needs rather than taking care of hers.

The first time I entered therapy, my daughter was five. Although I had always felt moody and experienced bouts of depression around my monthly cycle, after her birth the symptoms worsened. I remember feeling frightened that my daughter would see me feeling sad or sense I was not available for her. I was frantic to find help, and with the assistance of a dear older female friend, I found a doctor who diagnosed and treated my condition (PMS or PMDD). At the same time, I also began my work with a therapist, recognizing unhealthy coping behaviors and replacing them with healthy tools. Keeping my promise meant taking care of  myself - physically, emotionally, and psychologically - in order to be fully present and available for my child.

As I continued my recovering journey, one aspect of healing which caught me off guard was the sudden re-occurrence of unhealthy feelings or emotions. For example, when my daughter turned eleven, I experienced horrible flashbacks and ugly nightmares. I didn't wait to get help. I trusted in my promise and turned to a trained professional to guide me through my turmoil. I learned about "triggers" and about "trigger points" in one's journey. I learned that my daughter turning "eleven" was one of those times. Whenever I felt vulnerable or that my healing  needed support, I re-embraced my process. By strengthening my wellness, it fortified my ability to care for my daughter's needs and nurture her growth along the way. And as the wounds from my past healed, I navigated motherhood - not from a place of brokenness - but from a place of wholeness.

Over the years, I attended Al-Anon; continued with therapy when needed; read lots and lots of books on issues of addiction and co-dependency; and I entered graduate school to study psychology. My recovery was hard work; however, as I was able to name my pain and understand it, I could move forward healing myself from it. Recalling how my mother's issues impacted my sense of self, image, and worth, I knew that the degree of healthiness in which my daughter was raised contributed greatly to her levels of emotional, psychological and physical well-being. Wellness became a priority in the raising of my child.

Age  7
Full-filling my promise of being a good mom required I do the necessary recovery work in order 
to become one.

Power Three:  A promise steered my parenting.

When I made my promise at age eleven, I knew one thing - how I didn't want to parent. And, that was a good start!  At the same time, I knew that I had a lot to learn along the way. I did several things to prepare myself and to stay true to my promise.

First,I read lots of parenting books. However, just because something was a fad or trend, I just didn't adopt it. For example, when my daughter was born, it was fashionable (and on doctors' orders) not to give infants any "solid" food until at least six months to a year.  This worked for a while. Then, as she grew, it no longer was satisfying. After a few nights of my daughter crying because she was so hungry, at the suggestion of my  mother-in-law, I put a little bit of rice cereal in her formula. It worked! She was so happy!! Regardless of current thinking on parenting, I always assessed what I felt was in the best interest of my daughter, her needs, and her unique personality before implementing any theory or strategy. Doing what was popular didn't steer my parenting - keeping my promise did. 

Secondly, I learned early on in one of my books how parents typically parent in one of two respects: either they repeat the same parenting styles as their parents, or parents (especially those who  have come from highly dysfunctional homes) turn to an extreme opposite style of parenting, often over-compensating for the inadequacies of their own childhood experiences. This was extremely important information for me. As a classic co-dependent from an alcoholic environment, I was a rescuer and an enabler. Although it was paramount for me to provide a trusting, safe, and nurturing environment for my daughter, at the same time, I also wanted to teach her responsibility and accountability. I read about authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative parenting styles. I studied the research and became informed about the consequences - both positive and negative - of all three. I leaned towards an authoritative approach - blending flexibility, compassion, and openness with meaningful expectations and reachable standards. Regardless of her age, situation, or circumstances, I was always mindful of how my actions and words impacted my child. As I revisited my promise time and time again - assessing what was working and what was not - I adjusted my parenting accordingly.

And lastly, in steering my parenting, I thought about my promise and the importance of respecting, validating, and loving my child for the unique human being she was. Whatever her interests, her talents and gifts, her passions and abilities, and her personality traits and characteristics,  I would do what I could to guide, support, and nurture them and her. I would not force her or mold her into the person "I" thought she should be, but rather open doors for her and allow for her exploration of them, if she so desired. I will never forget an important lesson I learned when my daughter was about age five. I thought she might like dance lessons, but I didn't think to ask her first!  After a disastrous semester of tears and frustration, dance was out! Tennis was in! My daughter loved to play all kinds of sports, dig in the dirt, and make all kinds of things out of all kinds of stuff. No tootoos for her!! Revisiting my promise reminded me parenting isn't about placing my dreams on my child - it's about helping hers to come true.


Age 15
Full-filling my promise to be a good mom didn't just happen - it demanded I remain open and receptive about how to become one.

In closing, as "Mother's Day" approaches, I know I have not been a perfect mom. Are there things I wish I had done differently? Of course. At the same time, as I reflect upon my journey as a mother, The Power of a Promise - made and kept - is evidenced in my daughter's own words at age 15:


A Happy Birthday Poem 


My mother's touch is worth the highest price.
Ever so gently, soft, graceful fingers glide over my skin.
Love seems to spread over me ever so perfectly.
Yes, my mother's touch is worth the highest price.

My mother's love is worth the highest price.
Her love and direction has supported me since day one.
Yes, my mother's love is worth the highest price.
Which I shall never sell for as long as I live.

~ A Promise Made and Kept ~


Special note to parents and guardians ~

I believe if we choose to become parents or guardians, it is our most important role in life.  And even under the best of circumstances, it is our most challenging. I have met and known many parents who have been extraordinary, and still by not fault of their own they have experienced incredible heartache and tragedy. Others have sacrificed everything only to have their children fail, falter, and find themselves lost to self-destructive influences, behaviors, and substances. My heart goes out to all who have suffered. In parenting, there are no guarantees, even when we do our very best.

Fortunately, today there are many resources at our fingertips. Please don't hesitate to reach out if you are struggling and even if you are not. We all need a little guidance sometimes.  For more encouragement and support on parenting:

Please visit  Another Way - For For Parents and Guardians on my website Holli Kenley. There are two free downloads: Parenting Styles and Strategies and Conversation Starters.  And, there are some additional sources of support under the Resources Tab.

Also, pick up a copy of   "Another Way" . Although it is a novel for your tweens - teens, a chapter was added especially for parents/guardians entitled - Offering Another Way To Parents. 

~ We all need a little guidance sometimes ~

For more empowering books, tools, and strategies, visit Holli Kenley
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