A Few Late Night Thoughts on Motherhood

motherhood post

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day.

It snuck up on me again, as it does every year. I usually don’t think that I’m that great of a mom, so it feels kind of awkward and uncomfortable to be part of a day where I’m supposed to be recognized and gifted with stuff.  If anything, I think Mother’s Day is a day where I should be buying my kids presents and cards and thanking Jesus they haven’t traded me in for another model yet.

This year is extra weird, though, because of the stupid coronavirus. My boys are staying at my ex-husband’s house since I’m working on a COVID hospital unit, and until we figure out a path forward since the COVID probably won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.  I miss them like crazy.  I even miss….oh my God….the incessant bickering that comes with siblinghood.  I miss my 9 and 11-year-olds still trying to sabotage my sleep every night by asking if they can crash with me in my bed. I miss the messes and the smart ass comments and even the groans about whatever is ending up on their dinner plates.

My three boys are troopers and have put up with this whole ordeal so bravely. They haven’t complained, they haven’t thrown fits, they have never guilted me about making a really hard decision that disrupted their lives in addition to how COVID already had with their school and social calendars.  Every time I see them and take them treats, they tell me how generous I am, how I’m the best mom in the world, and remind me as I leave…loud enough for their entire neighborhood to hear…to go kick COVID ass. I adore them.

Every time I leave a visit with them, me on the sidewalk and them sitting six feet away on the grass, I wonder if I made the right decision for them…wonder if the majority of the decisions I’ve ever made for them were right. No one ever gave me a manual for motherhood, and the darn part of it all is that I don’t get any do-overs. This baby just comes out of you, and they hand it to you all slippery and sweet, and send you out the door for home only a couple of short days later with minimal instructions on how to keep a human alive…much less how to shape and craft good people.

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motherhood post 2

I have been a mother now for 13 years, and while it has been incredibly rewarding, mothering has been the toughest thing I have ever done in my entire life. My journey as a mother has been quite the rollercoaster, has taken place across multiple states, and has morphed through a progression of philosophies and ideals.  The kind of mother I am today is so dramatically different than when my first son was born.  That poor firstborn child…he deserves mad props for all of my growing up that he has had to endure over the last 13 years.

When I was young, I used to be jealous of my friends who had stay at home moms. My mom was a career woman – a physics professor and educator who frequently jet-setted across the country to attend this or that meeting. Most of the time she never came to my sporting events or academic contests while I was in school.  I used to resent that, but now I realize she was just too freaking exhausted to be able to keep up with everything we had going on, on top of her own daily responsibilities.  She woke daily at 5 AM, and went to bed by 9 each night, teaching, maintaining a household, and commuting an hour and a half every day, back and forth to the ranch we lived on.

Somehow I got it in my head, maybe from me missing my mom when she was so busy during my childhood, that the best kinds of moms were the ones who devoted their entire lives to their children…the stay at home moms who drove their kids non-stop to extracurricular activities, kept the house spotless, made every meal from scratch, were crafty, either homeschooled or were super involved in the local school systems, and were patient in every aspect of parenting.

Oh, wait…I know how I got that idea in my head.  It’s because it’s the one that our society totally perpetuates, even if it isn’t always said out loud or expressed explicitly.

I tried really hard for a very long time to be this kind of mom.  And trust me, I know some moms out there who rock this role….they are freaking good at it, it is their passion, and I give all kudos to them.  I homeschooled for a couple of years, I got super crunchy granola for a while and made yogurt in my crockpot, I obsessed with whether or not my house was clean enough, I got the minivan, I joined mom groups at local churches, I read all the books on mothering, I tried to make sure my kids were only exposed to the most wholesome things life could offer, I let me own career slide because I was terrified that maybe I wasn’t a good person if I sent my kids to daycare even though I totally supported other working mothers doing so, I tried to be the best wifey so that my kids would have a stable household to live in….

And finally, at a certain point, I quite literally said, (pardon my French): “Fuck that shit!”

Because…none of those things were bad….they were great ideals. And for some women, that is EXACTLY the type of mom that they are genuinely meant to be and the conditions in which they thrive.  But they weren’t me.  And the more I tried to be the best version of that kind of mom, the more I felt like I was withering away and dying inside. I tried to be what our culture idealizes about motherhood…I even believed myself when I told myself this was what I really wanted….to be the absolute best stay at home mom and wife ever…but it wasn’t the authentic me.

I’m not crafty. I have banned glitter and glue from my house. Baking drives me crazy ’cause you have to measure stuff.  I spent a decade relentlessly cleaning my home as a married mom and am so sick of cleaning that I have since let my standards drop tremendously….and I just don’t care. I’m the furthest thing from an involved PTA mom that has ever existed. I let my boys swear occasionally according to a 3-tiered cuss word system we borrowed and adapted from The Simpsons. I stopped freaking out about every aspect of my kid’s education and instead focused on teaching them to learn to love to read and ask questions, trusting that those two skills will take them all the way.  I stopped reading every parenting book that only led me to feel more neurotic and paranoid that I was screwing up my kids. And, I went back to school and back to work, picked my career back up again, and have a long term plan that I’m pursuing.

