A: Today is Mother’s Day — a very special day, and a nice time to talk about motherhood.
J: Happy Mother’s Day to you.
A: Thanks. I celebrated yesterday with my son and my sister and niece. My son brought me a pot of white mums and a very funny card. He rolled into the driveway on his new-to-him 2008 Kawasaki bike, took off his backpack, and extracted the carefully wrapped mums, which didn’t look too happy (between you and me) about having been transported by motorcycle on a cool spring day, but I grinned and took them inside and put them on the warm windowsill, where they’re starting to perk up.
J: You’re always very mushy when you talk about your son.
A (sighing): Yes. Most of the time. There’s the odd day here and there where I have to do the Mom-being-stern thing, but I couldn’t be prouder of him. He’s being “who he is” in a good way, and that’s all I can ask. I love being a mom.
J: Tell me more about that.
A: When he was born (in 1984), I was terrified. I didn’t know anything about babies. I was a bookworm, an egghead, and I’d never even changed a diaper before he was born. But I was determined to be a good mom, a stay-at-home mom by choice. I had the most wonderful book that gave me answers to all my practical questions. I can’t remember the title, but the author was Penelope Leach. Best book ever on parenting, in my view.
J: What about your own mom. Did you ask her for advice?
A: Sometimes. But she lived 3 hours away in a different city, and she was focussed on establishing her new career as an artist. My mother-in-law lived very close by, and she was keen to be helpful without being interfering, so she tried hard not to say anything critical to my face. She was a big believer in the Dr. Spock method of raising children, and she thought I should be putting my son in a big perambulator on the front porch every morning to get fresh air and sunshine. That’s what she did with her two boys. When I refused to buy an old fashioned pram, she found a used one that she kept at her house for times when she was babysitting. She seemed okay with that as a compromise.
J: You had an unusual idea about child rearing. Tell me about that.
A: In her book, Penelope Leach emphasized the idea of teaching your baby about boundary issues and personal space. She said you should put baby in his own crib when it was time for napping and sleeping, and you should always be consistent about this. No sleeping in mom and dad’s bed, she said. On the other hand, cribs were to be used only for sleeping, she said. Once nap time or sleep time was over, baby should be fully included in all family activities — not parked in the crib to keep him out of mom’s way while she was busy with household chores. This idea made a lot of sense to me at an intuitive level. It felt right to me. From the very beginning, I got into the habit of carting my son everywhere in my left arm while I did chores with my right hand. My left arm got very strong.
J: Why did you do that?
A: He seemed to have terrible separation anxiety. Each time I tried to put him in a baby seat, his little face turned beet red and he howled in outrage. In retrospect, I can see that I was making him feel unimportant and un-included. And you know what? He was right. He was telling me I wasn’t trying hard enough to be in full relationship with him. On the other hand, he didn’t give me a hard time about going into his crib for naps and bedtime because he quickly associated his crib with being warm and cozy and sleepy. Both my mother and mother-in-law told me I would spoil him if I didn’t put him in a baby seat while I was doing chores, but they were both wrong. Until he learned to walk (at about 11 months), he needed to be “up” where I could talk to him “person-to-person,” where he could see what was going on, where he could learn by watching and “participating.” He’s always been a fearless learner.
J: You and he are very close.
A: We’re close in a respectful way. We give each other space, but when we talk on the phone or get together for coffee or whatever, we listen to each other in an honest way. We try to listen to what’s important to each other. Our relationship has evolved into a mature adult friendship.
J: Many young adults would have no idea what you mean by that.
A: I have several acquaintances my age who don’t seem to like their adult children let alone love them. The relationships are deeply strained, and there’s a lot of mistrust. There’s also a recent trend in journalism for women to come out of the closet and admit they don’t like being mothers and never have. It may be true that for many women motherhood has felt more like a curse than a blessing, but it’s not universally true. Some women, such as myself, can’t believe how lucky they are to have had the privilege of guiding and mentoring a soul on the journey towards maturity.
J: Without being overly enmeshed.
A: Yes. I think many women fall into the trap of enmeshment — of being too involved and too protective and too fearful of mistakes (their own and their children’s). You have to give a child some room to make mistakes. Then you have to help them learn how to handle their own mistakes. It’s what mature parents do.
J: Just like our own divine parents — God the Mother and God the Father.
A: I have no sympathy at all for the idea that we shouldn’t use “parenting” metaphors about God in church anymore because we might offend some of the church members who’ve had abusive human parents. I totally get the reality that many human beings have never known what true parental love is because their own caregivers were such jerks. But the fact that some parents (or foster parents) are abusive doesn’t mean that all parents are abusive. You can’t stop talking about meaningful parenting just because somebody out there might have a panic attack. The person having the panic attack needs to receive appropriate medical care, of course. Meanwhile, the discussion about parenting has to continue so mistakes can be uncovered and changes can be made for the benefit of the wider community — and for individual children.
J: You mentioned the Mother’s Day card your son got you. What was funny about it?
A: It’s a card that’s really honest. On the front it reads, “Mom, I thought about you today while playing with my food . . . after spoiling my appetite with cookies . . . before leaving my stuff on the floor . . . to go blindly follow my friends in whatever they were doing.” Then you open up the card and it says, “God, I love being a grown-up.” And this is hilarious, because my son is 27 years old and he does still pig out on cookies before dinner (if they’re homemade) and he does leave his stuff all over the floor of his apartment (unless he has guests coming over), and he’s been this way his whole life. This is who he is, and he’s never going to change, and you know what? That’s okay, because he understands how to love and respect other people, and he knows how to take responsibility for his own choices, and that’s more important than finding some cookie crumbs on the floor.
J: So he’s not perfect? He makes mistakes?
A: Yeah, he’s not perfect and he makes mistakes and I really like him anyway. He’s doing the best he can. That’s why I’m so happy to be a mom today and always. [Thanks, hon! Your Mom, 😉 ) ].