“Being a mother is learning about strengths you did’t know you had, and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”
–Linda Wooten, from Mom’s the Word, by Allen Klein
I’m thinking a lot about my role as a mother. Trying to figure out my place in all of it. Sometimes, it seems as though my place is to nag others to get stuff done – put your shoes on, clear your plate, stop blowing spit bubbles, seriously people, spit bubbles – but I’m easing off that a bit, letting natural consequences play out, because I don’t feel good when I nag.
Mostly, my place it seems is to hug and hold and be held, to put on Band-Aids, and wipe up spills. To sit quiet and listen, when the worries roll through right at bed time. To hold hands on the way to the bus stop in a way that nobody can see, but feels good just the same.
My role is ever changing and I’m just trying to keep up. Fortunately, or not, my daughter is quick to tell me what to do. And while she believes I’m there with her to guide her, serve her and be available in the middle of the night for bad dream assessments, I know I have a unique opportunity to learn from her too. She is the truth. She says it like it is and reflects my best and worst qualities, and loves me anyhow.
Our relationship isn’t always easy. It certainly isn’t convenient. It is sometimes sticky, and slow. She doesn’t always do it like I would do it –sometimes she does it much better, sometimes not so good – and that’s my lesson too, that we both have our own unique styles and way of being in the world. We both have our own desires to experience this world. Yet, we are moving through this experience together.
So, we can learn together. But, sometimes I just want to do it my way. Quietly, focused. Without mess. Sometimes when things are feeling really hard, and I’m tired and she’s mad and I’m not sure what to do next, I will moan to my girlfriends, drink a margarita and then return to these five bits of advice.
1. Look for the lesson. In life and certainly in relationships, there is always a bigger nugget of knowledge. We get caught up in our anger or fatigue. We are swept up in the routine of caring for instead of caring about and we forget to look for the lesson and it’s there. Once you clue in on it, the fight ends. It’s just over. The lesson in the moment may be that people just need to eat a good meal or get better sleep. Or it might be that your child needs you to be square with her and vulnerable, because she knows something is up. Perhaps the lesson is he does need you to hug and hold him even though he pretends it doesn’t matter. Maybe you need a reminder to take a deep breath, and offer a hug instead of a consequence – even though that may not feel like disciplined parenting. Those lessons reveal more about us than our child. They show us who we are and what we are capable of and they allow us to reconnect with each other.
2. Let it be. Walk away. Give it up. However you want to say it, this one is not my strong suit. I like to over-talk, re-explain, then say it again – just so that I’m understood. If I had my way, everyone would write a two-page report about the incident so that we could rehash it in the morning. Just kidding. Sort of.
Sometimes, most times, the best thing to do is to let it be. Say it once. Put your foot down. Get clear. Then let it go. Not everyone – including the kids – are going to see it your way. Just because people see it and do it differently than you doesn’t make it bad, wrong, ridiculous. Be a team player and once-in-awhile just let things be.
3. A difficult moment does not make for a difficult life. When my daughter was about two she showed little interest in going to the bathroom on the toilet. I stewed about this. I mean she didn’t even want to be in the bathroom. Then my husband casually reminded me that it was highly unlikely that our daughter would be wearing a diaper when she was 16. Somehow, someway she would figure it out and we would move on.
Relationships are never stagnant, because people never are. We are always learning and moving on.
Remember this when the difficult, confounding, irritating moments come – and they will, sometimes in rapid succession. But, they will also pass. We won’t always be stuck in the bad spell. People shift and grow by the moment. Leave room for that to happen. Allow for it. Don’t label or limit. Don’t over dramatize, or as my own mother would say “make a mountain out of a molehill.” Just deal with what comes right now, in this moment, and let the future take care of itself.
And, by the way, before my daughter turned three she decided one day – all on her own — to use the toilet and she never went back to diapers.
4. Let your child see you love. If my daughter can accept the love coming her way from her parents and grandparents, but also her teachers and her friends and others who come into her path – if she can really notice it and feel it – she’ll live a more joyful, healthy life and, this is the biggie, she’ll be better able to love herself and others.
There is nothing bigger than that. Because the crap is going to come down in this life and despite it all there will always be love. I want her to know it and feel it. No matter. Cultivate that sense with your child by showing him how you love.
Let him notice you talking to the plants and loving on the dog and appreciating the shelter and beauty of your home. Let your children see you respecting their other parent and your friends.
Let them see you hugging and holding and reaching out to the people you love in your life. Let them see you launch yourself full on into your passions and purpose – even when you’ve been burned before. Even when there will be setbacks. Even when it feels scary.
Show your kids how to love themselves and their life by how you live with love and passion in yours. Do this by saying “yes” to new things, by accepting compliments, by connecting through kindness to others. By treating yourself with self-compassion. By speaking kindly to yourself, even when you’ve made a mistake. Love out loud and let your children see how you do it.
Then, hug everyone you can. Seriously, scoop that kid up whenever you can – even amid their protests, especially when they are too big for scooping, and hug and touch and hold. Because when the trouble hits they will have enough self-love to care for themselves through it. They will know that, no matter what others say, they are worthy and valuable. They will know that our lives aren’t defined by the bad stuff, but by the goodness we share. And they will know how to love others too. Though your kid will claim he’d rather have an iPad, there is no greater gift you can give then teaching them how to feel and share love.
5. Turn on the music in your life. When my daughter was very little and uptight or throwing a fit, we’d talk it over then turn on the music. Music is a balm to her and it is to us too. It reminds you of the joy in the world. The beauty. It inspires and uplifts. Often it gets you moving and when your body is moving you are no longer stuck in the hardness and stress of the moment. It shifts everything just a little. But music is also metaphor for the joy in our lives. A reminder to welcome it in, to make time for fun.
Kids can teach us how to do this if we open up and pay attention. Even when the hard stuff happens, there can be pockets of humor and joy and lightness. Go looking for it. Turn on the music if you have to. Even serious circumstances don’t require us to be serious all the time. And when we feel a little lighter we become more creative and that supports growth and problem solving and connection.
The people in our lives can be our greatest teachers and kids have so much wisdom to share. Often it comes out, not through words but through their affection and creativity and imagination and joy. Watch for it. Let some of it rub off on you that way we can all learn from each other.
For more quotations and insights on motherhood, check out Allen Klein’s great little book, Mom’s the Word: The Wit, Wisdom and Wonder of Motherhood