I am their mother. This is my job.

standard March 1, 2017 Leave a response

When my children were little, the urge to guide them, protect them, shield them from the world was something I felt deeply in my bones. Even as I watched them struggle to learn new things, I found it hard to stand back, to not rush in to make it easier for them. I remember knowing, deep in my gut, that they needed to struggle, needed to feel the rush that comes from hard won success, needed it to grow and learn, but, nevertheless, struggling with it.

I’m their mother. Their guardian. Their protector. Their teacher.

It hurt to not fix, smooth, facilitate.

Logic almost always won out and I held myself back from intervening (unless they were in danger, because come on, mother, not monster). I even coached various family members who had a tendency to jump in with help before it was really needed, held them back gently so that the kids could claim their victories.

And then, as they grew, the challenges got bigger.

Instead of learning to scale a chair, they had to face the first day of Kindergarten.

Instead of figuring out how to tie a shoe, they had to learn to navigate the friendship seas.

Instead of puzzles featuring puppies and ponies, there were schedules, homework, relationships.

And, in parallel, the urge in me to fix, smooth, facilitate has gotten stronger and stronger.

I don’t remember the first time I tried to get on a chair, but I remember trying to understand how I fit in with the other kids at school.

I don’t remember struggling to tie my shoe, but I remember the pain of losing friends.

And every day that my kids come home, hurt because of some slight, or upset because they don’t quite understand the murky interpersonal waters of the pre-teen pool, a piece of me shrivels up a little.

I want to fix it. I want to make the pain just go away. I want to find the magic words that will make it all better.

And then tonight, as I was doing some much needed laundry, I remembered, that’s not my job.

My job is to give them the tools and resources they need to succeed, whatever that will look like for them.

My job is to encourage them to be their truest selves and gently guide when guidance is requested.

My job is to send them off with hugs and love so that they know that, however far they roam and whatever they do or face when they get there, they do so knowing that they are unconditionally loved and supported.

My job is to offer a safe place to land, a warm set of arms to hold them when the world is proving inhospitable, a soft kiss on their brow creased with angst.

And then, my job is to send them back out to keep on trying.

Because my job isn’t to fix them, to fix their path, it’s to be their support, their safety net as they become who they’re meant to be.

I am their mother. My job is to have faith in them and in everything they have learned and continue to learn from me, from their father, from the rest of our family, and to believe that they will be OK, even if their path isn’t the easy one I would have chosen for them.

And damn if it isn’t the hardest job in the world.

toddler walking away

 

Not Bad Mom, just Trying My Best Mom

standard August 10, 2016 Leave a response

As it so often happens, I read, heard, or saw a number of things this week that have collided in my head in one big messy pile that took some time with a pen in hand to sort out.

The first was the movie Bad Moms, which I heartily recommend. I went in thinking that I’d get a few good laughs and a fun afternoon out with some girlfriends. I came out with my head spinning with a mix of killer one liners and soul stirring feelings.

You see, without giving away any huge plot twists, the whole movie is about that endless struggles that moms face, dealing with societal pressure to be the “perfect” mom all while desperately trying to hold on to who we really are.

Bad Moms

Come now, you know all about struggling to be the perfect mom. But how about we admit that, between the picture perfect parenting displayed on Pinterest and the endless Fakebooking that everyone is guilty of to some extent, the perfect parenting bar is set impossibly high.

The worst part is that we’re somehow tricked into feeling like we can’t ever stop trying to achieve perfection, that the day we rest on our laurels even for a minute everything will be stripped from us.

The race to perfection starts as soon as you first discover you’re expecting and the “shoulds” start pouring in. Except they’re not couched as “shoulds” they’re couched as “if you love your baby you wills.” Which is like a million times worse.

If you love your baby you’ll take these horse pill vitamins. 

If you love your baby you’ll stop eating sushi, drinking coffee, taking hot showers, sleeping on your back or on your stomach.

If you love your baby you’ll spend a gajillion dollars on this crib, this stroller, this booster seat, this electrical outlet cover. 

If you love your baby you’ll quit your job/keep your job; switch to all organic; stop eating dairy; nurse until he’s 15; only dress her in sustainably grown organic cotton. 

The “suggestions” never end.

And of course we love our babies, so of course we want to do everything that is suggested. Because what do we know? We were just handed a squalling bundle and these “helpful suggestions” are the only damn manual that exists. (Don’t even get me started on the What to Expect series. Just don’t.)

The thing is, the suggestions don’t EVER end. Your kid just gets bigger and the stakes, so it seems, just get higher.

You go from buying bottles that perfectly simulate a mother’s breast to one day finding yourself pulling up at school, dropping your perfectly dressed kid off, hoping no one notices that their carefully homemade lunch isn’t 100% organic, or that you used the cheap detergent on their clothes.

Or, if you’re like me, you gave up the pretense way back when they were tiny and you realized that you simply couldn’t keep up and stay sane, so you just drop your Target clad kids off at school with their processed lunch and try not to judge yourself as harshly as you assume others are doing.

