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November 10, 2010

The kind of mother I wanted to be

I’ve read two really excellent pieces on mothering blogs lately, the first being “I was a better mom before I had kids…” and then Her Bad Mother’s “On Being a Good Mother In Spite of It All.” Both play with the expectations we set for ourselves before we become parents, and what the reality turns out to be, and I think these kinds of discussions are useful actually, to a point. HBM rounds out her piece with the idea that trying to be a certain kind of mother when your heart’s not in it isn’t going to be good for anyone– for example, baby-wearing because you think you should, but your back is killing you and you hate it, or quitting work to stay home with the baby when it makes you miserable. She was writing in response to a recent article by Erica Jong about the ridiculousness of attachment parenting (“On the Madness of Modern Motherhood”).

Now I am fortunate, because I came into parenting completely unaware that “attachment parenting” was even a thing. Or rather, I knew about it, but simply as one of the faddy things I learned about from reading Christina Hardyment’s Dream Babies (along with Baby Whispering, and airing your child in a cage suspended from an apartment window). So my idea of the kind of mother I wanted to be didn’t come with a doctrine. My parenting philosophy, if I have one (but I don’t) has kind of grown up with me– for example, I learned that strollers are awkward in narrow Bloor Street shops and many places have steps, so I became a Baby Trekker convert (and we’re at 28 lbs and still going). I learned that some nights the only way anyone in our house would get some sleep was if Harriet came to bed with me and so (I guess?) we became part-time co-sleepers. It has always been important to me to take responsibility for having brought a child into the world, thereby doing some extra laundry instead of contributing to landfill, so I am a bit of a cloth diaper fanatic. I still breastfeed, but was never able to pump, so Harriet had formula when I wasn’t around. I don’t buy plastic toys We don’t own a car or a television, and I don’t want to own either, and it has been important to me to learn how to be a parent without both of these things.

Believe it or not, this photo was not staged. We are this lovely naturally.

And so what I dislike about the discussions I noted is the way they descend into this bad-mother free-for-all. As if the very idea of using cloth diapers is laughable, or keeping small children away from television or limiting consumption . And I realize that a lot of this is very easy to say from the perspective of a mother of one, though I will point out that my belief in these ideas is part of the reason I am a mother of one (for now)– having one child is one of the reasons we’re able to make things work for us the way we want to. But I just feel that sometimes we’re all so busy congratulating ourselves for our honesty (like that a six month old got turned on to McDonalds. Really???) that we forget that some of these ideals are really sound ideas, and maybe the reason we feel guilty sometimes is that we should… Not because we let our children go out with dirty faces (see photo), or go out looking dumpy (also, see photo) of course, or lose our tempers etc. These are little things, they’re silly things. But there are bigger issues at hand, and somehow they get swept into the same catagory of impossible things. Like motherhood is just a slippery slope, and we’re all now looking up from the bottom.

I really am writing this now not to be a smug pain in the ass, but as reassurance for women who aren’t moms yet but who have an idea about the kind of mothers they want to be. If that idea comes from an authentic place within you, if you’re doing it because you want to and you believe in it (as opposed to the unsustainable arrangement derided by HBM of what you think you should be doing), then it’s totally possible. Of course, half the equation is your baby, and all bets are off as to what he or she will decide, but I want to assert that motherhood as an institution does not necessary push you to the bottom of that slippery slope. You’re exactly as indomitable as you feel.

7 thoughts on “The kind of mother I wanted to be”

  1. m says:

    Can I pipe in here as a mother of two young boys less than two years apart and whose parenting rules have morphed over the years? Parenting, like everything in life, has to be fluid. Things (expectations, rules, etc.) change as they need to. The parenting choices you make need to be the best ones for your family at that time. The advice I would give parents-to-be or new parents is:
    1. Listen to advice, but trust your gut.
    2. Don’t read a baby manual written by a man.
    3. Don’t read mommy blogs.
    4. You are the best parent for your child.
    5. This too shall pass. (The good and the bad.)

  2. Kerry says:

    All good advice. I would add in particular avoid baby manuals written by men and their grown sons. Anyway, you are a wise woman. Thank you!

  3. m says:

    The only baby manual I read was parts of the Sears’ books. I stopped at about 9 months and haven’t looked back. I think because I fall on the more granola side of the spectrum, a lot of what was written spoke to me.

    Before I became a mother, I never really thought about what kind of mother I would be and I could never envision myself with babies. My fantasy children were in the tweens/teens and seated around a huge table, eating big meals and having long conversations. We’re nowhere near that stage yet, obviously. What dinner conversations the boys like the best involve using the word ‘poo’ as much as possible. Not really what I had in mind.

  4. Beth-Anne says:

    When I wrote, I was a better mother before I had kids, I intended it to be a permission letter to myself – – to let go of all of the notions of motherhood (and there were many more that I didn’t list) that I had pre-kids, for myself. I was naive in thinking that mothering would be easy. That if I had a list of “rules” and stuck to them, then life would move along seamlessly.

    When I had my first child my eyes were opened to what my new reality was. I learned in a hurry that flexibility and not being so hard on myself were going to be paramount to my success as a mother. Then I had my second child 15 months later. He was (is) a challenging child. Once again, I learned the lesson of self-preservation. I learned to “let go” of some things. I learned that it was okay to stray from my ideals for snipits of time if it meant maintaining my sanity and that of the house.

    I agree with your point about sticking to your values. As I responded to the commenters of my post, values are some thing that I held on to. I won’t get into what our family values are, but we are true to them. What I confused in my early motherhood, is values and “ideals”.

    I definitely don’t feel that motherhood is a slippery downward slope. In fact, I think that my being a mother has put my priorities into perspective.

    I would like to echo your sentiments, when you mother from within, you can’t go wrong.

    Thanks for this great post.

    1. Kerry says:

      Hi Beth-Anne, Thanks for your comment. I did like your post, and what I took issue with was an extension of it. I also like this: “I definitely don’t feel that motherhood is a slippery downward slope. In fact, I think that my being a mother has put my priorities into perspective.”

  5. Martha says:

    Just remember this – “The Days are Long but the Years are short”. It is the most special and yet difficult time ever and no one can prepare you for it.

    The only thing I would add here – in the spirit of honesty – is that in addition to avoiding manuals written by men, its best to avoid over educated opinionated other mothers who have an opinion on close to everything on childrearing and will certainly let you know it.

    I never forget when I chose to stop breastfeeding my twin boys. I had phone calls from friends begging me to continue, was practically ostricised at my babygroup and more. And then when I decided to go back to work – well blow me down – I have never felt so alienated.

    I found more support and understanding often from male friends than my so called sisters. For me this was the biggest shock and made me incredibly sad.

    Anyway – a few years on, the boys are marvelous, I have a great work / life balance, work flexi and from home and see them masses. Just had to work it out my own way. But its been a tough ride.


  6. Kerry says:

    As a woman AND a mother though, I’ve always found it hard to see others making choices different from my own. Because we cling to these certainties through which we hold the pieces of the universe together, that there is a perfect formula for womanhood, for parenthood. And then when someone chooses a different formula, the cracks in our own plans are exposed and that’s really scary. I know I’m not the only one who has this unfortunate tendency, and I suspect it’s behind the pressure you received and the diatribes spouted by the “over educated opinionated other mothers” you mentioned. Yes, we have to learn how to be more supportive of each other, but sometimes it can be really hard. Working on it though.

    Thanks for your comment.

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