My last blog post was about my goal to take better care of my health, with a multi-pronged approach. I did well for a few weeks. And then I didn’t.
The catalyst for getting completely foiled, at least for the past month, was my grandmother’s death. It was expected; she was 99, and my family and I had had a good visit with her a few months before, as we knew she was declining after a long and full life. But the day she died, I got drained, emotionally and physically, and I just had to step out of the Atkins diet that seems to work for me, at least scale-wise.
Since then, I’ve wanted to get back into focusing on my eating and doing all the other things necessary to take better care of my whole self. How well have I done? Crappy. That’s what.
Here’s the deal: I’m a mom. I have a husband and four daughters, and they are all in vital stages of their lives. Parenting them now is in a way more demanding than it was when they were little; then it was mainly sleep deprivation and not being able to catch much alone time. Life was just a lot simpler then. Now, there’s so much more of a mental game to it than just being the taxi driver. I’m there. I’m on call. I’m helping figure out all kinds of important things for the next week, the next month, the next year: their LIVES. Even my oldest, who is married and “on her own,” still needs me, and I am still there for her whenever I can be. Even more, our relationship has a new dynamic and dimension, one we’re still trying to adjust to, I think, almost a year on.
Add to my momhood my personal leaning toward taking care of other people all the time, and my own self gets left in the dust. This past month or so has been a pressure-cooker, a meat-grinder, of calendaring and coordinating activities and appointments; responsibilities, obligations, big questions, long to-do lists, and hardly having a moment to breathe and just think about myself. Granted, I know from sad experience (over and over and over again) that is a recipe for disaster, but after all these years, I’m still trying to figure out how to cut the recipe in half or something.
So I sit here again and contemplate how to take care of myself physically: eat better overall, less sugar, more fruits and vegetables (which I do really love and eat probably more of than the average person, but still)… all that jazz. Figure out how to decrease emotional eating (THAT’s a biggie). Mix up my exercise (I’ve been dedicated to working out for 25-plus years and I really enjoy it and how it makes me feel), do some more fun and different things. The pressure cooker of the past month or two is likely to be turned down a few notches for the near future. Maybe I can make some strides on me.
What I know is this: appropriate self-care can take a lifetime of practice.
Today my husband and I are celebrating our 22nd wedding anniversary. And as much as I love to celebrate and love to love, I also love to remind people that choosing a marriage partner is serious business. Sure, it involves those butterflies and fireworks, but it also involves solid doses of reality.
Here’s one: finding your soul mate is not a prerequisite for marriage. Sometimes, even, that person who feels like your “soul mate” may end up not being a good partner for you.
I love this reminder from a psychology professor at my alma mater: “Stop looking for a soul mate.” Scott Braithwaite said that when you have the idea that your soul mate is out there somewhere, and if you feel you’ve found him, you may think that the marriage relationship will be easy. Or later on when marriage does get hard (which it will), you may feel you made a mistake and thought you’d found your soul mate but didn’t. What happens then? Either looking outside the marriage for the “real” soul mate or ending the marriage to do so.
Back in my teen years and early 20s, I dated a lot. I had fun with plenty of young men. I had several serious relationships. I thought a couple might lead to marriage. They didn’t. I could even say that I probably had kind of the notion that one of those was my “soul mate.” We were a lot alike, were best friends, and had that “connection.” But it didn’t work out. While I mourned the loss of the friendship for a long time, I came to realize I was blessed not to end up marrying that person. In fact, one quality lacking in that person was something that I realized was important to me, and when I was dating my now-husband, he showed he had it.
Honestly, my husband and I don’t have what I would call a “great love story,” one that seemed fated, or meant to be, or in the stars. I probably was “crazier” about some other guys. I don’t think of him as “my best friend.” He’s not my soul mate. And that is OK. More than OK. It’s a good thing. I chose him. I chose him because of the qualities he exhibited, his dedication to me, his desire to be a good husband, his desire to be a father. He put me first. That he made me grin, was an easygoing complement to my type-A personality whom everyone can’t help but like, was a great dancer, was a great kisser… well, all those were icing on the cake.
Today, 22 years later, I am so grateful that I chose him. He wasn’t just “meant for me.” Our love story wasn’t out of our hands. It has been completely in our hands: we have written it together over all this time. We made three gorgeous babies and adopted another adorable one. We’ve moved, traveled, made friends, experienced life together, laughed, cried, supported each other. This year is particularly sweet because we got to see our oldest make her own choice of a fine husband. Today, I celebrate making a fabulous choice.
