I am battling my own ghost. How do you fight yourself? You know all your best moves. You know how she’ll react to any given situation. And when you emerge the victor, have you actually won? Because you just trashed yourself.
My ghost is beating me right now. My 18-year-old son and I went on a walk last night. He leaves for college in two days and I wanted his opinion on how to handle a situation with his 12-year-old sister. We’re not communicating well and I can’t figure out how to fix it. With four kids in total, I needed help.
“It sounds familiar, Mom,” he said. “I think she’s at the point where I was just a few years ago. I didn’t know how to communicate with you in a straightforward way. I felt like I had to strategize and plan so that I wouldn’t get in trouble. I think she hasn’t learned she doesn’t have to do that anymore.”
4 years ago I was a completely different person, and therefore, a totally different kind of mom and parent. I was angry. I was really angry. It didn’t take much for my kids to set me off. Or my husband. Or my friends. Or anything in my life.
I didn’t just have a temper. I had “righteous anger”. I was sure that I was right, I was in control, I had figured life out. If you were doing it a different way, that’s fine but don’t let it affect me. Because I was right. I knew the one, true way to live life and be a good person.
Let me be specific. I knew how to make sure my daughters would grow up with morals: I dressed them modestly. Even as babies they always had one-piece swimsuits and sleeves. No daughter of mine would dress like a whore, even at 9 months old.
I knew how to make sure my sons would know how to be a good man. I pointed out every move their dad made, holding him up as this beacon of manhood perfection. Do everything just like him: serve a mission for your church, get married at 22, work your fingers to the bone, assume you are right about everything because you probably are, you’ll have the priesthood. Don’t let the world tell you what’s right and wrong because they’ll be wrong, and you’ll be led astray.
I protected them from every evil in the world, as any good parent should. No coffee or tea in the house (you could become addicted!), devices were locked down, even PG-13 movies were off-limits. “We can’t risk that you’ll make the wrong decision, so I’ll make every moral decision for you.” That was being a good parent, right? No sexuality of any kind, no masturbating, no porn, nothing that even looks like porn if I squint my eyes. Dad and I barely even kissed in front of you. You don’t need to know anything about sexuality and sex and yourself. You’ll figure it out with your spouse when you’re married for eternity at 22. Don’t even think of it till then.
Seriously, that was the ultimate dream. That all four of them would be as pure as the driven snow till the day they were sealed in the Mormon temple for eternity. “Till death do we part” is for suckers.
When my brother-in-law got his girlfriend pregnant before his mission and marriage, I was devastated. I had known him since he was 14 and it felt like his life was ending. I searched for a silver lining to offer my Thurston family that I loved so deeply. “At least he’s not gay,” I told them. “At least they can still go to the temple if they work hard.” Everyone agreed and held on to that hope.
And that’s the bitch of it. Surprise! Turns out I, me, as in Elena Joy Thurston, these four kids’ MOTHER, am very gay. And another surprise! Turns out when I’m living my truth and not hating myself for it, I’m not angry.
I don’t have a temper. I don’t scream. I can actually sleep, imagine that! Now that I’ve learned how to actually like, no love myself, I don’t feel the need to micromanage everyone in my life. Now that I’ve learned to listen to my own intuition, I love giving others, especially my children, the freedom to develop the same skill.
But my kids don’t see that. Their lives are too short. When their brains were forming, when their little infant minds were making connections between faces and feelings, I was THAT mom. My ghost.
My ghost drove my oldest to move out of my house during his senior year. Can you blame him? After all, I was the one that told him “same-sex attraction” was a choice, and the only way to beat it was using the repentance process. It’s totally logical that he saw me as an impenitent sinner.
My ghost causes my youngest to jump when I walk into her room, hastily throwing the cute horse book she’s reading to the side, hoping she’s not in trouble. My ghost makes my kids question my moral integrity when they see a bottle of wine in the fridge. My ghost makes my kids feel weird when I wear a tank top. “Is my mom a whore? What does that make me?”
This weekend, with a son going off to Brigham Young University and a tween daughter who insists she’s happier when she’s not with me, my ghost is winning.
But here’s the good news. I know that my ghost is not me. That was then and this is now. I actually know who I am and get this, I actually know I’m a good mom now. My only job for these kids is to get them to understand that they are worth their own happiness. They are worth knowing what feels good and what doesn’t. They are worth developing higher level, critical thinking skills.
I am showing them on a very real, daily basis that my own happiness and mental health is worth completely changing my life. I love the example I am setting now.
My ghost can suck it. I’m here for the long haul. I’m here for my babies. Whether they grow up to be the most Molly Mormons and Peter Priesthoods, or if they have to come out. Chances are at some point in their life, they’ll need to transition out of what they thought was normal and into a new normal. They’ll need to create a brand new life whether it’s leaving a religion, a gender, a sexuality, or just a career change.
Now that I think about it, the timing is pretty funny. My kids should be stamping their feet and insisting that I treat them as the new person they’ve grown into. What am I not hearing, “Stop treating me like a 2-year-old! I’m grown up, Mom!” ?! Instead, it feels like I’m screaming at them. “I’m not that Mom anymore! I’ve grown, I’ve changed!” Maybe I’ll stamp my feet for effect.
They deserve to know they’ll be loved no matter what. As they come into that knowledge and start to embody it, that’s when the ghost will finally fade away. I guess I just can’t expect it this weekend.