A Mom’s Road to Hell Isn’t Paved
The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions
Who hasn’t used that phrase at least once? Please tell me that I’m not the only do-gooder, want-to-help-others person who’s stepped out too far and sailed into an abyss of self-made destruction. It wasn’t the cinematic Thelma and Louise Grand Canyon either — Ridley Scott smartly cut to the credits so we didn’t have to watch them crash and burn.
I was Flamed by a Woman I Knew
Before my estrogen-rich body was left smoldering by the side of the road, I thought I was a Mom like everyone else. I struggled with parenting issues, doubted my decisions, and questioned my rules. Then a friend started a monthly support group — like Mommy & Me — but without the teens. What a great idea! I decided to start one for Moms in the lower grades! Surely, I’d learned a few things over the years and could share some knowledge.
This new group of Moms wasn’t quite the same though. It wasn’t formed from friends — many were strangers to me. I should’ve paid attention to the blaring red warning signs: STOP. Stop doing things in the name of good parenting, stop swapping parenting stories and — most of all — stop hosting coffee mornings for grouchy women (I’m including myself here). Just when I’d started thinking of these ladies as friends, I discovered a coyote in the pack.
Someone Wrote Me a Poison Pen Letter
On my birthday an anonymous poison pen letter was covertly slipped into my mailbox from someone in the group. What’s more shocking? The fact that it arrived on my birthday or that this lady marched up to my front door with hate mail. She was probably wearing mom jeans pulled over her muffin top. I would’ve added a MAGA hat to her image, but this was a while ago.
Before I Share the Rest of the Story
The English major in me feels compelled to explain a few details about the oft-repeated aphorism: The Road to Hell is Paved with Good Intentions.
1. Who Wrote It — I didn’t list an author because too many people have claimed it and it has several meanings. My definition falls under what happens when a good idea creates unintended consequences.
2. Why I Chose It — I could have used a similar phrase — No Good Deed Goes Unpunished — because I certainly was. But, it didn’t pack the four-letter punch. And it was HELL to me. Science writer Temma Ehrenfeld does a good job of explaining this phrase in her Psychology Today article though.
3. It Was Good Enough for Madonna to Sing About — It’s such a ubiquitous idea that artists have crafted songs using it. Madonna Louise Ciccone has certainly been flamed for some of her maternal choices. But she looks “hawt” singing (complaining?), so there’s that.
Here’s the Letter I Received
*Edited to remove some name-calling and other spiteful personal details.
Dear Karen ( YES — I’m now cringing as I read my own name #meme)
Not sure if you know just how many people find your ‘parent meetings’ to be truly sad and distasteful. To form a group of so called ‘adults’ who sit around and gossip about other people’s teenagers is so strange and so sad. In a city as big as LA, there are some really, really good therapists and I get it…you’re unhappy.
It’s truly compelling how you hold your head up so high and yet everyone knows what’s going on in your life…so maybe your New Year’s resolution should be to fix some of your own unhappiness rather than picking on everyone else. Come on, you’re old enough don’t you think? It’s way more fun to talk about other people’s issues than deal with your own.
I’m not holding my breath that you will change just think you should know that all of the ‘friends’ you invite aren’t really your friends. They just go to hear what you will babble on about this time and make sure if they show up that you don’t talk about them and then they tell us what you say. I don’t know why it still surprises me and makes me wince when I hear some of the things you say and do.
FYI — -there are some great plastic surgeons here in LA who do really great work fixing bad nose jobs. They can revise your original work, so your nose doesn’t look quite so obviously done. Just an idea.
Signed — (no she wasn’t brave enough to sign it)
What I Wrote Back
Well, obviously, I couldn’t write back. How does one respond to a woman who hides behind her stationary? How do any of us respond to trolls who flame us on social media? At least it wasn’t very public. I had no way to answer or even correct her typos and grammatical errors.
I read the letter a few times. My mouth was dry. I called my husband. I called my best friend. I read the letter again and again and again. She knew personal details about my children, confidential information we’d shared in that safe space over croissants and coffee. We mostly talked about our own kids and their friends. But, yes, we did gossip. All of us.
I stayed away from school and all social functions for weeks. I emailed all the Moms and cancelled the group. I spent weeks trying to figure out who wrote it. Then, I pulled up my big girl panties and instead focused my efforts in the community and going back to work.
Many years later, I think that woman did me a favor. I had an image of what made the job of “Mom” a success, holding myself and others to a high standard that wasn’t always possible. She saw through my polished veneer and my unhappiness. She even saw through my rhinoplasty, although I’d always thought it was pretty good.
If I could write a letter to that woman today, this is what I’d say:
I’m sorry you didn’t knock on my door or felt you couldn’t talk to me in person. If something I said offended you, I apologize. You may have known some things about me and my family…but I wish you’d taken the time to ask me. We all thought we were sharing private information in a safe space, but I guess I wasn’t completely honest.
You knew that my youngest child had learning challenges but maybe you didn’t realize that she was cast out from her friend group and we were dealing with their internet bullying. You didn’t know that I cried for her at night. I did seek professional help for our family when we needed it.
You knew some things about my middle and oldest children — but you clearly didn’t know all the time we spent helping them navigate high school while avoiding the pitfalls of drugs, alcohol, and other teenage issues. The struggle was real. Why do you think I started the coffee group in the first place?
You may have thought you knew me and my husband, but I wouldn’t have used any of the adjectives you called us — we’re not perfect but who is?
If you wanted to hurt me, you succeeded in the moment.You wiped the smile from my face — the one I plastered on every day even when I was exhausted or sad or menopausal. I needed to take that fake thing off anyway.
Since I can’t write back to you, I wanted you to know that you made me question myself. You made me more aware — more conscious of how I am out in the world. That’s a good thing because the ME who wanted to be a better, more honest, person now knows that someone out there is paying attention.
I’ve heard the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Maybe sharing openly, warts and all, would’ve helped everyone, including me, a bit more. I know that now. I’m intentionally working harder. In the past year, we’ve all had to examine our words, our actions and how it affects other people, most of all our children. We all make mistakes. Each of us can do better. I’ve been trying; I hope you have been too.
Lest you think my story isn’t that awful, I found a few horrific tales of other people whose good deeds were definitely punished. Like any car accident, I couldn’t drive by without looking. Road to Hell people. Road to Hell.