I believe in what’s now referred to as “traditional” marriage. I strongly believe it should be between a man and a woman. And I believe this because of my faith.
So I am not celebrating today’s Supreme Court ruling.
I realize that many are, and that this is now the law of the land. I respect others’ choices and strong beliefs that go opposite of my own, and I DO NOT HATE them. I have never been unkind to friends and acquaintances or strangers who are homosexual. I do not believe in hate speech. But I do believe I have a right to disagree, respectfully, and not have my personal belief labeled “bigotry” or “hate speech.” I also feel it is now important for me to explain briefly why I believe the way I do.
Contrary to what some may expect, I am not a “traditionalist.” I don’t believe AT ALL that anything should continue just because “that’s the way it’s always been.” Many, many negative behaviors, beliefs, practices and laws have been perpetuated because too many people did not have the courage to change them to what would be better, or just plain right.
I do believe that if something is right, it should be supported. I could make all the arguments about why I believe that changing the definition of marriage is not going to be good for society or for children. But those have been made in many places and I do not need (or have space) to repeat them here. Besides, those are arguments, and there are many arguments that go the opposite way. We could all (and certainly have been) go around in circles, debating and arguing and ramping up the anger. I do not like that idea at all.
I support marriage between a man and a woman because I believe what my church teaches. And here’s where it gets radical: my church doesn’t teach this doctrine because of some references in the Bible or some somewhat vague ideas on what Jesus may have taught about the practice of homosexuality. My church teaches this doctrine because we believe that revelation happens today. I read and learn from the Bible. But The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was founded two centuries ago on a foundation of being the restored church that Jesus founded two millennia ago. That means we have a president who is a prophet, a designation that means all that has meant historically. He has two “assistants,” called counselors, and there is a group of 12 apostles, just as in ancient days. And these people aren’t just “called” apostles and prophets. They truly receive inspiration, revelation, PROPHECY from Jesus Christ. It’s His church, and it’s led by Him. He directs it on the Earth through his mortal leaders.
The LDS Church has made very clear through these people we call prophets and apostles that the doctrine of marriage is an eternal one, that marriage between a man and a woman is not only made for us here in this period of mortal life, but is meant to continue after this life: forever.
The church has also stood behind and continued to promote strongly the document revealed and agreed upon by all these apostles 20 years ago called the Proclamation on the Family. We believe it is an inspired and vital document that proclaims basic truths about the family, about marriage, parents and children, that are now being changed and disputed by others.
My 40-plus years of life have shown me time and again that faith is a crucial part of life. It’s one of the big reasons we are here in this existence of mortality. We lived before and we will live after. Here, now, we are meant to learn faith, to believe in a God we cannot see right now and to cultivate taking things on faith that might not always “make sense.” I have had my faith affirmed time and again, and I hold it dear. It guides my life and has blessed me a great deal. I KNOW things to be true because of my faith.
I know that prophets speak today and have affirmed the importance of marriage in the “traditional” sense. I recognize and respect the beliefs of others that contrast so much with my own; I also recognize that some others, friends I admire greatly, who are even members of my church, have differing opinions on this issue. I have and will continue to hope we can simply agree to disagree on this topic and continue to enjoy our friendships for all the fun reasons we are friends.
I simply ask that my strong beliefs on this topic can be respected and that I will not be called a bigot. I do not know the “whys” of many, many things. I like to search out answers, but sometimes answers cannot be found in this life, or for a long time. So far, I do not know “why” some experience same-sex attraction. Science still has no answers for that. I do know that sometimes we must act on faith, and I ask for respect for my faith. I will respect the law and others who disagree with me. But we can certainly all be civil; we can be kind; we can get along.
So it’s another Mother’s Day. This year is my 19th as a mom myself, so I’ve become accustomed to my children (and husband) scurrying around trying to figure out how to show me particular love and gratitude on my official day. But this year is the first for me to contemplate the reality of my own daughters becoming mothers: my oldest is getting married in two weeks, and somewhere down the line she will become a mother herself.
I could write a book (well, I have, actually, years ago when my oldest was little and I was just discovering truths more experienced women already knew) about mothering, but today I’ll try to share just a few words about my feelings this day, this week, this month.
