Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day ... Thoughts on Being a Mom

So here I am at work. It's just after 4 am and I am 3 hours from the end of my overnight shift. It's been pretty quiet here. A few calls here and there, but nothing really exciting. I've had some time to think. Maybe I will take this time to reflect a bit.

Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to be a mother. What I want for my children and what I should want for my children. I don't know if I have the answer to what being a good mom is, but I hope I can learn before my kids grow up and leave.

So what do I want for my children? What do I think is important? What do I want them to learn, to absorb, and to make a part of themselves? Hmmmmm. First, I want them to be happy, secure individuals. I want them to know that they are loveable. That they deserve love. That they matter. I don't want them to feel entitled, that's different. I don't want them to be demanding. But I want them to be confident. To rest assured that they have a place in the world. They belong. They are important. They matter. I want them to know that this belonging and mattering doesn't depend on their performance. If they screw up, they still belong. They are still loved.

I also want them to know that anything worth having is earned. The world is not their oyster. Or maybe it is if they are willing to be the one to swim to the bottom of the proverbial ocean to get the oyster themselves and pry out the pearl. I have been trying, since my children were very small, to teach them the value of hard work and earning their way. I think I have been going about it all wrong though, as their focus seems to be on money. They feel money is the enemy. Money is bad. I talk with my children frequently about money and how our home and the things they have and enjoy cost money. I don't try to drive it down their throats, but when they complain about not wanting their father or I to leave for work, I will often tell them that we need to go so that we can afford the things we need to live or the things that we want to enjoy.

But I think somehow I am causing them to miss the point. Money is ONLY a tool. It is neither good nor bad. It is useful to obtain the things we need and want. Period. But we shouldn't pursue it endlessly. I think I need to help them focus more on which things we should want to pursue. To my way of thinking, pursuing an understanding of God and those we love should be our main focus. When I refer to those we love, I include love and understanding of oneself. That is one of the most crucial people we need to love and understand. Without this love and understanding, often our perceptions of others become skewed. We have insecurities that cause us to filter out the wrong information when we are dealing with family and friends. If I can teach my children that they are loveable, worthy individuals who are capable of contributing to society in meaningful ways they will be open to learning from life.

So what is my job as a mother? I see my job as multifaceted. I think part of my job is to provide guidance. While I may make many decisions and apply certain rules to their behaviors, I think my overall function in this area is to guide my children. I will do my best to provide the tools they need to learn to make good decisions. Hopefully I will allow them the space to practice making decisions. Some of their decisions will be good ones. Some not so good. I pray I have the strength to let them stand on their own two feet whether those decisions are good or bad. And I pray that they feel they can come to me when their decisions turn out to not be so perfect. If they fall I don't want them to feel they cannot come to me and ask for help.

It's a tough balance. I have high expectations of my children. I expect them to try hard in every area of their lives. I refuse to let them say they can't do something. I don't expect them to be perfect at what they do, but I do expect them to try their very best at everything they try. I hope they experience this expectation as faith in their abilities and not intolerance. I do not want my children to grow up with the idea that everything is going to be handed to them. But I also don't want them to be afraid to fail.

My daughter is a straight A student. I am proud of her. She is in fourth grade and she always brings home glowing reports from school. More important to me than the grade letter however, is the section for the teacher's comments, where the teachers all say that she puts a lot of effort into her studies. She excels in many areas of her studies, but I am most proud of the fact that all her teachers say that she tries hard at everything she does. She told me the other day that she is disappointed with herself if she brings home anything lower than an A. If she gets an A- she is upset. I told her that if she is trying her hardest, it doesn't matter if it's an A or an A-...or even a C. I hope I am doing the right thing telling her this. I don't want her to think a C is okay if that isn't her best effort.

My son Christopher is a wonderful student too. My worry with him is that he is actually a little too hard on himself. He is learning to read. He is doing a great job according to what his teacher says and what I see. But when we read together, he gets so upset if he can't sound out a word. He hits himself in the head and will cry. I tried to tell him the other day that it was okay to make mistakes. He was in school because he doesn't know it all. That was the point of being in school. Everyone makes mistakes and that is okay. He responded with, "I make more mistakes than anyone though Mommy." How do I help my little guy? How do I guide him to make his best effort without creating unneccessary stress for him?

