It occurs to me that I don’t write much about being a mother. The reasons are simple. I have no idea what I’m doing. I use my instincts. But I have no exact answers. It took me years to accept that my mom and dad “did their best.” They didn’t purposefully f*ck with me. And now, I take all that and do the same. I do my best. And I think that has to be enough. I will look back, when my children are gone, and know that I did my best with what I had. No matter the outcome.
interruptions & change
My daughter just woke up, her face is red and puffy from sleep. She’s regaling me with a play-by-play of a book she finished late last night. She is going on, and on, and on! Step-by-integral-step of the harrowing story of a boy who escapes an earthquake. I don’t care, but — it’ is important that I listen. All I want to do in this moment is sip my first cup of coffee of the day and write. But I listen. Nodding and “Um humming” at what I hope are the right moments. I am listening. Sort of. I am also distracted and hoping she doesn’t notice. Ironically, in this moment being her mom means listening to her.
That pull of my desires against the desires of my children is one of the most complicated things about being a mother. The choices we make, day by day, hour by hour. We’ve all felt that tension.
Children are always “interrupting” all the other things I’m doing. But when one comes running up the stairs in tears because they got walloped in the eye playing Wii they still run for the comforting kiss right on the spot, my ‘magic’ kiss still has power to heal. (Mothers have magic kisses if you didn’t know.) The day they stop wanting those kisses will mean they have moved on to the next stage of their development. I have four very different kids so that day will be different for each of them. I cannot prescribe it. But I won’t stop until they push me away.
They grow. I grow. We keep adapting, all of us. The whole family continues to change.
Tom declared on Wednesday that he thinks the kids are too old to sleep in our bed. This has been a long time in coming. It’s really the nine-year old that likes to go to sleep in my bed. Being a musician Tom is often up late in his studio, perhaps five nights a week. I get up at 5 am so I go to bed when the kids do. I savor those few minutes of reading myself to sleep. J just likes to be with me and so we’ve developed a habit (some might say an unhealthy one, to which I say rubbish!) of letting him “warm up” Tom’s spot by falling asleep there. I like the companionship.
Is this a bad habit? I don’t know whether I’ve let it go on for so long for myself or for J. Is he too old? Parenting is full of lots of conflicting ideas. And when Tom says J is too old to do it anymore, I really think Tom feels too old to do the required transporting back to the boy’s room, up the ladder and back into his own bed. And then we also have to deal with the other two who are jealous of this time. It then becomes something “special” for which they are compelled to compete for Mom. I’m sure plenty of expert mothers would want to tell me all the ways this is harmful. I don’t know. Mostly, I don’t care. But I respect Tom’s wish to fall into bed at one in the morning and not have to move a near comatose child. So we changed. And I must learn to go to bed alone. And so does J. It’s hard to grow up no matter your age.
I have had moments over the last seventeen years of asking myself what were you thinking becoming a parent? I write about how I was raised and what that did to me knowing that based on what I experienced I am not qualified. I realized the other day that I don’t know what it feels like to believe you are loved unconditionally by your parents. If that’s true, and it is, then how do I possibly convey unconditional love to my kids? Can I? I believe in it intellectually and even on a spiritual level. But I don’t get it. Tom shows it to me – for sure. So I wrestle with what he does that helps me believe him? And to this day, my internal voice is pure disbelief. You surely cannot love without conditions, without criticism, without expectation, without a grumpy disapproval, without your own insecurity pushing you to love … If you haven’t experienced it. Then how do I know my kids are feeling it from me?
I think unconditional love is the most important quality a parent should have. Then you can push, and you can encourage, and even disapprove. They will know they are okay. Somehow Tom’s parents managed to show him that kind of love. These are the things that I think make me unqualified to be a parent.
Some days I think I’m just a reactionary. I react to how I was parented. I react to things my kids are doing. I react to books. I react to teachers. I react to the culture. I am not very good at deciding a good way of doing something and sticking with it — mostly because I don’t think there is a right way. I really needed about five years of study on parenting before I even got started. And that’s an absurd impossibility. Who has the time? So we learn as we go.
I became a mother the day we married in 1993, a year before I was a footloose single woman planning on heading to the mission field. I didn’t think about kids. They simply weren’t. They didn’t exist in my worldview. Falling in love with Tom, hard and fast meant learning to love his four and a half year old daughter. And when we married I became an instant mother – the “extra” mom to a five-year old daughter. Extra or Other — whatever you get called, being a step-mom was a crash course in parenting. And like nothing I had experienced before in my life, it brought out my insecurities and need for control! Wow! Perhaps some day, perhaps, I will write about the years that I worked in full-time ministry while parenting a step child and having three biological kids. I’ll call it “How I was an Ugly, Paranoid, Controlling Step-Monster.” My daughter M graciously loves me still and has forgiven me for those years. When she moved back in recently, at 22, I realized God is gracious and gave me a do-over.