I’ve realized even more than before that two opposite truths can coexist perfectly fine, and usually do: I can feel I’m doing an amazing job as a mom and I can feel I’m doing a terrible job as a mom. And while those generally go back and forth, sometimes I can feel both at once. And they’re kind of both true. I’m a person of faith, a Christian, and I believe I’m the daughter of a Heavenly Father and that I have a Savior, Jesus, who taught vital truths for me to follow, set an example, and most importantly suffered and died for my sins and weaknesses and general mortal-ness. So I can feel in that very weak mortal-ness that I’m not doing nearly as well as I’d like to be, being like that perfect example that was set. But if I just try to remember that I’m not expected to be doing great, not expected to be perfect, that the whole point of Jesus atoning was to make up for my huge insufficiencies, I feel a lot better.
This applies so well to the daunting job of mothering. I like to speak to reality, to the challenging, painful, imperfect realities that we all experience day to day. And it’s true that I can lose my temper, that I can get annoyed with my kids, that I can say things I wish I hadn’t and not say or do things I wish I had but just couldn’t summon up the energy to do. I think everyone today is painfully aware of our realities, of the ways we fall short, of the ways we don’t at all seem to fit in the glowy, pink, Hallmark Mother’s Day Mother role. So I’ve seen a lot of friends or others speak to this reality, this feeling that we just simply don’t measure up. And that’s true. We don’t. We’re not perfect, we’re not all the same, in the same Mother mold. Our own mothers weren’t, and we aren’t as mothers ourselves.
But it’s also absolutely true that we were born to be mothers. God created us to be mothers, and He knew we wouldn’t be perfect as people all-around or as mothers, specifically. And He was OK with that. He allowed us to have this experience of motherhood in part so we could become better through the crucible that it is, and that all of us interesting, different, unique souls could rub up against each other in all our roughness and smooth out our edges together. Most importantly, our Heavenly Father didn’t send us to Earth to do smoothing without any help. I firmly believe He is heavily involved in our lives and that if we turn to Him and the Savior, we will be lifted and all the stupid things we do will be made better somehow.
So this Mother’s Day, I honor my mom not because she was perfect or I grew up in the perfect home, but because she was herself and did a great job of it. Her mothering was what I needed. I feel good about my strengths and how I’ve put those to good use day in and day out with my four daughters. When it comes to my many weaknesses, I will try a little harder not just to be better but, even more than that, to remember that I am not expected to be perfect, that God will fill in the holes. I will try to remind my daughters above all that God is aware of them and that they have a Savior, and He will be there with them in everything they do, no matter how imperfectly they do it. I think I’ve done a good job teaching my oldest to turn to her Heavenly Father for help, day in and day out, especially for the times when maybe I wasn’t the best of help as her mom. So today, I feel confident that my daughter, with all her amazing strengths and, yes, her not-strengths, will be a great mom. She’ll struggle, she’ll flail around a bit, but she will be awesome. She’ll have moments of that high when mothering seems truly like a gift from God and her little ones almost like angels, and she’ll have days that are blurry from lack of sleep and dark from feelings of inadequacy.
In short, she’ll feel like mothers everywhere. And I thank God for that.
Seems every time “the holidays” roll around, someone invariably asks me in some setting what kind of traditions we have as a family, their eyes lit up with high expectation. I hate to disappoint, but honestly, I feel like I got nothin’. I’ve heard some great stories from other people and on social media, to be sure, but all I can mumble is something about how we “open presents, eat a family dinner, talk to family members…”. As much as I’d like to, I haven’t gotten around to taking the kids to serve at a soup kitchen, for example, or doing something strikingly meaningful and religiously significant on Christmas Eve. I do believe that Christmas exists for us to remember the Savior of the World, I really do, and I try to follow Christ every day. But do I do a lot with my kids to observe that at the time of his “birthday”? Uh … not really.
Add to that people’s Facebook posts or tweets or Pins on what they do with the Elf on the Shelf every day of December (luckily, that didn’t get popular until my kids were well into growing up, so… phew!), and I just shrug and feel a little boring or deficient.
