I do not have a normal mother. My mother is not a person I would ask for advice. She is not a good role model. I do not trust my mother enough to leave her unattended with my children, even for one minute. My mother sometimes says bizarre and upsetting things. My mother does things dangerous for children like leave prescription medications hiding in unexpected places so they don’t get stolen by imagined intruders. My mother is not predictable, is not normal, is not comforting for me to be around. She is mentally ill, possibly schizophrenic, definitely delusional.
Having a mother like my mother has made my efforts at motherhood challenging. When my son was a baby, we had too many trips to the Emergency Room, sometimes for silly things. We hadn’t yet developed our parental senses to tell us when something was truly wrong, and when something was a minor issue. We were newly-moved and there was no one to tell us these things. There was no mother to guide us, calm us. The Handbook of Motherhood that I inherited from my mother was damaged and missing chapters. So what did we do? We learned through experience, through reading, and through talking with each other and conferring about everything.
A benefit of not having a positive role model is being unencumbered when forming one’s own style, like a potter forms shapeless clay. We started with the premise that children are tiny people. Negative examples that we had from our childhoods proved to be useful touchstones. Our children are seen. Our children are heard. We encourage our children to have constructive opinions, to make a logical proposal about exactly why we should change our normal seating arrangement for dinner. We tell them to find the compromise position. We reward their independent thinking, their initiative. We don’t buy coloring books for them to color someone else’s drawings but buy art supplies to create drawings from their imaginations. We tell them that “hard” only means that it takes longer to learn. We try to teach personal responsibility and emphasize the cause and effect of actions. That “sorry” means something. That “love” means something. I do not know if our style of parenting is too much for them at their age. The only way we will know is in retrospect, when too many years have passed for us to take a different course. In the interim, we do our best. So far, our five-year old has amazing enthusiasm for life and learning. He is self-confident and provides a thoughtful challenge to our ideas. That’s okay. Challenging parents is part of a child’s job description.
I’ve been told that I’m a good mother. “Incredibly patient” is the description that I hear the most. Appearances can be deceiving; my mother was told that she is a good mother too. Only my children know the truth about my mothering. Years from now I will sit with them and tell them that I gave to them what I invented in my heart. It was what I had to offer. I will tell them that I treated them how I thought children should be treated. I will explain that I tried to help them become who they really are, as they reached toward their internal destinies.
I hope that they will tell me that I am someone whom they would ask for advice. That I am someone who is a source of comfort. That as a mother, I am little bit predictable. A mother unlike my mother.