Sunday, May 13, 2012

The "Joy" of Motherhood

I had all sorts of grand ideas on what would happen (and wouldn't happen) when I became a Mother.  I would have a natural birth.  I would go for stroller walks everyday to get fresh air and exercise.  I would keep plastic crap to a minimum.  My kids wouldn't eat in the car or eat McDonalds at all.  I would speak patiently and calmly to my disobedient children.  My house would be clean and I would not have toys thrown around like it was some sort of booby trap.  I would never make more than one meal and the whole family would eat it (and I would never finish the food on their plate). My kids would blissfully fall asleep in corners so that my husband and I could retain our social life.  The list goes on and on.  I wasn't saying it to be judgmental of other Mothers, I just knew the kind of Mother that I was going to be (you can feel free to roll your eyes back and laugh.  My Dear Aunt would whenever I would tell her these things). 

he doesn't deal well with change
And after a crazy bed-rest pregnancy, scary labor, and then emergency c-section, my son was born.  He was the feistiest baby ever met.  Even my Grandmother (his GG), who had 4 of her own children, 15 grandchildren, and worked in the nursery at church, said she had never met a baby (before or since) she couldn't console, until my son.  At the hospital, my best friend could tell what room they moved me to because we had the loudest baby in the whole place.  I couldn't claim colic, he was just bad tempered.  I literally wept when they told me that I had to go home from the hospital after 4 days.  He single-handedly taught me about the kind of mother I would be, and he did it in record time.  Now, with 11 years of hind-sight, here is the advice I would have given myself from the beginning, they are not in order of importance:

Listen to Seasoned Mothers--  From the very moment my child was born, I was bombarded (sometimes rudely) with all the things I was doing "wrong"; from the way I breastfed to the paci to the warmth of the clothing (or lack there of) that my child was wearing.  I reacted defensively, maybe not externally but at least internally, and it took a little while for me to take a deep breath and listen to the point of what they were saying without taking it personally.  This didn't mean adopting every crazy idea, but it did mean listening when they have advice.  They've been through this before and although I was sensitive at first, I learned quickly that they are just trying to save me later.  I still use my instincts and good judgement but I stopped worrying about being judged for my Mothering. I learned to sincerely say, "THANK YOU!  I can use all the help I can get!  That is a very interesting idea; I'm going to have to think if that will work in our situation."  Sometimes it does.  Sometimes not, but I learned to ask everyone and even listen to advice that I haven't asked for (that said, I try to rarely give advice unless I'm asked, or it's my sister, or I am blogging :).

Mothering is Humbling -- NEVER EVER claim to have found the key or life will teach a lesson, which isn't fun.  The one thing that I thought I did right in parenting is that my son ate anything, and still does.  He eats spicy salsa, tikka masala, curry, jambalaya, salmon, asparagus (not a big fan of casseroles).  I had a rule in our house that he could eat what we were eating or he could eat plain cheerios.  I felt like I had it mastered (and proceeded to brag to many people), until our Dear Daughter came of solid food age and only ate things covered in cheese or ketchup. If I gave her cereal, she wouldn't eat until she was offered what she loved, at which time she would gorge herself (sometimes until she was sick).  I realized quickly that this method was going to lead to future eating disorders and sure enough, began making an extra meal for the family.  Since then, whenever I'm asked for advice I start with, "Well, this worked in our case but I can't make any promises for you..."

Ask for Help & Let it Go -- Sometimes, I hit a wall.  When my DH was in grad school and I was alone with 2 throwing up babies, I remember swallowing my pride and calling my Mother-in-Law for help.  She washed clothes and towels and let me shower.  She wiped down walls and cleaned up the carpet.  Not always is it that dramatic.  Sometimes it is just allowing someone else, who happens to be more patient at the moment, to take my sticky child to the sanitizer or letting it go and realizing that this time, my child just might not get sanitized.  Or letting the floor be covered in toys.  Or letting your child play with beer under the table (right next to a live extension cord?!?!).  My DS had a paci until he was 3.  I tried, but just couldn't get rid of it.  My Mother in Law got rid of it and my daughter's sippy cup of juice before bed while she was watching them.  When my own Mother comes to visit, she goes on a cleaning rampage, my screens, stove, bathrooms, fish tank, fans, etc.  Rather than feeling guilty (which is my initial instinct), just be grateful for the help.  Holding onto that pressure and stress just isn't worth the energy.