But here’s the thing: I don’t think my kids are suffering from lack of “notable” story-worthy traditions. They’re well-adjusted, happy, fun, giving, and all-round great girls. They have good memories, as do I from Christmases past. I guess my tradition as a parent is just to do the same things my parents did when I was a kid: shop and wrap presents, fill stockings, bake and cook. And hope not to be woken up way too early December 25th. I remember presents I received, time spent with my parents and grandparents and aunt and uncle and two cousins and two siblings, the music we would listen to, the cookies and pies Grandma made, my mom’s homemade noodles simmered in rich turkey broth to perfection. And my girls will remember pretty much the same things: I make the same meal, the same pies, the same cookies and noodles. And miraculously, my daughters don’t wake up at 4 a.m. (as I remember doing one year, generously keeping to my room until about 6 a.m. before disturbing my sleeping parents) or even 6 a.m.
So life is good. We may not have many cool traditions; we listen to music, hang lights, decorate the tree, put out presents, unwrap them gleefully, stuff ourselves at dinner, even read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. I do absolutely nothing Pin-able. Who cares? Not my girls. And in 20 years or so, they’ll be doing the same boring things I’m doing right now and smiling nostalgically about the boring days of yesteryear. I’m cool with that.
I’ve read a couple of articles lately that have reminded me just how tough it is to parent these days. And not in the ways you might think.
First, I read a great column about one woman’s experience, When kids were unbreakable, remembering her “dangerous” childhood and giving her kids some more opportunities for freer play. I think most of us who are in our 40s and up fondly recall hours of free play when we were growing up. I was particularly lucky to live “out in the country” most of the time before I turned 10, after which point I was more in neighborhoods. In both living situations, though, I was away from my house (and my watching mom) for hours at a time, playing in the dirt and in creeks, exploring the woods, walking along dirt roads, riding bikes along suburban streets or cutting through unfenced yards to walk to friends’ houses. I rode my bike with no hands a number of times, and once I ended up needing stitches in my elbow because of it (and I didn’t do it again). I don’t remember a lot of other dangerous things I must have done, just that I had lots of fun, was mostly smart about it, and paid attention to what was going on around me. Dad taught me to shoot a rifle in the backyard a few times (in the country); Mom taught me how to use a knife (and lots of other tools) in the kitchen.
The short story is this: my mom and dad didn’t watch my every move. I wasn’t penned inside my house; I wasn’t watching TV or any other screens very much. I ran and played. I breathed fresh air. I invented all kinds of fun games by myself and with friends and (if forced 🙂 ) my younger siblings. I made something fun out of “nothing,” the materials at hand. My mom felt fine — and was a perfectly great parent — letting me go outside her supervision for those hours.
Today, things are far different. We live in a hyper-vigilant society, in which we have 24-hour news coming at us from TV and the Internet and smartphones. Every instance of bad things happening to kids is reported to us. We fear strangers and are sure if we aren’t watching our kids every moment, that someone will likely snatch them. We live in a time when we are told to know the signs of child abuse. This is a good thing; abuse is not pushed under the rug as much and is better reported. But it’s made us all wary of being the kinds of parents who let our kids have free creative time to explore and imagine and play, without being within 10 yards of them at all moments. We fear that our kids might get kidnapped and/or abused. We fear that we’re not being “engaged” with our kids, providing them lots of fun play options. We fear we’re not good enough. I’m fairly sure that these weren’t concerns for our parents.
Which brings me to the second, and very disturbing but not surprising, article, Woman Calls CPS After Seeing Kid Play Outside. It upsets me to read it because I’ve been in a similar position. When my first two were only 2 years old and a few months old, I was reported (anonymously, though I was able to piece together who it was because I knew her personality and modus operandi) to CPS because someone was concerned they were undernourished and one had a raw, chapped rash between her lips and her nose. Here’s what the circumstances were: my kids were and still are, many years later, petite. The infant had Down syndrome, and many people don’t realize that children with Down’s have their own growth chart. My pediatrician measured her growth against other DS kids. She was fine and perfectly healthy. In fact, we’ve always been blessed that she’s been remarkably healthy, with no heart problems, no digestive problems, almost no ear infections, even. But she looked, to one too-sensitive observer, to be “too small.” My 2-year-old just had a bad (and difficult to break) habit of licking above her lips and that small area was for a fairly short period of time just red and chapped, and I did everything I could think of to make it better. This apparently also made me an object of concern.
