By Suzie Eller
As I held my newborn daughter close, I thanked God for the beautiful blue-eyed, wispy blond haired miracle. My next words were just as heartfelt. “Dear Lord,” I whispered, “please help me not mess this up.”
As far back as you can see in my family tree there are broken women. One generation after another handing down a battered piece of baggage, well-worn by time, as
if to say, “It’s all I’ve got to give. Here’s your legacy. Hope it works better for you.”
When I was growing up, my mother dug deep into that legacy. It simply wasn’t enough. Her first child was born when she was only 16. She married a man who didn’t treat her right. One divorce, a remarriage and six children later she struggled with suicidal thoughts and a plethora of emotional lows and highs. Some days were normal. Others chaotic and frightening. My mother’s brokenness was fracturing me.
In high school a friend told me God was real. Hurting, angry, distrustful, I wasn’t sure if it was true, and yet somehow God worked His way past my damaged heart. That day nothing at home changed, but everything began to change inside me.
A few years later I was a young wife and new mom. When I prayed I wasn’t asking God for a perfect home, but a family filled with laughter, a stable home, and a life saturated with His love.
He answered that prayer, over and over again. It wasn’t easy becoming the mom I wanted to be, but I discovered with God’s help it is possible to grow a new branch of your family tree.
Let Go of the Past
To be the mom I wanted to be, I had to let go of the past. It could either be an anchor that kept me stuck, or I could discover who I was in spite of the past. To let go meant I needed to forgive.
Forgiving the past wasn’t easy in the beginning. But if I truly wanted to give my children something greater, I couldn’t hand them a legacy of unresolved anger or hurt. Forgiving didn’t make the events of the past acceptable, but it did allow me to look at the events through the eyes of an adult, rather than a child.
Forgiving was a choice – one that I made often. Sometimes I forgave only to pick up the resentment again. Even after my mother began to heal, I still struggled. Each time I struggled, my Heavenly Father asked me to let go … of the hurt … of anger. With time, I began to see my mother through the eyes of grace. But more powerfully, I started living fully in the present. The past no longer weighed me down.
Unpack Your Legacy
When I looked in my tattered baggage I saw a legacy of alcoholism, rage, an inability to handle conflict, fear, lack of confidence, and so much more.
It was time to start unpacking.
First, I had to be honest with myself. Was I carrying a version of this legacy into my present relationships? One trait that ran in my family tree is that when times get hard, the women in my family “run, baby, run.” For my grandmother, the inability to handle conflict meant that she abandoned her children for a week or two at a time. For my mother, it was threats of suicide. For me? I brushed it under the rug. I avoided fights at all costs, even if the unresolved conflict loomed as large as a mountain.
A parenting or relational pattern may not be as damaging in the next generation, but if we allow any version of it in our relationships, it’s still an unhealthy legacy. I had to learn that even normal families have conflict and learn to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
Grace, Grace, Beautiful Grace
As I sat down to write “The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future,” my mother and I talked through every chapter. We sat side-by-side and she told me stories of her own mother and the effect she had on her. She shared how it felt to be a mom long before she was ready. She explained how she desperately wanted to be a good mom, but no one had showed her how.
It created a new chapter in our relationship as I viewed our story through her eyes.
For some of you, the things you went through as a child were horrific. In no way am I saying that it is acceptable, but often, even after a person has changed, we hold them tight in the fist of their mistakes.
Sometimes grace is reconciliation. Sometimes it’s foregoing the need to punish for the past. In some cases it’s keeping your distance (if the unhealthy patterns continue) as you pray for God’s best for that person. Whatever it looks like in your unique situation, the end result is compassion.
Fill the Gaps
There were serious gaps in my mothering and relationship skills. Parenting books helped. Watching other mothers whom I respected showed me new ways to parent. Not being afraid to ask for help was key, but faith was also a valuable tool. You see, God knows me best. He didn’t see me through the eyes of my past, but recognized all the qualities He had so tenderly placed inside of me from the very beginning. There were moments I went into a dark room, saying, “God, I don’t have a clue. Will You show me the way?”
In those moments He gave me much-needed grace. As I walked back into the role of mom to three young children, He let me know that while the past shaped me, it didn’t define me, or what He could do through me. That grace also revealed the type of mom I could be, with His help.
One year ago I held another beautiful girl in my arms. My granddaughter Elle was born a blue-eyed blonde, just like her momma. When I held her for the first time I couldn’t help but acknowledge that 28 years earlier a young mother’s prayer had been answered powerfully. As far back as little Elle can see all that she will find is a healthy family tree.
I wasn’t a perfect mom. I made mistakes. But my home was a place of laughter and stability. It was a home wrapped in God’s love. It’s still the place I love to be.
Suzie Eller is a Proverbs 31 Ministries writer and speaker. She is the author of “The Mom I Want to Be: Rising Above Your Past to Give Your Kids a Great Future.” She hosts a thriving group of moms at www.facebook.com/MomsTogether. She is a mom, wife and Gramma to the people she loves best! Connect with Suzie at www.tsuzanneeller.com.