Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Pinched toes

I was reading a post today by a lovely woman who has recently felt pretty overwhelmed by motherhood. She’s doing some of her thinking out loud on her blog, which has been neat to read. It isn’t typical pretty mommy-blogging – but it is very real, and I’m appreciating her honesty.

Part of her post today really struck me, and I've found myself pondering it. (You'll see what I mean by "real"):

One thing that I've ignored for a very long time (because it didn't fit the expectations) is that I'm not a naturally gifted mother. I really, really wanted to be. But it's more like I'm a hunting dog who has been retro-fitted to be a lap dog.

Which is to say, a Literature professor who has been retro-fitted to be an at-home mom.

I mean, it works. I do a good job. But damn, most days that shoe just don't fit. It goes all wonky.

This really resonates with me. I think that I am naturally an adequate mother, and with a lot of effort I can be quite a good mother. But I know a young woman (our regular babysitter) who God has seriously gifted for motherhood. She LOVES being with children. Her career choice until she has kids of her own is to babysit and nanny. She is, and will be, amazing! And sometimes I look at her and think "if I'm the mom, how come I can't be like her?" But the thing is, I can't - I'm not made that way. I never liked babysitting, and I’m afraid I’ve forgotten how to “play pretend”. Although I love my children with everything in me, mothering them is hard work.

Here’s the thing: choral directing is my “shoe”. I am a really good choral director; I love teaching students to sing and working to blend sounds and find just the right emphasis and phrasing. That shoe fits me perfectly. Motherhood pinches my toes.

And that's ok. I don't regret my choice to stay home with the kids, because there are great joys to be found here. Not to mention God's rather specific instructions! But I find it a little freeing to admit that this isn't just the right shoe.


Sarah said...

A couple of years ago, I saw an old friend who had a 2-year old son. I asked her if she missed him (she was away from home) and her response was, "I hope he's well but . . . it's like this. Motherhood is hard for me. I love my son and I want to raise him, but it's not natural for me. So I miss him but I'm glad I'm here." I found freedom in that even then, because I somehow knew it was how I would feel as a mother. Sure enough, it is. And someday, you're going to be that fabulous choir director!!

Jessica said...

I dunno . . . I think it might be more like modesty - one of those virtues that is always itself, but which has an application that looks different in different places. What's modest in one culture isn't in another, and what good mothering looks like in one woman might not be what it looks like in another . . .

I guess, what I'm trying to say is: I think of my friends who are mothers, and I think they're all good mothers, and in every single case, when I picture myself trying to mother like them, I picture myself going batshit insane. Can you picture me trying to parent like Elena? Like Christina? Like you? I can't, but I think you're all good moms. If I was trying on one of your shoes, to use the analogy, it wouldn't just pinch; it'd hobble.

What if it's that you're trying on someone else's shoe? I mean, the things you mention: playing pretend and liking babysitting other people's kids . . . I'm not sure those are necessary to being a good mom, anymore than a Victorian bustle is necessary to modesty. Could they be part of good mothering? Sure. But maybe not of your good mothering. Anymore than your modest attire necessitates a sarong.

I don't know - it's late and I'm rambling. I just don't think that we have to be just one thing. Sometimes one thing at a time, though, that I grant. I also don't think you have to be brilliant as a babysitter to be brilliant as a mom. At least, I hope not. I was never any great shakes at babysitting. That'd be my sister. :) (Who of course is going to be a brilliant mom. But a brilliant mom in her Laurel-style, not in my Jess-style. Or your Emily-style. The mom shoe is not just a size six in green leather, is what I'm saying. There's also the six ten in brown leather, the size eight in red suede with a kitten heel, the size nine with ankle-ties . . . and now I really am rambling and I need to GET OFF MY COMPUTER.)

sarah marie said...

Hey Em, I understand what you're saying, but I'm not sure I agree.

My friend Story works as a midwife but says that if her family could afford for her to stay home with her kids, she'd rather, because lots of people can be midwives but only she can be her kids' mom. I think that kind of hits on what I'm thinking - sure, lots of people are great moms, and maybe they play more imaginative games, or make more silly jokes, or whatever specific comparison you're making at the moment. But they are *their* kids' moms. You are *your* kids' mom. No one can be *your* kids' mom better than you can; I would argue that God has specifically gifted you for that job because he created those kids and placed them in your family.

You said, "Although I love my children with everything in me, mothering them is hard work." First of all, of course mothering is hard work. It's a triple-full-time job! But you love your children more than anyone else could, and that's what drives you to keep doing that job to the best of your ability.

Are you a perfect mom? No offense, but probably not. But I have a feeling you're the best mom for Jonathan, Thomas, and Josiah, and they are going to grow up quite well. If they had a different mom, they would, to some extent, be formed into different people than the M_____s they are.

So I think maybe there's a balance between admitting that you, like everyone, are imperfect and have particular struggles in motherhood, but still keeping in mind that if God has called you to this task, he has equipped you for it and it is, in fact, exactly the right job for you to be doing right now.

(I hope that makes some small amount of sense.)

P.S. Don't compare yourself to babysitters. They spend a fraction of the time you do with your kids. That is a totally, totally different situation!

becca said...

I agree with Jess. Every child is different and every parent is different, which means that what is good parenting for one child with one mom will be different than what it is for another child with another mom. It's okay. Actually, it's better than okay - it's really good. You do a good job with your boys and it shouldn't look like anyone else, because you're different than other people and so are your boys.