A case worker came out to our house and questioned me and looked at the kids, and I was lucky enough that that was the end of it. My kids also were too young to know anything was going on. But it was extremely upsetting for me. I was scared and just sick to my stomach. Raising my kids was hard, and I was always grateful for a break and me-time, but I certainly didn’t want them taken from me!
It was also my introduction to the brave new world of Big Brother: everyone is watching you. And they are given the power over your life to call a number and anonymously report the possibility of you being a Bad Parent. Then you are thrown into what I have discovered is not just a flawed system, but one that’s in some places openly hostile and dangerous to normal, good parents. I don’t have space to tell all the stories, but I could relate a number of them, of good and loving parents who have ended up having to take time-consuming and unnecessary parenting classes, hire attorneys, and be in genuine fear for their parenting and working lives because someone misconstrued something they did in public. It is terrifying.
We have become a nation of helicopter parents, it’s true. And we’ve become a nation of people who are quick to jump to conclusions, who are quick to call “the authorities” on the basis of a tiny possibility of a problem, who don’t know their neighbors from Adam, who have no idea of any context of the lives of the people they’re reporting on. If we knew each other better, knew that our neighbors were good parents who love their kids, whose parenting styles assuredly are different from ours but are NOT BAD, who support their kids and teach them and are making them into responsible adults, we’d be far less likely to go straight to the government with a concern rather than talk to our neighbors first, if we do anything. But we don’t. We are very connected with disembodied people via smartphones and tablets and computer screens, and with talking heads on the news, but not truly interconnected with a community of real, living, breathing people. We’re taking a quick way out to call the authorities and assuage some kind of guilty conscience (for not being better involved, for not knowing Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their two kids next door) or to pat ourselves on the back for “doing the right thing,” as the government and news outlets repeatedly tell us.
Would it be possible at this point to go back a little, to recapture the sense of community we had as neighbors, to support each other in the tough job that is parenting, and to let our kids have the space they so desperately need (as studies keep proving) for free play and imagination and learning how to navigate the world? I’m a little worried that it’s not, that we’ve gone too far. But I desperately hope we haven’t.
If you’ve read my blog much at all, you may have noticed that I have a few passions: I care about and advocate for mental health issues, education, and other issues related to the media (content that’s suitable for families and kids, better accountability on issues like image and portrayals of women).
In the 14 years or so I’ve had kids in school, I’ve been involved in different aspects of education. At times, I’ve attended school board meetings and advisory meetings; at other times, I’ve been involved with specific organizations like the band boosters. I’ve always gone to my kids’ parent-teacher conferences and back-to-school nights and open houses and so on. I’ve helped out in classes sometimes and gone to activities. In all this time, I’ve observed all kinds of problems, some of which I’ve written about.
But in all I’ve done to participate, read, ask questions, and educate myself about education in the United States today, I’ve realized one thing underlies most of the problems and concerns: families aren’t playing the role they should in the development of children and their overall education.
I’ll say that again: Taken on the whole, families (i.e. parents) in this country aren’t teaching, supporting, and nurturing their kids. Why? Lots of reasons. But to be brief and try to get at a core issue, families simply aren’t “whole” anymore. I read a great overview of how there is no “average American family” anymore and it provides a few revealing statistics, taken from a new book: “Take 100 children who are representative of American life, … and 22 live in families where mom stays home and dad earns the income — the ‘typical’ family experience of 65 percent of kids in the 1950s. Another 23 live with a single mother; it’s a 50-50 proposition whether that single mom was ever married. Seven live with a cohabiting single parent and three each are being raised by a single dad or grandparent.”
If many kids are living with just one parent, and that parent has to do the job of two parents, and is necessarily away from the home working to provide for the family, it follows that those kids won’t have the level of involvement in their day-to-day lives and school lives as a household in which there are two parents. And in those households in which both parents are working (because that’s their choice or because of economic necessity), kids will have more involvement in their lives than the families with one parent around, but they simply won’t have the time dedicated to them that a family has with two parents with only one parent working outside the home. I’m not casting blame here at all; I’m simply looking at the realities of time constraints and what kind of actual QUANTITY time kids have with parents, as opposed to the oft-talked-about “quality” time.
The reality is that quality is great, but a certain amount of quantity is vital. As a stay-at-home parent (I do editing work from home on my own schedule, which is a luxury I really appreciate), I get lots of face time with my kids, who are all in formative periods of their lives. They come home from school and have questions or comments or needs, and I’m there for them. They are lucky to have a parent there to help them with needs and to do informal teaching. Kids’ learning really happens during moments they have questions and someone can answer tailored to their interests.
