05/09/2014 03:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

On Motherhood, Mayhem and Moving On

by guest blogger Renee James, essayist and blogger

"The world will break your heart 10 ways to Sunday. That's guaranteed. I can't begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else." Those lines, from tortured protagonist Pat Solitano in Silver Linings Playbook, sum up his feelings about his recent past.

I don't know about the world, although he's probably right about that. For me, the quote resonates a little more if I change the first two words, from "the world" to "having children." Yes, I'm saying that, out loud, without apology, here in a public forum: "Having children will break your heart 10 ways to Sunday. That's guaranteed. I can't begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else."

Before we go further here, of course, sometimes the heartbreak is tragic and forever. Parents who have lost a child don't need me to tell them how they feel or suggest how they even begin to start a different kind of life, one with an empty space that can't be filled.

But for many of us, it won't necessarily be tragic when our children break our hearts. It just happens. No woman ever held a precious newborn and spent a single second thinking about the day she'd learn of his arrest, or suicide attempt, or addiction problem. No woman cuddling an infant imagines her child might one day battle depression or another emotional illness--or that that child might self-medicate to ease the pain. No mother ever believes she's raising a son or a daughter whose words and actions will be the reason she finds herself weeping, tense, and jumpy, or simply overcome with sadness, trying very hard to find the silver lining in the middle of what seems to be a season of storm clouds. We all dream the dream and want our children to be healthy, happy, and fulfilled. And why not? It's possible, right?

Sure it is, but without getting into every stressful detail, let's just say I've had my heart broken a few times over the years, and not once did I anticipate it happening. Like Pat in the movie, "I can't begin to explain that."

Then again, why would my turn at motherhood be unblemished? Thinking that could be true was a sure sign of craziness inside me. It seems ridiculously obvious now, but I can't explain why I believed so ardently that my children and I would sail through the years with little or no heartbreak, that our life together would be one unending journey toward achievement, success, and adulation. Maybe some families do accomplish that--miraculously, if you ask me--and I wonder how it's possible. I give them all the credit in the world if they have.

Don't get me wrong. My sons and I have spent decades feeling love and compassion for each other. I'm beyond proud of them, and they've each enjoyed success and fulfillment in so many ways. But I've also lived through the effects of some spectacularly bad choices they've made and endured the feeling of despair that resulted. Sleepless nights led to days on autopilot when I went about my routine only to realize I'd been clenching my teeth for hours. When I scrutinized my role as their mother in all of it, the words failure, loser, stupid, failure, inattentive, worthless, self-involved, ineffective, failure, pointless, useless, defective, and failure all came to mind. Sound familiar?

I'm not asking for true confessions here, but the fact is I'm not all that unique. There are lots of mothers like me. It's just that we don't have a support group that makes us all not feel like misfits or oddities. There is no "Mothers Anonymous," and if there were, I swear I'd hold the first meeting. "Hi, I'm Renee and I'm a mother." What a relief!

I will say this. I've emerged mostly intact after the hardest of times due to my steadfast belief in two things:

1. My sons are kind, intelligent, thoughtful, and good--and they've made some mistakes, just like millions of others. I had to believe they would emerge from their own particular turmoil older, wiser, and (please God) more levelheaded and rational. They have. And I never stopped loving them; maybe that mattered somewhere along the line.

2. The women who supported me are good people, too. They are mothers who understand that sometimes, bad things happen in the lives of good mothers, and it doesn't mean you are worthless or that you made gigantic mistakes and missed something critical along the way.

To every mother who is wondering exactly where she went so terribly wrong, I offer this for consideration: You didn't. It's called life, and sometimes it can be nasty, sad, and debilitating. And I wish you a warm and loving Mother's Day. You are a force of nature who can get through just about anything.

And to my sons, who have ushered in a few dark clouds but also so many more blue skies than even I imagined 23, 23 and 24 years ago, I offer this wisdom: "There ain't no cloud so thick that the sun ain't shinin' on t'other side." Storms are part of life, and I'm grateful we can ride out them out together. Wouldn't have it any other way, guys.

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and also wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, PA, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (Or wants to, anyway), and welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

For more from Maria Rodale, visit