Here’s the thing. I believe kids just want to be loved and kids are the most forgiving of all people. All they know is you. You are their parent. Okay, later they will figure some things out. Like perhaps you didn’t know anything. That’s the risk. That’s the fun! And then when they become a parent, well, perhaps you won’t look quite so crazy.
Luckily we have twenty years with our kids and have time to make adjustments.
I have learned is that there are no rules. Rules in parenting is crap. The best guide for me has been my gut. My gut has never failed me. My gut disagrees or sometimes agrees with parenting books. My gut disagrees or sometimes agrees with other parents giving advice. My gut disagrees or agrees with pediatricians, teachers, supposed experts. If you follow your gut, your intuition, I believe you’ll be okay, eventually.
For many years I doubted my gut and my voice because I doubted myself. My own insecurities played into who I listened to and what I believed. I’d boomerang from one theory to another intellectually. But in practice usually my inner voice said do this or don’t do that. We make mistakes. We are unusually lax in response to having strict parents or vice versa.
asian vs. any other parenting
I have not read Amy Chua’s book, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother mostly because there’s a lot about the stereotypical Asian parenting style that I respect, but I know I don’t have the will power to follow through on. So it would just make me feel bad and I am really not in to feeling bad about myself right now. So I’ve ignored the articles, reactions and furor.
Frankly many modern parents are far too lax with their children, but I have seen this with every kind of parent from many different cultures. I know that I could and perhaps should push my children harder. I mean, now I wish I had been pushed academically. In hind sight, I was a slacker, intelligent but insecure and I would have benefited from my parents lovingly pushing me just a bit more (or a lot more!) On the other hand, I felt I never measured up to what my dad expected of me. I lived in that limbo of that craziness. His insecurities drove him and we were a reflection of him. We were a mirror of his success or not. This is a very Asian characteristic I have been told by one of my friends who is also Asian.
And so I push my intelligent but lazy daughter, but not too much I hope. I consistently fight the internal shame that says I don’t expect enough of her and I am the thing standing between her and Harvard or Yale Law school. Me. And then the countering voice reminds me what I really believe. That she needs to find the balance herself. Know that she’s loved no matter what she chooses but also know that more opportunities will be open to her if she applies herself academically and learns to work hard. I want each of my children to be able to ask the question what they want? Then help them to see what they have to be willing to do, in order to get it. By empowering my daughters especially in those moments they learn their own power. It is a choice. I hope I am right. My gut tells me I am. In the end that’s all I have. My boys are different, completely and my approach is also different but instilling in them a sense that they control their future is important.
I have a Japanese friend and I love how she parents. She is an incredible mother and I learn from her every time we get together. “When I am cleaning my children are cleaning“, she tells me. Wha? I am so not there! To be honest my kids emulate Tom and I who hate to clean. Do I want to be more like my friend? Hell yes! I guess what I am saying is that there is something to be learned from a culture that promotes hard work, excellence, pride and discipline. I admire it. I want those to be things my children learn from me. But no, my ten year old does not know how to clean the toilet. I find that reflexively parent like I was parented — growing up cleaning is a pain! To be avoided or to be endured, … If I want to change this little legacy in my family it will take effort and discipline. I don’t know if I want to make the effort. I don’t know if I have the discipline. Which is where I started above. I find a lot of things are great ideas but practically speaking I am unable to maintain them. We all have to know ourselves.
what’s your highest calling?
This morning I read something that startled me but I agree with it:
“… parenting is not our highest calling! Faithfully serving & following after Christ is our highest calling! — SortaCrunchy
We are going to make mistakes, perhaps even a lot of them. You’ll compare yourself to others and wonder if perhaps their way is better. But in the end you have to look at your kids, unique individuals that they are as well as look at yourself and your partner/spouse who are also unique people, and do your best.
Our calling is to follow Christ. Behave as he did. Emulate him. Do our best. And if I can let go of all of the above and relax, well then there’s hope for us all. It’s not simple nor would I ever want to imply that. But there is a level of trust you must have in yourself, in the person you partner with to parent and in God.
This is what got me thinking this morning. http://rachelheldevans.com/moms-scare-me