So with the new reality being kids living in homes with single parents who must be absent and with two parents who are both often absent (during those crucial times of afternoon into early evening), kids aren’t getting as much time for informal learning from their parents. That learning includes all kinds of topics: building character, learning to manage finances, learning about interesting topics that schools don’t necessarily provide classes in, getting opportunities for family “field trips.”
Schools are places to learn the sciences, literature, math, writing, history, etc. I was quite good in all the school subjects when I was growing up, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable teaching advanced math or sciences to my kids; I’d rather they have teachers who specialize in each subject and who are particularly adept in those to help them learn about those topics.
I guess I sound rather old-fashioned. But the reality is that it’s not the job of schools to teach character, for instance. Schools can’t take my kids on trips very often at all to learn about different areas of our state or country. Schools can’t teach faith, and they don’t often have time to focus on basic life skills that are more easily learned informally at home.
Time in school is finite, and as I’ve observed at a variety of meetings with other parents and educators, it’s becoming more and more difficult to fit in during a school day all the core subjects, let alone other things schools are having to teach kids because their families aren’t doing it very well or at all. In our town, elementary schools focus on a different character trait every month to teach students: respect, responsibility, caring, trustworthiness, fairness, citizenship. Why? The “Character Counts” program was started to “combat youth violence, irresponsibility and dishonesty” by stressing positive character traits. This means that the community and schools were finding that kids and teens were acting badly and needed to be taught values; families weren’t doing the job.
Over the past dozen-plus years I’ve been actively participating in community education, I’ve seen all the problems that exist. I’ve also seen all the programs school systems have started or turned to to combat the problems. I’ve seen how little time and money exist for schools to be able to surmount all these issues by themselves. And the simple fact of the matter is this: no matter how much schools try to do to “raise” kids into good, contributing members of society, they simply can’t parent kids. Parents parent. And no one else can do that very challenging, intense, nonstop, VITAL job.
I’ll continue to be involved in school meetings and advisory panels and so on. I’ll continue to give ideas on how better to teach and support all kids, mine and everyone else’s. But nothing I or the schools can do will take the place of the home. The solution is to support families and homes. Our nation, our communities, absolutely must find ways to strengthen families. In the article I mentioned earlier, Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, says this: “Kids raised by their own intact, married parents are more likely to flourish. Given that, public policy should help strengthen both the economic and the married foundations of family life for kids in the United States.”
Until we change our attitudes about marriage and family life, our children (including their education) will continue to suffer.
This past year has been an incredibly busy one for me and my family, full of activities, travel, work, volunteering, and everything else expected of a mom with kids at home. Our family had a daughter who was a senior in high school, who stayed busy with extracurriculars, and I was involved in many ways myself. We also decided to host an exchange student, and she lived with us for the entire school year. Thus, we had an extra teen and high school student in the house in addition to all our usual stuff. It was busy but fun and great in many ways.
Now that the school year is over, the senior daughter has graduated high school, and the exchange student has returned to her home, it’s summer, and a very quiet and empty one, uncharacteristically so. We have nothing planned! It’s a wonderful feeling. And whereas last summer I had some (what I thought were) modest goals, which I didn’t really achieve, this summer I have none. Well, aside from getting through it with my sanity intact. And that can be a biggie.
My parenting philosophy has always been taken from that of my mom and my own childhood: Mom isn’t responsible for keeping kids from being bored. That includes not scheduling stuff, or at least not much. I’ve always felt it was important for kids in many ways to be reared with this kind of parenting, mainly because it teaches them responsibility for themselves from an early age. They learn the world doesn’t exist to make them happy or fulfilled. It’s on them. And it allows them to just develop their creativity and thinking skills, given a sufficiently “stocked” environment. (In my feeling, this includes a mom who’s willing to spend some time reading with them, taking them to the library, and providing them some raw materials for play.)
I am not at all surprised when I read that studies bear out my (my mom’s) philosophy. This article on The Atlantic mentions several benefits for kids, such as learning “self-direction” and “self-regulation.” My job as a mom is to grow independent adults. It takes ’em a while, but I want them to be able to take care of themselves when they leave the nest. That is the idea, isn’t it?
