Cheryl Hughes: Influencers
There’s a scene in the Amazon original series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel,” in which the father, Abe Weisman, of the main character, Miriam, is reflecting on his life. He is at a restaurant with other friends his own age. He tells his friends he has come to the realization that he got it all wrong. He poured his life into his son and ignored his daughter, but it was his daughter who had courage. “Where did it come from? he asks his friends. “Her husband left her. He blew up her life, but she didn’t fold.”
In the play, “Death of a Salesman,” Willie Loman, asks the same sort of question of his friend. Willie has poured his whole life into his oldest son, but his son becomes a screwup. His friend’s son is allowed to develop at his own pace, with very little input from his father, and he is successful. This is an age-old dilemma.
I like to bask in my children’s accomplishments as well as the next parent, even if those accomplishments have little to do with my influence. I tell people about my daughter, Nikki, becoming a marine biologist—I need a depth finder before I’ll get into the bathtub. I brag about the focus it takes for my daughter, Natalie, to bill and code for Vanderbilt Medical Group—I would be hard pressed to make sense of my own doctor bill. We can set rules, give direction and teach values, but in the end, our children have to make their own choices. Still, for good or bad, we are influencers, just as we have had influencers in our own lives.
I’ve told you before that I hold mothers accountable for how their children turn out, and I realize how unfair that statement is, even as I type it. I also understand that the statement comes from personal experience. I see through the lens of a child taken from her mother. As a young woman, I wrote in a journal, “I was raised by the wrong mother.” I wrote that after meeting my biological mother, at the end of a sixteen-year separation. I will always believe that, however I know I have my stepmother to thank for my work ethic and code of conduct. (I have my biological mother to thank for my sense of humor.)
Recently, I’ve been reading First and Second Kings in the Bible. I’m fascinated by the stories. The thing that’s really gotten my attention is the influence of their mothers. As the record shows, nearly all the kings of Judah and Jerusalem were succeeded by their sons. When the sons are named, their mothers are named right after them. Here are two examples. “Manasseh became king when he was twelve years old, his mother’s name was Hephzibah.” “When Josiah became king, he was eight years old, his mother’s name was Jedidah.”
Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, the God-fearing king who sought the advice of Isaiah the prophet. However, Manasseh became one of the most God-forsaken Kings in the history of Judah. He was just twelve years old when he took the throne. What happened? He had an influencer. I think it was his mom.
Manasseh had a son, Amon, who became king after him. He was murdered, then his son, Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson, took the throne. He was eight years old at the time. The record reads, “Josiah loved and obeyed God.” What happened? He had an influencer. I think it was his mom.
See what I mean about how I hold moms accountable as the greatest of influencers. Still, even I realize there are exceptions. I’ve known some really wonderful women whose children have gone off the rails. When you think about the moms of people like Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler, there is no way those women created those monsters.
So what conclusion is to be drawn? We do what we can as parents, moms AND dads. We ask for help from God, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches. If we try to be the only influencer in our kids’ lives, we’re asking for trouble. I wish I had trusted more people when my children were little. I wish I hadn’t been so afraid of outside influences. Looking back, I see now that there were and are a lot of people in my circle that could have been wonderful influencers if I had just given them the chance.