Mother’s Day is coming Sunday, and I always feel sentimental at this time of year. My mother died when I was a teenager, and she was very ill for years before that, so my sister Meri and I had to raise ourselves. Our dad was a difficult person, so we really were on our own. Needless to say we made many mistakes, but we came out alive. At Mother’s Day, I always stop to consider how our lives might have been different if she had survived. But on top of that, I look at myself as a mother, and shudder at the mistakes I surely made without having had the benefit of having a mother to set an example for me.
I realize that we all learn parenting skills as we go along, and that there is no roadmap for being a perfect parent. Every situation calls for skills we have never learned. How do modern parents deal with issues that didn’t exist when they were kids. How do they handle issues around the internet, for example. Eating problems that we never had (like gluten intolerance and GMOs), sports-related questions for the non-athletic parent, learning differences… We all play it by ear and hope we are doing the right thing. And we all do the best job we can considering the problems we ourselves are dealing with. No one sets out to be a bad mother, not even the drug-addicted mothers of my former students in juvie. And not even psychotic, horror movie mothers.
Women in my generation struggled with the question of how the Women’s Rights Movement influenced us, especially concerning child-rearing issues. In the Sixties and Seventies we attended “Consciousness Raising Groups”, eschewed make-up, and burned our bras. But once we married and had babies it felt somehow wrong to follow our bliss and pursue a career when the “poor” children were placed in day care and looked after by someone else. My mother-in-law was outraged that I went to work as a teacher. She told me that my “Job” was to stay at home and take care of her son and our children. I loved teaching, though, and (dare I say it?) I was bored when I stayed at home. So every year at summers end, I would cry myself to sleep the night before school opened. My poor, abandoned children, I thought. But when we pulled up at the Park Road Baptist Child Development Center, and the two younger ones ran to their classrooms without a backward glance, I was glad, but worried that their lack of concern indicated a psychological problem. Had they missed out on the necessary “attachment” psychologists point to in well-adjusted children?
Somehow, though, my children grew up (in spite of me and my shaky parenting), went off to school, and are following their own bliss. I am so very proud of all three of them. Seth, the oldest, is married to Melissa, and they have two AMAZING kids, and both Seth and Mel work full time and both of them “mother” their kids. They work in tandem, doing the shopping, cooking, and child care, and they share their love of the outdoors with the children. It’s a new paradigm for parenting.
So, as Mother’s Day is upon us, Happy Mother’s Day to all the women and men who mother their kids and teach them to follow their dreams. And Happy Mother’s Day, also, to those parents who find themselves in stressful situations and whose kids end up on the streets. You are doing the best that you can. And based on my experience with my students in juvie, your kids love you more than you can imagine.