I’ve never been a big “scheduler,” in part because I don’t want my kids to not have free time and this opportunity to self-direct, and in part because I don’t want to overschedule myself and our family as a whole. I admit that I did “schedule” my younger girls to have some summer classes in the mornings to give myself a little guaranteed time to myself and to give them the feeling that they have some balance of scheduled (but both fun and educational things) and nice wide-open afternoons. It’s a nice balance for us all so far, as I’m finding here at the end of “summer week 3.”
Here’s what I said at the beginning of the summer, and which I occasionally repeat as a gentle reminder of the “rules”: “I have generously paid for you to enjoy some fun things in the mornings (for five weeks). In the afternoons, and on weekends and other days you’re not in school, I have provided you plenty of options for things to do. Your rooms are now organized and reasonably stocked with art supplies, books, and toys; there are board games; we have things to do in the yard. I will go outside with you for some time most afternoons and watch you so you can swim. You have the responsibility of figuring out exactly what you’re going to do and when during all those off hours. I will not choose for you. Now, go and have fun!”
So far, the rules are working fairly well. I’m getting my paid freelance work done, I’m finally getting to the “eventually-to-do” lists (woot!!!), and everyone is mostly happy and well adjusted. I think my parenting philosophy is benefiting my kids, whether the studies bear me out or not. But they do. Ha!
So Mother’s Day in the United States has just passed, a day in which millions of women received handmade cards with paint-stamped body parts in shapes of hearts and various forms of breakfast, either in bed or at the table. It was a day in which mothers smiled and were gracious about the efforts of their young progeny, same as pretty much every other day of the year.
It was also a day that induced or amplified all kinds of emotions in women of all ages and stages of life, ones who have children and those who do not. So let me address one of those emotions that tends to rise to the surface yet again for some mothers on the second Sunday in May: guilt.
Here’s one scenario of feelings that can play out that Sunday, particularly if one attends church, where people stand at the pulpit and talk about their angel mothers: I am not good enough. As a mother, I do not sound at all like the description often made of those amazing moms whose stories go down in the history books of being completely self-sacrificing, completely loving and giving, completely kind and always up for listening to a child’s ramblings, no matter how constant or stream-of-consciousness they may be. These women never seem to snap, never seem to request a break just for some peace and quiet, never ask for “me” time, never tell a kid to come back later.
If, for some reason, a woman doesn’t hear those kinds of talks or they just don’t bother her, then there’s still the rest of the day to barrel through, which invariably also means her husband and children are eager to make her happy. If you’re like me, someone who can get overloaded and overstimulated seemingly far too easily, and you just made a T-shirt quilt for the high school band director so her senior daughter and fellow seniors could have a personalized gift to give him before graduation, and you hosted a before-prom dinner for 16 students at her house the night before Mother’s Day (just as two examples), you probably just want to be left alone for an afternoon and evening to sleep and collect your thoughts again (and gear up for more events and to-do-list items begging for your attention). But your children and husband know it is their DUTY to MAKE YOU HAPPY that day. To them, just leaving you alone and letting you sleep, etc., translates into profound failure on their part, because MAKING YOU HAPPY means being with you every moment, attending to your every supposed need and loving on you.
So as a mother, you’re stuck. Either you take the needed time to just be alone and manage to rest up enough so you can forge on with your selfless mothering duties for the rest of the week, month, year, and lifetime, for all those other days for which you are supposedly celebrated and venerated on the one Sunday, OR you suck it up and spend time with the kiddos doing things they enjoy because they think it’s stuff you enjoy and that will make them happy.
Let’s just say that mothering guilt will inevitably occur. No matter what, you’re back at that familiar rock and hard place.
Let’s just posit this idea: women generally are and want to be selfless when it comes to their families, except for those women who truly are just bad mothers (they do exist, you know). They do make sacrifices, some seemingly bigger or more story-worthy than others, at different levels that are unique and personal and necessary for each (some even sacrifice too much, honestly, more than is good for their own mental and emotional health). So the reality is that there’s going to be at least some level of guilt on the day they’re celebrated, at some moment or hour during that day. There’s going to be guilt because there’s guilt 365 days a year; there are just a few new twists on it on Mother’s Day, in addition to the regular ol’ garden-variety guilt.
How about we just declare the day “Mom, don’t feel guilty” day? How about we ban guilt for one day? It’s a bold and wacky idea, but maybe we can give it a try. It might be very liberating.