You’d think that the pressure lessens a bit when the school years start, that you have a little more time to to process everything and make your own decisions, but those are the years when you are simply expected to do more. Volunteer. Work. Exercise. Homework. After-school activities.

It. Never. Ends.

So, by now, for almost a decade, your entire life has been about doing everything “right” according to a code that has been created by a nebulous collective. You have spent countless days watching what everyone around you is doing to make sure you’re meeting this code’s standards.

So when you start freaking out about turning 40 and everyone around you says “The 40’s are amazing, that’s when you stop caring what others think!” your brain literally stutters to a stop.

A childhood of attempting to meet parental expectations. 

A teenagehood of attempting to meet peer expectations. 

A young adulthood of trying to meet first boss expectations. 

A young parenthood of trying to meet societal expectations.

And now we get to be ourselves?

How, pray tell, are we supposed to know who that is?

I’ve been grappling with that all summer long.

Then, yesterday, while I was walking the dog, I was listening to the Beautiful Writers Podcast and heard I either Glennon Doyle Melton or Martha Beck (can’t remember which, sorry) saying something along the lines of

“Women define themselves by the people they love — wife, mother, friend, sister, daughter — which is why we’re always terrified, because at any moment the very things that define us can be torn away from us, leaving us stripped of our identities.”

So, yeah, there’s that too.

So, in short, we define our identities by the people we love and determine our actions by what we assume people think we should be doing.

No wonder women are always stressed.

We need to stop. Like today. Not embrace the Bad Mom movement, just the Real Mom Doing Her Damn Best to Be Herself While Caring for Her Family movement. Because we’re more than bento box lunches shaped to look like Spongebob Squarepants or whatever else we’ve decided our kids can’t live without.

So here’s to remembering that we are people outside of the people we love, and that the people we love love us for who we are, not for what we do.  Because we’re freaking awesome just the way we are.

Cheers

I left my kids on the other side of the country

standard July 14, 2015 1 response

On Saturday I flew the two kids to the Midwest so I could drop them off at camp. Overnight camp. For two weeks.

I went to camp as a kid and loved it.

M went to camp as a kid and hated it.

Two differing opinions that warred in my head when we first learned of the camp this winter and I asked the kids if they’d want to go.

In my mind there was no doubt that camp would be a fantastic experience for them. Two weeks on a gorgeous lake surrounded by kids, going from one activity to the next…heaven to most kids. Right? I was even hopeful that a little separation would be great for Little L, help her become a little more self-reliant and a little less prone to asking for help before even trying something.

But I worried, because, in so many ways, they’re very much M’s children and taking them to camp halfway across the country didn’t leave many options for middle of the night pick-ups should things not pan out.

That said, the whole halfway across the country no middle of the night thing is also good. Sometimes not having an easy out is a good incentive for pushing yourself through the hard parts so you don’t miss the good parts.

But I still worried.

And then Sunday dawned and I had to load them into the rental to take them to the drop off spot. And then I had to hug them goodbye and leave them behind.

I was fine until that point. Riding my “Camp is a GREAT THING” wagon all the way. Until I realized I left my heart behind with them.

I drove away from the camp, headed into town for a few hours of sightseeing and reminded myself of all the good things camp does for kids.

I reminded myself that my job as a mom isn’t to shield and protect my kids from everything and anything, but to help prepare them for adulthood. Because, after all, we’re raising adults, not children, right?

My heart broke at the thought that I wouldn’t be there to cuddle Little L at night when she felt homesick, but I comforted myself with the thought that any one of her three counselors or the camp mom would be there for her.

My heart squeezed when I wondered who C would discuss her worries with, and then relaxed when I remembered she had her journal and a slew of new-found friends.

My breath hitched when I realized I’d forgotten to ask the director to make sure Little L ate, because she sometimes doesn’t and then she gets cranky, but then I reasoned that it would probably be apparent, very, very quickly.

And then I stopped myself from thinking of any other ways they’d be missing my ministering and doting.

I dropped my kids off at camp and I will not be privy to their day-by-day feedback. They’re going to have experiences I won’t be able to picture and might never hear about. And that’s ok. It’s sad, it’s hard for me, but it’s great for them. I will peruse the camp’s nightly picture uploads to look for smiles and happiness. And I will try not to worry if they look tired or a little sad. Because a nano-second captured on film doesn’t tell the story of a whole day, or a whole week. And I will remember that this is a GOOD thing.

For them, for me, for us.

I won’t always be there to hug them and pick up the pieces. I won’t always be close by for instant feedback or advice. One day they will be spreading their wings and going to college and then off to their own lives, and it’s never too early for them to know that I know they are smart, strong, resilient, and I trust them to stand on their own two feet.

Even if it makes me feel like I’m walking around completely empty when they are away from me.

Looks like she's not the least bit traumatized by camp.

Looks like she’s not the least bit traumatized by camp.

