Saturday, January 2, 2010

Am I Still a Good Mother if No One's There to See?

I've been thinking a lot about images, the way we perceive one another. I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who will listen to me go on and on for hours as I talk through all the neuroses and nonsense floating around my head until I sort it all out. It was during one of these decidedly one-sided conversations that I discovered something sort of unsettling about myself. I care way too much about how others view me. It wasn't exactly a brand-new revelation, far from it. My need to be liked and accepted has been the root of many problems from adolescence and on. It's why I have always been a teacher's pet, why I didn't have any friends, and why I was constantly unhappy as a teenager. I didn't know how to be myself and like what I liked, because I was so busy pretending to like what everyone else did. I know I've just described over half the teenage population. I'm not saying this was a unique problem. And mercifully, most of us grow out of this phase and learn to just be ourselves, opinions of others be damned!

Or do we? Sure, I've come a long way from the girl who begged for an advance on her allowance to buy some hideous Looney Tunes t-shirt that she didn't even like, just so she wouldn't be the only one not wearing one at school. I no longer have to hide my all-consuming love for Emma Thompson and period British frock flicks from my middle school compatriots. But do I live my life only for me, or do I go out of my way to preserve some kind of image?

I think the truth is that I still have not learned to live my life like nobody is watching. One of my biggest concerns over this past year has been my identity as a mother. What kind of mother do I want to be? How do I want to be seen? Not as the overprotective and paranoid new mother, surely not. I want to be the relaxed, confident mom, ever-prepared, the one lending diapers to the frazzled, hand-wringing mom who forgot to pack extras. I want to be the wise mom whom others come to for advice.

And I don't think I'm alone. I think for every time we gracefully smile and nod at the clich├ęd words of wisdom spoken by more experienced mothers, we secretly scan the room looking for someone less experienced than we. Someone to fall victim to OUR "See what you have to look forward to?" and "Oh, that's nothing. Wait until she starts walking!" comments. No matter how together you think you are as a mom, there is always going to be someone with older kids or more kids to put you in your place. I even did it when I was pregnant. If you were less pregnant than me, I'd assault you with a, "You think you're big now? Just wait!". Or I'd come at you with a "Oh, back when I was ONLY four months pregnant, I thought I knew it all. But, now that I'm six months along, I really know what it's all about". I think it's some sort of weird, innate human desire to educate and maybe even help others. Maybe we need to feel needed, or maybe it strengthens our confidence as parents.

Or maybe we're all just fucking annoying.

It's harmless, really. Unless you are like me, and you take it too far. See, about a month ago, I was having a really rough time. I wrote once about how Charlotte stopped sleeping through the night and how she was coming to bed with me, but that I didn't mind. And it's true that I didn't mind her sleeping in bed with us. But the operative word there is sleep. Once she started waking up in the middle of the night and hitting us, talking to us, sitting up in bed, STANDING up in bed, we were done. None of us were getting any sleep. Chris and I started bickering about who got more sleep, who needed more sleep, who got smacked in the face less by the baby. You name it. But the worst part was that Charlotte was being a brat. I've joked about her being bad in the past, but this was out of this world. She had a meltdown every time anything-ever-happened-somewhere-in-the-world. She was always crying and throwing things and whining. I was totally at the end of my rope. Even though intellectually I knew she was acting that way due to a lack of sleep, I couldn't help but feel like A) My baby hated me. B)I didn't really like her either. And C)I was a horrible mother for both those reasons.

It was a time I needed some advice, some reassurance that I wasn't alone, some friends. But because I was ashamed of how out of control I felt, ashamed of not having it all figured out, ashamed of not being the Zen mom I wanted to be, I didn't say anything for a while. I figured I was just being a baby, not appreciating this wonderful gift I had waited so long for. I reasoned I could fix the problem in my head so I didn't have to expose myself as the aforementioned frazzled mom.

Luckily, I have some really awesome friends and family and a totally amazing husband who all make me feel secure enough to be honest. So, eventually I came out of the bad mommy closet and opened up. Now, with the support of those around me and the miracle that is "sleeping through the night", I am in a much better place.

And I learned a valuable lesson. We are none of us perfect. We all have weak moments and flaws. I admire my friends who can be upfront with me about the trials and pitfalls of parenthood. If we were all that way, we could offer one another support and reassurance. And from now on, I will be taking a page from your book so I never feel so lonely again.

7 comments:

  1. Great entry.

    I know exactly what you mean about sounding like a 'know it all' when just sharing ideas or experiences. When I'm writing or drawing, I'll obsess over this for hours or days, trying to find the proper balance between sharing and preaching. At the end of the day it doesn't really matter, but being aware of it is essential to my writing process.

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  2. Well, being the person who had to listen to her daughter wish that Emma Thompson was her mother, I'm glad that you came out of the closet.
    I knew that eventually you'd get sick of not sleeping and let Charlotte cry it out. I, too, have a fine line to walk: how and when to offer my advice, and how to act when you don't take it.
    Kids love and need limits, no matter what they say, and you've proved it. You stood fast, and she's a sweeter baby for finally getting some sleep.
    You're doing fine. If your children turn out half as wonderful as mine did, you're doing great!

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  3. a good support system is crucial to being a mom! it always helps when you have people who can relate to your horror stories about sleep deprivation, non-stop tantrums, and the like.

    also, i think we all have moments where we don't like our kids. it doesn't make us bad moms or mean that we love them any less... it just means that they are being impossible and we might need some caffeine. :)

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  4. I swear, the more I read your words, the more I feel like we are long-lost sisters or something. Like an Oprah episode waiting to happen.

    I have been that frazzled mom without the diapers, oh, about 50 times. I also got the reputation early on in our mom's group for being the "lax" mom (b/c I wasn't germ phobic, and the "know it all" b/c I was a researcher/journalist and knew about a myriad of arcane subjects. Then I was the mom with the "tough" baby who was always crying (when we hadn't figured out my son's eating issues and he was constantly in pain); now, when we all are in the toddler years, I am the one with the "easy" kid.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I've been viewed as so many mother "types"; some I've enjoyed and some, not so much. But I'm finally realizing that I'm a good enough mom who is still figuring it out, taking it as it comes. I don't say "I won't be X kind of mom" b/c you never know what's gonna happen. I wasn't going to be a formula feeding mom, and look at me now. I wasn't going to be a Ferberizer until my son broke me down with his awful sleeping. And so on.

    But regardless... glad to hear someone else feels so similarly to how I feel. Thanks for putting this out there- you are so beautifully honest in your writing; I love it!

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  5. I feel the same way! Like, we're kindred spirits or something. LOL

    And that's one of the reasons I think I love your blog so much, because you are tolerant, logical, and SANE. I can so easily relate to that kind of attitude.

    I really appreciate that you are now reading my blog. And I can't wait to keep reading yours!

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  6. You're smart... and funny!! Just the kind of mom I like.

    I call my parenting approach "hybrid parenting." I'll take a little of this and a little of that. For every one thing I love about attachment parenting, there are another five I'm not so into (like the judgmental attitude). So, I make it up as I go. Maybe it should be "On the fly parenting"... or "All the things I said I'd never do parenting"!

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  7. Thanks, Brooke! Nice to see you over here!

    I'm in total agreement. I like some aspects of attachment parenting, like I kind of wish I had done more babywearing when she was little, but then again, it made my shoulders hurt!

    I like the term, "hybrid parenting". That's perfect!

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