I was appalled, but not surprised, to read this morning about Alabama state Rep. Alvin Holmes’ comments during an abortion-related debate last month. As Yahoo Shine wrote, “In addition to claiming that 99 percent of white legislators would force their daughters to have an abortion if impregnated by a black man, Holmes also said, ‘I will bring you $100,000 cash tomorrow if you show me a whole bunch of whites that adopted blacks in Alabama.’ … Now he may need to head to the bank, as families who have done just that staged a press conference at the Alabama State House Wednesday.”
As a family who ourselves lived in Alabama for 12 years and, while living there, adopted a black baby (born in North Carolina), I have so much to say about this topic (and all the topics branching out from it) that it’d fill pages and pages of blog posts. But I think what I’d like to focus on today is racism. That’s at the core of this.
Here’s where I come from on race: I am white. I come from a very white family raised in the Northern United States. My parents are from Ohio and I lived the first 10 years of my life in Pennsylvania, where I remember seeing so few blacks that each “sighting” was cause for actually remembering each incident. This was in the 1970s, mind you, and things likely have shifted since then, but this, again, is my story. Then I moved to Mississippi when I was 10 and then on to Kentucky. But I had plenty of opportunities to spend time with blacks from then on. My take was this: hey, they’re people, and they have a different skin color. OK. So? On to other things.
My husband is Filipino. Asian. Not white. He felt keenly enough at certain points in his life the fact that he was a “minority” in the United States in the places he lived, particularly his two years in Utah, where we met at college. He stood out among the majority of whites there and was all too aware of that. Funny note about that: when we met, he owned and frequently wore a black cap with an X on it in reference to Malcolm X. Suffice it to say because of his minority status, he empathized with African-Americans in America and their history and status. When we dated, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Coretta Scott King’s story, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. and found them fascinating and informative.
My husband was always a bit surprised that I just didn’t “care” or “notice” that he wasn’t white like me. Despite my Northern, white, homogeneous background, my parents had still taught us that people’s race just didn’t matter: we’re all people and deserve to be treated as such, equal human beings.
Then he and I moved to the South together. We ended up spending 12 years in Alabama, mostly in a small-ish town called Anniston. There, my husband had his first experience living in a place where the so-called “minority” was actually in equal numbers to the “majority.” Don’t ask me census numbers, but there were plenty of blacks.
There, we saw how separate the races still were in many ways, how many of the poorer, not-middle-class blacks lived on one side of town and the whites on the other. How the schools had essentially become segregated again because the middle-class whites had moved to different areas and were joined by some blacks who were also middle class and well-off enough to do so. We lived “in town” and went to those schools that were majority black. And I was fine with that. I refused to be part of “white flight” for a number of reasons.
But we also saw the other side of the story, one few people talk about, that blacks themselves are far from being immune to racism. On far too many occasions, blacks would look at my husband, the Asian who was truly a minority there, and call him names related to his race. I was absolutely shocked. How could these people who had been so horribly mistreated and still were largely in worse shape economically than whites in that area of the country not have more compassion, more understanding, more empathy, for the feelings and perspective of someone also a minority? When given the opportunity, they acted just as badly.
It’s great that there are black leaders in government. That’s the whole idea, that the U.S. has a representative government. But if black representatives, who supposedly speak for their constituents and act on their behalf, have such ridiculous notions of race relations as Rep. Holmes (and believe me, this is not an isolated incident), what are their constituents thinking and feeling and saying? (No, I don’t think all his constituents agree with him, but I doubt it’s just a really tiny number that do.)
Yes, the United States, particularly the American South, has an abominable history when it comes to race relations and the treatment of blacks. I just happen to be in the middle of reading Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel about slavery in the early 1800s, The Invention of Wings, and the unspeakable things that were done to humans then still astonish me and cut me to the core. There are no words for how I feel about those things. But human beings, with our capacity for love and goodness and wonder, still have ugly capacities as well. And those capacities did not end with the abolition of slavery or with the Civil Rights laws enacted in the 1960s or anything that has improved since. Whites and blacks and any other race still have the capacity for ignorance and prejudice and saying and doing ridiculously stupid things. Holmes is just the latest example of this. When we push and hope for a “color-blind” society, our efforts can’t be focused just on whites; blacks and any other minorities need to be included as well.