I feel, finally, like I’ve found the real mother in myself. My brand of mothering may look different from that of other women, it may be unorthodox sometimes, it may not always be squeaky clean and photogenic.  But it feels authentic and real to me, and I feel like I’m finally showing and teaching my boys what is really important to me in life, rather than just mothering according to the prescriptions that I thought society and the Church had laid out for me.

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motherhood 4

It seems to me that being a woman and a mother are about two of the hardest roles out there.  First, there are so many expectations on women from our culture…be sexy, yet not slutty. Make sure you’re feminine enough, but make sure you don’t come across like a ditzy flake. You’re pushing 30…why aren’t you married yet?  Don’t you want to get married?  You’ve been married for two years now….when are the babies coming?  Don’t you want to be a mom?  Don’t dress like that…it makes you look like an old lady.  Don’t you know you’re pushing 40?- you need to bring that hemline down a bit.  Don’t be a pushover, but don’t be too assertive and confident or you might be labeled an icy bitch.

And then motherhood.  We are burdened with social expectations and because of the dreadful insecurities that are dug up in us, we engage in mommy wars. Oh my God…you use formula instead of breastfeeding? You’re keeping your kid out of preschool this year…don’t you know they’ll be behind when they get to kindergarten and ultimately fail in life?  Then, the homeschool versus public/private school battles.  The whispered conversations about how quickly, or not quickly enough, that woman went back to work after having a baby.

And on and on and on.  Sometimes all of these shoulds for women and mothers are brazenly thrust into our faces; other times, they are subtle, whispered, but felt just as strongly.

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motherhood 3

There’s a verse in the Bible that I have heard so many times, referenced by certain people about how we should parent.    “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he shall not depart from it.”

I kind of hate this verse, actually, because it’s been used to beat so many people over the head and shame them about their parenting outcomes.  More times than not, this verse is used in relation to external parenting tactics….routines, methods of discipline, household rules, etc, and is treated as a cause/effect law.  That is….if you mother properly, and do all the right things, your kids will turn out well.  It’s like a social contract….you do x, y, and z as a parent, and voila!  You have a perfectly crafted person as a result.  Oh my word, the number of times I’ve seen mothers ridiculed and shamed by other people when their kids made big mistakes or “went wrong”.

Mothering is not a science.  Not even close.  It’s hard and messy and beautiful and terrifying and relentless. We don’t get to choose the kids we get, and our kids don’t get to choose us. We don’t get to know ahead of time if our personality is going to clash with that of one of our kids’. We don’t know ahead of time what challenges we’re going to face, what individual struggles each of our children might have, what emergencies and tragedies will pop up when we least expect it.

And we’re never trained for what might show up in ourselves after having kids.  I thought I was fairly well adjusted before I had kids, and then that first one was born, and I realized that I was actually a goddamn mess with the emotional maturity of a five-year-old. How in the world could I do this kid justice?

Motherhood is not about being a put-together woman who wisely and calmly makes choices each day regarding her children from a place of confidence and contentment. (I”m very suspicious of people who are never, at least a little, afraid or concerned about their parenting abilities.) Nope, it’s a constant flying by the seat of your pants experience, recognizing that you are not equipped for the job, but by the time you’re a grandparent, you’ll finally…probably…know what you’re doing.  Too late for your own kids.  Oof.

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motherhood 5

It’s high time we collectively use our social imagination and rethink what motherhood is really about.  It’s not about being the perfect woman who martyrs herself and loses her identity for the sake of her children. It’s not about having the perfect house or being a great event planner or chauffeur. It’s not about never yelling, or always making sure the kids get bathed every night. It’s not about ensuring that they never see anything even remotely disturbing or difficult.

In my mind, mothering is about providing a place of belonging for our children, a place of acceptance and love. It is about holding space for our children, knowing that they have alot of growing up to do but are already perfect as they are. It’s about meeting their physical needs, allowing them to face challenges in life, but protecting them fiercely when needed. It’s about helping them find what they’re passionate about and allowing them the freedom to pursue those things. It’s about allowing them teach US what is most important in life and growing US up as human beings.

Motherhood is NOT about getting caught up in all the externals or how we present to the world or having to get it right all the freaking time.

No mother is going to get it perfect, and all of our kids will likely need some therapy at some point in their lives. But, we need to let women be who they are without forcing prescribed roles on them, and then embrace all the mothering permutations that come out of that amazing diversity. I’m pretty convinced that when we women feel the freedom to be our true, authentic selves without having to apologize for what we want in life…this is when the best mothering will result. We will feel secure and accepted, drawing wisdom and love from our truest selves, and that is the best place from which to offer the same for our children.

 

 

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