Find a Happy Place --  and the sooner you find it, the better.  I had this vision that my happy place would be with my kids in a stroller while I jogged a shaded path.  As it turns out, our Dear Son hated strollers and our Dear Daughter wasn't really fond of them either (and I really don't like jogging anymore).  It is not quite as happy as I envisioned when one is walking down the street with an inconsolable child strapped to you while he is kicking and screaming.  And we had children who would melt down in a fit of hysterics rather than peaceful drift off in a corner.  So we needed to find happy places that actually worked. AND STAT.  My DH and I might not get out just the 2 of us every week but it is important to find a happy place that can happen anytime (or at least most times).  We've had a whole slew of them in our arsenal.  One was the local conservatory; the smell of that oxygen put all four of us in a better state of mind. Sometimes it was the playplace at the mall, where the kids would run ragged and collect bacteria while I sat on the bench and stared off into space.  Sometimes just a bag of fries in the car as I drove around. Other times it was a date in our own living room while a movie is playing for the kids, getting them a bowl of (cheesey) popcorn, and special drinks (maybe laced with benydryl) while we sit just out of earshot with a glass of wine and a candle.

Never Again Will I Judge Another Mother -- my own especially.  Never may be dramatic, but after the first 2 years with this boy, I sheepishly admitted that I saw how child abuse happens.  At the time there was this news story of a woman who beat her child in a grocery store parking lot under a security camera.  It was a tragic story, but the person I felt the most empathy for was that Dear Mother who hit her breaking point.  I LOVE my DS but he pushed me to the edge of sanity (and still does) repeatedly*.  Honestly, when I see another Mother who is clearly struggling, I briefly close my eyes and say a very quick prayer for strength and wisdom and a wave of patience.  I look at my own parenting and could be judged for a thousand less than stellar moments, some publicly.  I can't find it in me to judge another Mother, I just hope and pray that they are doing the best that they can and that the kids grow up to be happy adults regardless.

Mothering is About Love --  and very little else.  There is no need to compare how much better another child can sit and play by themselves or how much smarter or more coordinated or when they reach mile-stones or taller or more active or how soon they can read, etc. Honestly, I know it is hard, but as a Mom learning to wipe-out all comparisons will make everyone happier and will take away a mountain of stress.  It takes a lot of discipline because our society is saturated with an obsession of getting ahead.  Raising children isn't a contest with winners and losers.  It is a team sport that involves a lot of love and not much else.  My personal goal isn't to have a kid in first place.  My goal is to have a happy adult who is the very best version of him/herself.

I have no idea what challenges the next stage will bring, but for now, I know that I am nothing like the Mother I thought I would be.  I am never as patient or organized or loving as the Mom I thought I could be but every single day, I sit cross-legged on my living room floor and say a simple prayer (it is more like a plea)  before everyone wakes up, it goes something like this,

Dear God, Please grant Strength and Wisdom and Patience and an endless supply of Love;  Help it to over-flow from me and impact every person I encounter, especially my own family.  May I be the kind of Mother / Wife / Sister / Daughter / Friend that becomes more Compassionate and Nurturing and Joyful with each day.

--For the record.  Everyone who knows us personally will agree.  Our son was/is VERY good for us.  He challenges us in ways that we need to be challenged and makes us the best we can be.  I wouldn't trade his feistiness for the sweetest baby/kid in the world. 

*One more thing, by personal experience, be prepared if you pray for strength, wisdom, and patience.  God tends to bestow these gifts in challenging ways.  You will end up better for it but the process is often humbling.  I wrote this blog on a napkin while eating Thai food alone over Mother's Day weekend and waiting for resolution on my broken iPhone.  My patience was not at a high point and even though I kept repeating my prayer/plea, I found myself frustrated and impatient (especially with my son) and not at all who I want to be.  Honestly, I'm afraid to post this because I know all hell will just rein down.  Sooooo.... here it goes....

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