Do as I Say, Not as I’ve Done
Mother’s Day brings bittersweet memories of lessons taught by my mom, the last of three children born to a strong-willed, narcissistic mother who treated her only daughter as hired help rather than a beloved child. Thankfully, my mom was loving, quiet and accepting – everything her own parent was not. With my husband’s untimely death, she was supportive, present, the rock my children and I leaned on, but nothing could have prepared either of us for a future in which my seventeen-year-old daughter – heartbroken over the loss of her dad but also, unknown to me, struggling with her own identity – would join a right-wing extremist group.
Back then there was little information available online; self-education wasn’t the option it is now. No guides or manuals existed to steer us through the murky waters of white supremacy but my mother’s strength and unconditional love gave me the confidence to hold my head up, even when guilt and self-blame threatened to swamp me. “You’re a good mother,” she’d reassure me. “Look at your son – he’s a good kid. And so is she . . . just give her some time.”
Life plays unfairly but, if we’re smart, we can learn from our mistakes and those of others around us, including our own parents. “Do as I say, not as I do,” was my father’s favourite saying – one I hated hearing as a child. I didn’t get it then, but I do now. It’s what I tell parents whose kids are becoming, or have become, radicalized. “Learn from my mistakes. Do as I say, not as I’ve done.”
I’ve learned the hard way to listen with more than my ears. To ask seemingly innocuous and simple questions that can expose a whole world of hidden pain and fear. To keep an open mind, even when things just don’t add up. Now I urge parents not to brush off the warning signs as a “they’ll grow out of it” phase but rather to delve into their children’s inner-most thoughts with gentle hands and silent mouths. Our kids, I tell them, need to be heard, accepted, valued and loved. Unconditionally.
With my mother’s passing three years ago, I lost the one person who believed in me with her whole heart. I was fortunate to be nurse, advocate and constant companion during her battle with cancer, to be the “mom” she needed and each time I speak with an extremist’s family members, I feel her love and hear her voice, urging me on. “I’m so proud of you,” her spirit whispers. “You were meant to help others.”
My daughter, now an Outreach Specialist helping former extremists regain their lives, and I, are lucky – we were able to turn our lemons into lemonade. Today, we share our mistakes and hard-won lessons with other formers and their families, offering the same hope and support my mom gave us.
This Mother’s Day, it was my turn to say, “You were a great mom.”