Then there is Daniel. Daniel is almost four, and he is a complicated mix of self-assurance and temper. Trying to motivate my little guy to follow directions and want to participate has been quite a challenge for me. My approval of him has nothing to do with getting him to do what you would like him to do. He can be the sweetest, kindest little boy or the most defiant, frustrating, oppositional individual. It all depends on how you handle him. I wish I could say that I always handled him correctly, but I don't. He does not like to be yelled at, that is for sure. When you really stop and think about it, who does? No one likes to be yelled at. The effect it often has with my Daniel is to make him want to do the direct opposite of what you want him to do. Sometimes I think as he grows that defiance of authority can serve him well. He will question things. He wants to think for himself. He has such a strong ability to imagine the possibilities, create the environments of his choosing, and to love. He is outgoing, friendly and curious. He frequently chats with the neighbors, the cashiers at the grocery store, and random strangers on the street. The world is an interesting place full of things that spark his imagination.

I know that I can't make them learn life's lessons. I know that I am only a part of their world. I am not their whole world. There are other influences on them. Some good (their father), some not so good (television), and I cannot control who they become. I am barely begun on this journey of parenthood, but I feel the weight of this endeavor so deeply.

What will my children become? They are already moving out of that stage of their lives where they need me to be ever present. It's hard for me to see that happening. I am not the central player in their lives any more. My role as mother is already shifting. I am moving from the "Mom as Source" of all role to "Mom as Conduit to" role. I'm not providing them with all their needs anymore...and that's kind of scary for me. Now, lest you think I don't realize the others in our lives that meet the children's needs, let me assure you that I haven't forgotten. They have a terrific father who works hard to provide them with the things that they need. He is our breadwinner, he is a major source of light and humor. He is a steadying force. He is the quiet reassurance that my children need. The lighthouse to their tidal force. But I am talking about my role as Mom here.

So my children's needs are shifting. Their need of me to be their source of all stimulation, food and support is shifting. Now they need me to act as a conduit to experiences. They need me to assure them that they are important. They need me to play games with them. They need me to provide them with experiences that cause them to think about the world around them. They need me to give them a home base to explore from. They need to know that they can venture out into the big wide world and that there is still a place for them when they return either triumphant from their days' adventures, or beat down. Whether we are celebrating or applying healing salves, they need to know there are those who care about them waiting for them at home.

Boy I hope I am doing that job well. I want to foster independence for them. I want them to feel competent as individuals. But I want them to know that on those occassions when things don't work out as they had hoped, I and there father are here for them. I think I do okay teaching them to be independent, but I think my bedside manner when they are not doing so well needs work. I think I am a bit of a hardcase at times. I don't mean to be, but I want my children to understand that the world is not going to change to meet them. They must adapt to the world around them. But I hope I am remembering while I teach them that that they are young. They need. And it's okay to need.

I also want to teach my children the importance of being decent. I was talking with a distant family member today and he put it like this: I see my role as parent like this: I need to teach my children not to be dicks. Crudely put, but dead on in my opinion. That one phrase captures exactly what I want for my children. I want them to have manners, to think about others, and to have integrity. In short, I want to teach them to not be dicks.

We live in a society that is too permissive in my opinion. When someone is rude it is chalked up to a bad day, or it is ignored. On the surface that is. I don't believe that anyone truly forgets if you are rude to them. They can forgive and move on for sure, but when you are rude to someone it isn't forgotten. It is added to their mental database describing who you are to them. Teaching your children to have manners helps them to learn the important role they play in the world around them. It helps them to remember that they are not the only ones who have feelings. It helps them be aware of the needs of others, even if only in a superficial way.

My son Daniel often holds the door for me. He will proclaim, "I am a gentleman Mommy." I usually smile and tell him that yes, he is indeed a gentleman. I hope that this behavior continues as he grows. But it won't unless we encourage it. This encouragement and teaching needs to extend past the superficial act of holding the door though. I must teach my children to think of others' needs in addition to their own. I want my children to grow up knowing that they are part of a larger community. That they have a responsibility to care for that community. It's not just about themselves. There is a larger picture to consider.

So, as Mother's Day begins, I approach it humbly, hoping that I am equal to the task. I hope my children understand how very special they are. I hope I convey to them how important a task raising them is to me. I am hoping as the years progress I will deserve the title of Mom.

My five things:

1.) I am grateful to have such wonderful, smart, creative, beautiful children
2.) I am grateful to have a wonderful partner to raise these children with
3.) I am grateful for those around me that I can learn from to become a better parent
4.) I am grateful for good friends who help support my efforts to be a good mom
5.) I am grateful for the chance God has given me to be a Mom.

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