For seventeen years I have been someone’s mother.
I find that very hard to believe. I am someone’s mama. The kisser of boo-boos. The holder of a little hand. The wiper of snot and other, much grosser things. Responsible for his formation into a productive member of society. Responsible for keeping him alive, clean, and fed — not necessarily in that order.
My Mama always seemed to have it all together. She knew the answer to every question. She could sew. We never left the house without a hot breakfast. She owned a business. She found the time to read several books a week. She rarely lost her temper, and when she did, it was usually my fault.
I have not been that Mama. Here’s what I have been. A single mother. A working mother. A mother who tried. A mother who made it up as she went along. A mother who did the best she could.
Just like, I suspect, every other mother out there — including my own.
So after seventeen years of trying to figure this thing out, I still don’t have all the answers. Shoot, I don’t have any answers. But I do have a few thoughts, so here are my reflections on this business called motherhood:
- Be the mother your child needs you to be. Every child is different, and what works with one child, probably won’t with another. Every situation is different. Every day is different. You know your child better than anyone, so don’t let people tell you how to parent your kid. Do what you think is right for you and yours.
- Talk to your child. Put the devices away. Talk, talk, and talk some more. And when you sit at a table, make your child a part of the conversation and expect him or her to contribute in a meaningful way. Don’t prop some screen up in front of him. If they don’t get used to being a part of the conversation when they are young, how in the world will they ever learn?
- Read to your child. When your child wants you to read that same book for the umpteenth time, do it. And read another book after that. And pull that baby a little closer and read it to him again. Before you know it, they will be too old, and you’ll wish you had. Oh, and they learn from being read to. Things like vocabulary, rhyming, and grammar. Important things.
- Tell your child what he/she is doing right. We spend a lot of time telling our children what they are doing wrong. Spend just as much time — or more — telling them what they do well, what they excel at, what makes you proud, what they do right. And while you’re at it, use this same philosophy with your spouse, your friends, your co-workers. You’ll see what a difference it makes.
- Say “yes.” I bet I’ve said “no” a hundred, million, gazillion times. One day, I decided to say “yes.” You want to go out with your friends? Yes…when you finish your homework. You want some dessert? Yes…when you finish your broccoli. You want me to buy that thingamajig for you? Yes…when you do your chores. Now, I don’t say “yes” to everything. I’m not crazy. But rewarding beats the pea-turkey out of punishing every day of the week.
- Choices are bad. Little children don’t need too many choices nor do they need to make decisions on their own. They don’t need to be asked what they want to do, wear, eat, or watch. In their little minds, the choices are limitless. “What do you want to drink?” you ask in the nice restaurant. You know the choices are limited to what comes out of the Pepsi machine in the back. In the mind of a child, though, the answer can be anything from Bug Juice to puddle water and everything in between. That’s why you wind up frustrated and mad and they wind up in tears — overwhelming choices. That’s why God gave them mamas — to make decisions.
- Your child is not perfect. No one is. Don’t put so much pressure on them to meet unrealistic goals, or your goals for them, or to be someone they just can’t be, won’t be, aren’t ever going to be. Appreciate them for who they are and what they have accomplished. Just because he/she loses or fails at one thing — or many things — doesn’t mean that they are a LOSER, or that you are a failure as a parent. It means that they’ve learned a lesson and you have too, and that you can both go forward more informed.
- Stay calm. If you can manage to stay calm in a stressful situation, things will usually turn out better. Calm is not my nature. Calm is something I have to work hard to achieve. Calm is sometimes (often, really) elusive. But if you can knuckle down and not fly off the handle, everyone will be better off.
- Let your child be his own person. Blue hair. Mismatched socks. Quirky sense of humor. Whatever the phase is, just go with it. And if you don’t like it but can manage to not make a big deal out of it, usually the phase will pass on by before too long.
- Your child is not your friend. Sure, you can be friend-ly with your child. Have all the fun. Laugh all the laughs. Whisper secrets and dreams. But remember that you are still the mama. Children don’t need to know everything. They don’t need to be burdened with your drama. They don’t need to feel like they have to take care of you. That’s what your girlfriends are for. Children need to feel safe and loved and protected. They don’t need a friend. They need a mama.
There you have it. Thoughts from an imperfect, still-learning, sometimes-eccentric mama who’s managed to raise (and I’m certainly biased here) a pretty darn good boy in spite of herself. Oh, and there’s one more thing I almost forgot:
- You have to try really, really hard to mess up. And even when you do, by some miracle, that child will forgive you and love you anyway just because you are the mama.