Jessica said...

You know, thinking about it more, I might be contradicting myself, because I firmly think that the shoe of being-a-mom-of-many would not fit me. But maybe that counts as another type of motherhood . . . I guess I think it's possible someone could be totally unsuited to motherhood, and some people could be specially called to it . . . but since it's something most women naturally do, I have trouble seeing it in the same light as vocations to choir directing or (more personally) writing. Motherhood seems more of a general vocation, and one most women are called to, if they aren't called to be celibate. It's kind of a default calling, I guess.

Which is very different from the modern view of it being "oh so special" and violins playing and rainbows and unicorns and Precious Moments and all. :D Maybe that's some of the problem. You aren't called to Hallmark motherhood. Just the ordinary kind. (If so, me too.)

But I might be contradicting myself. I'll have to think about that.

Ma Torg said...

Although I agree with the idea that we all wear different shoes as mothering and, given that, we all have the potential to be good mothers, I also sympathize completely with your struggle. To continue with the shoe analogy, I might be fitted for a jogging shoe, but, you know what, I would much rather wear those red high heels a lot of the time, and those fit quite well too. Even as a mom, I am an individual with talents.

Of course, every mom can be a good mom. Every mom should be a good mom. It is a must for our children: to learn to love them the best we CAN. That takes a lot of struggling. For some, it might be more natural and easy, and for others, not so much.

However, what I think is a problem is not recognizing that mothers aren't just mothers and validating the special talents mothers have as individuals. Yes, I am a mother. But, you know what, I am good at and want to excel as a pastry chef.

I also think that mothers need to have that outlet of individuality to be good mothers. Nourishing ourselves helps give us that extra energy needed to mother well. Of course, how that talent is fed might not be typical. I currently do crazy kitchen experiments once a week or so while Pa plays 'mom' for a couple hours. Not as cool as going to cooking school, but good enough that i get a much needed outlet for something I love to do and do well.

I honestly don't understand why people expect so many mothers SAHM to just love it and think it is a piece of pie. It is a struggle. A worthwhile struggle. But it is a struggle. I don't even know any moms (who I think ARE natural at it) who don't think it is a struggle.

All this to say, yes, of course you are a good mom, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't stop pursuing your love for choral directing because of it. The two don't necessarily mutually exclude the other.

Emily (Laundry and Lullabies) said...

It is interesting reading all of your thoughts. Thanks for leaving them! It sounds to me like none of us are really completely disagreeing - only perhaps struggling with the analogy. And it certainly isn't perfect! Jess, I liked your idea of size eight red suede and size nine with ankle ties...that made me laugh and I think it might be spot on. It sounds like what sarah marie is saying about each mother being exactly what God wanted for each specific child. They're all pretty shoes, just right for different settings.

I'm really not saying that I'm a bad mother (well, that's not what I meant to say, anyway!) I just think it is important to recognize (and admit, at least to myself) that motherhood doesn't come easily for me. I use the choral directing comparison because that is something that DOES come easily. I fell right into that one, without a shred of formal training, and I was good at it anyway. Motherhood is just harder for me.

Ma Torg, your point about nourishing ourselves through other things we're good at is a good one. (Btw, I didn't know you made pastries! How cool!) I've been keeping up with choral music, off and on, ever since I stopped teaching full time. It can be tricky to fit it in, but it is SO worth it!

Anyway, again, I really am loving the conversation happening here, so thanks for all the comments and do please keep them coming! :)

Amber said...

Hmm... I think I see your point, although I'm not sure that playing make believe and all that is necessarily the automatic hallmark of a good mother. Mothering hasn't exactly been easy for me, but I've found as I've become more the person God wants me to be and as I've let go of any preconceived notions of what a good mother is (i.e. a good mother does certain specific things, acts in certain proscribed ways) I've found mothering to be easier and easier. I'm sure experience helps too... but the more I have let go of my own selfishness, self-absorption, anger, etc. etc. the easier (and more rewarding!) mothering has become.

There are things that come much more easily to me - teaching, for example - and it is interesting to see how much better that has become in this process too. I'm starting to get more opportunities to do that and I'm very thankful for it.

I think what I find problematic in this is the direction that Sarah mentioned in the first comment - where a mother assumes that since she's not a very good natural mother, her child is automatically better off being cared for by others. Perhaps in some cases, yes, who knows. But in a lot of cases I think God uses our children to grow us in ways it would be very difficult for us to grow otherwise. I've learned so much about patience, diligence, perseverance, compassion, coping and sometimes even thriving while exhausted or ill in these past eight years as a mother. Sure, God could have helped me grow in these areas other ways... He is God, after all! But I'm very thankful I haven't turned away from this incredible opportunity.

Sarah said...

Ah . . . don't think I meant to take it there--just that my friend was ok needing a break because of how the shoe fit (her husband stayed with their son that weekend). I think she would actually agree with Amber--that God has grown her into herself more through motherhood.

Amber said...

Sorry, Sarah, I didn't mean to be attacking your friend there. Not knowing the surrounding circumstances, and knowing people who have come to the same sort of conclusion I mentioned, that's just what it sounded like to me.

Sarah said...

No worries, Amber. I just wanted to clarify.