If they told us the truth about motherhood, none of us would ever do it

standard April 10, 2014 3 responses

This weekend, in one afternoon, almost in one solid sitting (at the beach, ocean lapping at my feet, not a bad place to be at all) I read all of Kelly Corrigan’s new book Glitter and Glue. I cracked it open despite being mid series in something completely unrelated partly because the wifi was down at the beach and I couldn’t download the next installment of the series (oh technology, how you so love to fail me…) and partly because I was about 90% sure my book club was meeting Monday evening and I knew that I wasn’t going to be doing much reading while at the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop over the weekend.

Glitter and Glue

Anyway, that’s why I cracked the book open. It’s most definitely not why I kept reading. Kelly Corrigan has a way with words that just sucks you right in and she just happens to write about topics that are incredibly close to my heart.

To whit: most of Glitter and Glue focuses on a period of time when Kelly was in Australia nannying for a family who had recently lost the mother to cancer.

Now, let us be clear. I do not have cancer nor do I have any plans any time soon to leave my family. BUT on the morning of the Monday I thought our book club was meeting (We’re actually meeting in two Mondays. Silly me.) I’m having my first breast MRI. It’s purely preventative, ordered by a very conservative doctor who has placed me squarely in the “very high risk, needs some kind of exam every 6 months” category because of my family’s history with breast cancer.

That said, even when you know that an exam is going to be routine and preventative, it’s still scary. Reading about children who have just lost their mom to cancer somehow makes it that much more real.

Anyway, that is neither here nor there. I’m sure I’ll find another time to wax poetic about that aspect of the book, like say, when I’m waiting for the results of said exam, but right now I want to focus on a tiny piece Corrigan writes at the end, an observation about her own mother.

She says:

“Family life wore her down. The daily mash-up of tiny, stupid tasks, like roasting chickens and finding the other sneaker, crossed with monitoring rivalries and developing emotional circuitry and soothing when possible, all the while allowing some pockets of time to feel your own feelings and pursue your own pursuits — it’s a lot to maneuver. But what compressed her into an old woman, what made her bones heavy and her joints stiff, what used her up, wasn’t the labor. It was the bottomless worrying and wanting and hoping.”

Right? Heavy. I know. But SO TRUE.

My doctor is always asking me how I’m doing and my stock answer is “I’m good, tired, but what else is new, I’m a mom.” to which she rolls her eyes and moves on to the next question.

But it’s true!

Parenting is exhausting. Mothering is exhausting.

You constantly have to

– remember everyone’s schedules, everyone’s needs, everyone’s wants, everyone’s hopes.

– watch everyone’s reactions to everything. Not always so you can protect them, but so you’re ready to react when they come to you for advice, or comfort, or even a push.

– know where everything is. Even when you’re on the other side of the country.

– sleep with one ear open, just in case, so you can hear the coughing, hear the tumbling out of bed, hear the tossing or the turning.

– be willing to be interrupted, even if it means that one simple task is going to take a bazillion times longer than it should have, because even if you’re not willing to be interrupted, you still will be, so you might as well be OK with it.

– keep a running shopping list in your head. You always have to know what’s in the pantry and in the fridge just in case you happen to be near the grocery store with 10 minutes to “spare” and can dash in to grab some essentials.

– be ready to be a coach, mentor, mediator, scheduler, therapist, nurse, doctor, homework tutor, family communicator, stylist, cook, chauffeur, house keeper, personal shopper, and whatever other little task someone thinks they need you to fulfill right then and there.

It is undeniably exhausting.

And yet, I’ve always thought that it was so worth it because it’s one of those “for now” things, one of those things that would end, would eventually leave way for me to go back to being self centered and focused on me. But if Corrigan is right, it doesn’t end when they suddenly learn to remember where they put their shoes away (they do eventually learn that, right?) all the worrying, and the hoping, and the watching, it never ends. And if we’re honest, that’s the stuff that takes the most out of us, right?

I’ve heard so many people liken becoming a mother to suddenly having your heart jump out of your chest and start walking around outside of you. I don’t agree. Becoming a mother means having to make space for an entire other person (or two, or three, or four… or however many you end up having) in your head and in your heart. People with their needs and their fears and their hopes and wants and worries take up an insane amount of space.

No wonder it’s so hard for us to remember who we are, what we feel, what we want sometimes.

A little later in the chapter Corrigan says

“Raising people is not some lark. It’s serious work with serious repercussions. It’s air-traffic control. You can’t step out for a minute; you can barely pause to scratch your ankle.”

That relentless thing , while doing a job that’s so incredibly time and energy consuming, that’s what wears us moms down. Ironic seeing as being a mom also means you have to be the toughest, most resilient person around.

I never had a career in mind when I was little. I just wanted to be a mom. It was my thing. I started babysitting and sniffing newborn baby heads when I was barely 12. I love everything about being a mom. All the tough stuff, all the good stuff, all of it.

But if I have to be brutally honest, I never expected it would be this hard or this exhausting. I doubt anyone ever could.