Monday, February 7, 2011

On Mothering

When you grow up without a traditional mother, and when you then become a mother yourself, you feel a little bit out of sorts because you don’t really know what true mothering looks like.  Sure, you watched your friends’ moms when you were a kid, and though that was certainly helpful (and probably one of the reasons you ended up turning out okay) it’s not the same as having a normal, loving, nurturing relationship with your own mother.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t feel loved, and really, in a lot of ways I know I was lucky.  My mom was never abusive or mean to me or anything like that (the most I ever got from her was a well-deserved slap on the hand and the occasional raising of the voice), and my dad was pretty solid, but he was always busy working; he had to be…he had psychiatric bills to pay and a family to provide for.  Now that I’m a parent myself, I can only imagine how overwhelmed he must have been back then. I feel for him, truly I do, and I think he did the best he could.  But the end result was that he was busy, my mom was crazy, and I was lonely.

I guess what I’m struggling to put into words is that I never felt like I was anyone’s priority.  (I was kind of like that plant in the corner that doesn’t get watered until it’s droopy and brown.)  My dad would disagree (not about the plant, of course, though at my house it’s totally true) but about me not being a priority.  He would argue that the reason he divorced my mom was because I was the priority and he felt that the window to me turning out okay and me turning out not okay was closing quickly.  I don’t disagree with him, but I was 12 when they divorced…that’s a lot of years feeling alone.   

When I became a mom myself I vowed to do things differently, only I didn’t really know how. Therefore, I did what I had done as a kid…I watched how other moms mothered their children and I tried to be like them.

I watched “strict mom” and I thought, ‘Okay, I’ll be strict mom and not let my kids do anything and I’ll make them believe everything I believe.’  Of course, that didn’t feel right.  I want my kids to have their own unique experiences; I’m not interested in controlling their every move and thought.  I think it’s important that they figure out what’s right and wrong (not necessarily completely on their own) but certainly without their father and me cramming our beliefs down their throats.  Above all else, I want my kids to be independent and to go out into the world and, of course, to listen to and to respect the opinions of others, but at the end of the day, I want them to think for themselves and to form their own opinions based not on what their parents believe (though I hope they will always consider our feelings) but based on what they themselves determine, through their own experiences, is right and good.  “Strict mom,” needless to say, was not a good match. 

Then I took a look at “cool mom.” You know…the one who tries to be her kids’ BFF and buys them all the latest and greatest in clothes, gadgets, etc.  Not only does “cool mom”  buy her kids whatever they want, she also lets them watch whatever they want…be it movies, TV shows, video games, etc.  Whatever the kids want, “cool mom” makes sure they get.  Well, “cool mom” was a worse fit than “strict mom” primarily because I am so not cool!  But really, “cool mom” didn’t work for me because, as I mentioned above, I want my kids to be independent.  I don’t want them to grow up thinking mommy and daddy will buy them everything they want (don’t get me wrong, we buy them plenty), but, I want them to have that sense of accomplishment that comes from saving for something and then buying it for themselves.  I’m not interested in raising kids who think the world owes them.   Rather, I’m interested in raising kids who aren’t afraid to work hard to get what they want, whatever that might be.  I want my kids to find and follow their passions, and that involves hard work.  I think “cool mom” stifles her children in this regard because, by giving them everything they want, she robs them of that drive and determination that is absolutely necessary to go out in the world and stake your claim, so to speak.

If I’m not “strict mom” and I’m not “cool mom” then what kind of mom am I supposed to be?  (I realize being a mom is much more complex than just “strict” and “cool,” but for the sake of keeping this post a reasonable length I am oversimplifying…grossly so, I know, but just roll with it, okay?  We both have dirty dishes, laundry, etc., waiting for us and we can't hide from them here on the computer forever now can we?)  

As with pretty much everything else in my life, I like to think I fall somewhere in the middle.  I think at times I am strict and at times I am cool (or, at least moderately cool).  I believe in keeping a close eye on what my kids are doing and who their friends are, while at the same time giving them the freedom to figure things out on their own.  (One thing that has served me well from my “nontraditional” upbringing is that I learned long ago that if you fall down flat on your face you get yourself right back up.  No one coddled me growing up, that’s for sure, but you know what?  That’s not necessarily a bad thing.)  As for being a cool mom, I can do that every now and then.  In fact, I think the occasional splurge is not only fine, but downright fun and necessary.

So I’ll muddle through this thing called motherhood and I’ll do the best I can.  I’ll still look to other moms for tips and advice, but at the end of the day, I’ll be following my own instincts, thank you very much.  It’s too soon to say if they will end up being right or not, but so far the signs are good.  Our kids have wonderful friends, they maintain great grades, they are helpful around the house, and aside from the required teenage eye rolls and sass, they’re just plain fun to be around.   And you know what?  I’m willing to bet that even those who had the absolute very best in mothering probably feel lost and alone sometimes too.  The big difference though, and the part that I have to simply get over, is that they can share those feelings with their moms.  I don’t have that, never have, never will, and though every now and then it stops me cold, I’ve realized what I can do, and that is I can set the stage here and now to have it with my own children.  That’s all I can do.  That’s really all I can do.   


  1. Dear Jane- you are not alone. I have not had a mother for many, many years. Hang in there...we all Di the best we can.

  2. Thank you, I appreciate that!

  3. That made me tear up. You hid your loneliness well, my friend.

  4. I teared up writing it! Don't worry, though, the rest of the week will be light! :-) Thank you for commenting.