Sunday, May 11, 2014

How to Be a Mother (or, Things I Learned the Hard Way)

"Mothers are all slightly insane." -JD Salinger

Mothers are not born.  Instead, they are carved in flesh from late nights, worries, struggles with discipline, and fretting every. single. day. over whether they are making the right choices.  Being a mother is the toughest thing I've ever done and, while I won't detail all of that here, I've climbed some pretty high mountains.

I didn't want to be a mother.  Fortunately, my Ex Husband was fairly insistent that he carry on the family name and, since I happened to be married to him, he figured I was the one to do the job. WHAT?

OK, fine.

I became a mother.  And I learned how to breastfeed and change diapers and how to try to soothe a fussy (screaming) baby while not losing my own mind.  He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  I didn't sleep much and I was scared out of my mind most of the time.

I didn't want to screw up this tiny amazing gift.  I didn't want him to ever feel a moment's pain or fear.  I became INTENTIONAL in my treatment of him...the first time I had ever behaved so with another human being.  When I approached him, I never swooped him up without first saying, gently, "I'm going to pick you up now."  Before he could talk, I talked him through our days together.  "In ten minutes, we'll leave the house and I'll take you to the park." I cherished the idea that he was a tiny human being and only in my care for a short time.  I'm sure I probably appeared nuts to strangers but it was so important to me that I honor his SEPARATENESS from me.

I became a mother again.  And I realized that THIS beautiful tiny amazing gift was completely different from the first.  He slept (I didn't realize babies DO THAT!).  He cried and, more important, STOPPED CRYING when he was attended to.  I was distracted by my busy toddler but I contentedly snuggled up with this one and put the housework aside as I PURPOSEFULLY enjoyed each moment of his growth.

Nurturing doesn't come naturally to me.  I'm selfish and irritable and all the things that mothers aren't supposed to be.  But I work hard at it every day.  Really hard.  And I think women should be real with other women.  We should be more courageous in explaining that mothering is tough and that it's not all sunshine and roses and beatific appreciation.

  1. There are days when you want to quit.  Those days, for me, came early on.  The days of crying, snot and fevers were tough ones for me.  I have never been a baby person.  They're cute and all but I am never one to volunteer to hold them.  There were so many days when I literally had to breathe deep and not run screaming out the door.  Dealing with beings who communicate through sobs, snuffles and grunts was not my specialty.  But even now that they are getting more fun for me all the time, there are days when I have to grit my teeth to get through dinner.  Some days, I truly just want to be left alone.  When you're a mom, "alone" is the toughest thing to come by.  
  2. It's OK to be real in front of your kids.  As moms, we need to show our children our emotions.  If we protect them from the bad stuff we're feeling, then they may be confused about their OWN emotions and question whether or not they're normal if they're mad/sad/confused/hurt.  I intentionally show my children my emotions and then I discuss what I'm going through (not in the "on the therapist's couch" kind of way but in the "I'm having a problem and this is what I'm going to do about it" way).  It's important for kids to watch you work through your own stuff.  I still protect them from some of the nasty, nitty-gritty I've experienced but I let them see the day-to-day struggles and the subsequent strength that comes from them.
  3. Understand that they are not tiny versions of you.  Oh, don't get me wrong; I see a LOT of my flaws in my children.  One or the other has my procrastination, my sloppiness, my temper, my drama, and on and on.  And I realize that I've taught them to eat dessert before dinner (hey, life is SHORT!) and I've encouraged them to be still (lazy?) and enjoy the small things in life.  I know that my parenting impacts them in good and bad ways.  But they each need different things from me.  And they don't need the same things I need.  They are not me. 
  4. It never gets easier.  Oh, they no longer cry.  But now I deal with different things like the lack of attention to homework.  I get calls from the vice principal at school because one of my kids feels like violence is the answer (when, in reality, it NEVER IS...why won't he get that?).  I struggle with whether or not my introvert feels isolated or if my extrovert is happy.  I wonder if I have ruined them because their father and I divorced.  I worry that they will be sitting on my couch eating Cheetos and playing video games when they're forty.  I want to be sure that they feel happy, safe and secure in the knowledge that they are loved.  
  5. Loving them is the best part.  I still look at them in amazement that they came from me.  I would die for them.  I know now what it is to understand beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would take a bullet for someone.  I would..without hesitation.  They're funny, kind and smart young men.  I watch admiringly as they hold doors for people at church.  I was thrilled to come home yesterday and find that they REALLY HAD cleaned the house for me while I was out for a couple of hours.  I adore these kids.  And I'm really glad their dad talked me into having them.  Good call, Ex Husband.  
I am by no means a "wonderful" mother.  Phew, this job is TOUGH.  I read books and magazine articles and I beg other parents to tell me their secrets.  I Google things like "what to do when your kid won't turn in homework." I am rarely patient and I am completely self-absorbed at times.  But I wake up every day vowing to try harder than I did the day before to give these boys what they need to grow to be strong, caring men...the kind of people the world needs more of.   And, so far?  Wonder of wonders, I think it may be working...

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