We all want to be that “perfect mom.”
You know the one. The mom who always shows up early to everything looking effortlessly put together. Her children are always clean, polite, and helpful; her bake sale donations are always homemade; and her warm smile and calm demeanor make you stand in awe of her. That mom. Sigh. I am not her. I am truly the opposite of her.
Just because I rushed in late more often than I was on time, and my children were rarely the cleanest ones in the room did not make me a bad mom. I am a flawed, loving, imperfect, Great Mom! I have done my best to lead my children through some really rough storms. The worst was when Ron was in prison for 15 years, but it was during those years that we learned the most about the importance of becoming a strong family.
Through that experience, my children notably learned to become resilient, persistent, and courageous.
I often get letters from Moms who are in prison asking me what they can do to take care of their children. They desperately want to be a good parent—but feel like they have given up their right to be in their children’s lives because of the mistakes they have made. Notably, the most common question I get is, “Do you think my children will be better off without me?” Emphatically, my answer is “NO.” Mom, your children need you. Do not abandon them, especially during this very hard time in their lives. You are in prison, not dead. As long as you are still breathing, you have the chance to change your legacy.
In spite of my imperfections...
In spite of my imperfections, and in spite of being raised in a prison visiting room, my sons grew up to become honorable, respectful, and determined men. Best of all, they are both amazing fathers and husbands. The hardships we endured together truly became lessons for all of us. We used every challenge as an opportunity to thrive, not an excuse to fail. Was it easy? Absolutely not. Was it worth all of the effort we invested in our children and family? Absolutely.
“How can I parent from prison” is the next question I get. Here are 5 parenting tips for Prison Moms:
- Forgive yourself. When you forgive yourself, you free yourself to be the parent your children need you to be. If you hold onto your guilt and shame, you will parent from that perspective and create more harm for your children. Let go of guilt and shame so you can grab ahold of your future with both hands!
- Engage with your children. Whatever resources you have access to, you need to take advantage of to connect to your children. Email, letters, calls, and visits are all so important. Use them to spend quality time with your children. Furthermore, it is your job to find ways to connect with them.
- Talk and listen. As parents, it is easy for us to talk to our children, to tell them what to do, what we think about choices they are making, and furthermore what we like or do not like. The hard part is especially listening. Practice listening to your child(ren) and truly hearing what they have to say. Create an environment that in fact allows your children to expressly talk. Make it easy for them to talk to you and then you will be amazed at what they will share with you.
- Birthdays are important; very, very, very important. If you want to show your child you care, then do not forget their birthday. Find a way to make it special for them. Make them something, draw a picture, write a poem, design a card and tell them all the wonderful things about them that you love. Send it out ON TIME! This small gesture will reduce stress between you, increase affection for you, and especially remind them that they are not forgotten.
- Do. Not. Complain. Ever. Your mistakes created this situation, and your children are suffering because of it. I know things are hard for you, prison is difficult. But your children do not need to hear that from you. Your concern is for them. Ask them how THEY are doing, how you can help them during this time, and encourage them to share their feelings with you. Make spending time with you as safe, normal, and chiefly as enjoyable as possible. This doesn’t mean catering to their every whim or thus letting them complain constantly. This does mean taking the focus off of you and thus putting it on your family.
You have an awesome opportunity to truly create a new legacy for your family. Invest in becoming the best parent for your children and then change their world.
I am rooting for you!