Tuesday, January 15, 2008

what i learned from my mother about being a mom

i learned a lot about about being a mother from my mother. some of the lessons she meant to teach me, but the most profound ones were the ones she didn't know she was teaching, like the simple understanding that my children aren't me.

they're not extensions of me, they're not reflections of me. if there's anything of me in them i recognize, its a happy accident of fate. i can no more presume i know my children than i can presume i know anyone reading this. they have needs and wants and desires and dreams and goals that i don't have; they don't necessarily share mine. they have gifts and talents i don't, and i can't presume they have any of mine.

to that end, i decided to approach motherhood as if i were playing host to little aliens who arrived from outer space, as if i had no idea who they were or what they wanted beyond basic necessities - food, diaper changes and sleep. i knew not to assume i knew anything else about them beyond that. i looked at them like crayon boxes - with their own unique shades of colors, and maybe even a few i don't have,and therefore, would not see.

because i was aware that there were going to be things about my kids i couldn't understand, i knew i was going to get things wrong. i was going to zig, inevitably, when one needed a zag. i realized that all of us - even those raised by parents with the best of intentions - are inevitably hurt in some way - simply because we are not our parents, nor our children, and we simply can't always know what the thing to do is. because there isn't one.

and so my mother taught me, even before i was a mother, that i was going to make mistakes with my children, that i was going to mess up, that i was going to want things for them that they didn't need, that i was going to not give them things they really needed because i didn't know they needed them. they might even need things i couldn't begin to imagine.

it was inevitable. in the same way it was very clear to me that my mother had no clue who i was, i knew i wasn't always going to understand who or what my children are.

and so, even before i gave birth, i forgave myself.

i knew i was going to do the best i could with what i had to work with, but even that wasn't always going to be enough. when my children were born, i paid attention to their non-verbal, and then verbal, signals and cues as closely as i could. i balanced my needs with what i perceived to be theirs.

i made it clear to them that i was doing the best i could, and i expected the same from them. i made my own limitations, my own needs, clear to them, so that they could learn how to make theirs clear to me. i made it clear to them that my goal as a parent was to create healthy independent adults who rejoiced in their own uniqueness and understood how to roll with the punches and withstand life's viccissitudes, not to create for them some perfect experience of childhood.

i look back over the twenty seven plus years i've been a mother, and i realize that what i learned from my mother was how to be a better mother than she was.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.


Stacie said...

oh...put yourself out of a job as a parent. make them independent. that's a bloody brilliant way to think about it!

Beth is wfg said...

I love that you have been able to look back and see what you learned from your mother...even if it's what not to do as a parent! We carry so much forward from our childhoods when we become mothers.

BTW, I've tagged you for a meme. Check out my blog.

absolutelyacorn said...

You know I learned alot from my mother's mistakes, and from what she did right as well. I also forgave myself already. As much as I wonder what my kids will become, I wonder what my mistakes will have been when I finally can see them illuminated in that glorious perfect hindsight that will be mine someday.

Patrice said...

I think this is one of the best bits of blog you have written. Have you ever considered writing for a living? ;-}

I like to think that I didn't expect my kids to be like me, but because my first one is, a bit, I'm often surprised at how much my second one isn't! I only have two -- with more kids you get a better laboratory experiment!

My mother did a lot right, but she also did things wrong, as we all do. I too feel that I am a better mother than she was. But perhaps my kids don't think I did so well... I will never really be able to see it from their perspective.

thanks for this, annie.