Becoming a parent is such a sudden event. One day you are simply making preparations to welcome this little being into your home, and the next day you need to put all your energies and efforts into caring for this person. Doubting whether you can handle this enormous responsibility is natural. When I became a parent I was overcome with this fear that I wasn’t doing enough. What if I hadn’t childproofed my home enough, what if I looked away for just a second, what if I didn’t hear my baby cry!
Then a remarkable thing happened when my son was just about two years old that changed my understanding of my powerful maternal instinct. My son and I were waiting to cross the street in downtown Austin just across from the children’s museum. I was holding his hand, of course, while waiting for the light to turn red. When it did and we were getting ready to walk, a car proceeded to make a right turn anyway. My arm shot out across my son’s chest to pull him back behind me. This happened in a fraction of a second before I had really processed it at a conscious level. Was that really me!
I guess our protective instincts take over where our children are concerned. Thankfully I had this epiphany early on in my life as a parent.
Most of my days in the past 16 years of parenting have been fairly mundane (not easy, but routine). When my kids were little tasks were repetitive for the most part. In fact I would often think that a couple of years of diaper changes were sufficient to erase any of the skills I possessed prior to becoming a parent. There were a few times when our lives were shaken from the routine though. Those were the times my expertise in other areas, like counseling, refereeing, teaching, disciplining, etc. was called for.
However, there have been a few moments in my life as a parent which have been more significant or meaningful. I still get a warm feeling or a sense of purpose when I relive those memories. One particular memory I have is of reading the book “Sarah, Plain and Tall” to my daughter who was 4 at the time. The story is about a family who loses the mother to illness, and the father who is overwhelmed with the task of looking after the children writes an ad for a mail order bride. It is a very short, well written and moving chapter book. After reading the book to my daughter, she looked at me and said, “What would I do without you?” Oh, my! Could anyone have verbalized this sentiment any better? I had never felt more valued before that moment.
There have been other times like this one which have served as epiphanies, though this moment changed the way I viewed my role in my family.
While teaching your kids to work on the practical aspects of their lives independently is a fairly well-defined task, teaching or encouraging them to be emotionally independent is much more tricky. There are so many people that our children’s emotions are tied to: parents, siblings, peers. I often find that my daughter (the younger child) waits for her brother to join in an activity before she gets involved. He, of course, doesn’t care about this at all :-> and takes his own sweet time. Sometimes it is quite amusing to watch; other times I find myself getting frustrated because it is a power game.
I have the deepest admiration for my son’s independence. He has always (since a very young age) been very independent. Part of this independence may have stemmed from his advanced verbal ability. Taking him to his very first day of preschool was such a prideful moment for me, and I remember it like it was yesterday. He (all of 2 and half years old!) walked up to his teacher and said, “My tummy was hurting, but now it is all better.” It may seem like an irrelevant comment, but it wasn’t because he had indeed missed his first day because of a stomach bug.
He has always maneuvered himself through every school, every summer camp, every vacation with great ease. Blessed with a great spacial sense he has always been the family navigator on all vacations. My daughter is always amazed that her brother is able to figure out where he is (and where we all are) in every new city we go to. It is really very, very remarkable.
However, now that he is a teenager, this independent streak frightens me! This is compounded by the fact that we have always encouraged this natural tendency. How do I now keep a tighter hold on him? Or am I simply being paranoid that his adolescence will be followed by his leaving home.
I think that mothering my son includes showing him the female perspective. This is especially true now that he is an adolescent. Being a neat freak and organized with household chores, I end up playing the role of the housekeeper in the family. I am often tempted to pick up after my kids, and I doubt that I am the only mother on my block who does that! How do we draw the line between wanting to maintain order in the home and ensuring that our kids don’t take us for granted. Frankly it is so much easier to fold my son’s laundry than to keep reminding him to do it himself. And then there are all the kitchen cleaning tasks that get done by me. With summer approaching I think this may be a good time to put a cleaning schedule for the kids in place.
My husband and I have different parenting styles mostly because we have different personalities but also because of our genders. I attend to the details in our kids’ lives. I know when our daughter is having a headache, and when our son is feeling out of sorts. I am the one who cooks our son’s favorite meal when he has a special occasion, and gives our daughter “facials” (basically a face massage that has a special name :->)
Most of what I have described is what all mothers do, and what mothers have almost always done. But there must be more that typifies mothers other than this pampering. Now that my children are teenagers I find that my role as their mother and as their friend/mentor is somewhat blurred. Very often I find that my gut reaction to something is not always the most effective. This is more so now that my kids are adolescent. They don’t always want advice, they don’t always want to be pampered, they want to go alone to their health appointments, they want to pick (but not pay for :->) their own clothes, and sometimes they’d rather fix their own meals!. So where does mothering come in when your kids are adolescent or older?
After much thought since writing my last post, I now believe that there is some correlation between worry and faith (or lack of..). What I need to work on then is my faith that there is some force (other than my motherly love) that is watching over my kids; and that that is enough. I have always believed in that force, but sometimes in times of stress doubt that it is sufficient. My son is 16, and in just a couple of years will be leaving the nest. Worrying about whether I have taught him all the life lessons that he needs to learn is just too much pressure and unnecessary.