Mother May I?

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Another Mother's Day and I can't resist writing about one of the highest callings out there. It's been said that motherhood is the hardest job you'll ever love. This is true. And while not every woman is a mother, and while motherhood is not for every woman for a wide variety of good and valid reasons, it is the path I chose that also chose me. Not all who yearn are gifted with the blessings of motherhood. And not all who are gifted were willing recipients. But regardless of whether we are mothers ourselves, we all have one, or did at some point. So motherhood is a universal construct that affects us all. As so often happens, my reading reflects the current themes on my mind. I always reflect on my mother and the mother that I am at this time of year, Hallmark Holiday or not. I'm not above using artificial constructs to spur my reflections and introspection— New Year's Day is no less artificial and we all celebrate that with gusto.  Milestones mark time, and all of us need to pause along the path and check our directions, look back on the road already traveled and make sure we like the route forward. 

So Mother's Day is about mothers. And so are my two latest paranormal fantasies, A Witch in Time, by Robyn Peterman (who must have a difficult mother, as this is a recurring theme in each of her series), and Real Vampires Know Hips Happen, by Gerry Bartlett. In both books, our protagonist suffers the neglect or destructive attentions of a less-than-stellar maternal unit. As you know, I can relate.

Zelda, the Witch in Time, about whom I wrote earlier this week, has a mother incapable of love. Glory, Gerry Barlett's hefty heroine, discovers her mother is an Olympian goddess in this installment of the series, who gives new meaning to the word "controlling."  But delinquent or authoritarian, difficult mothers make an impact. For Zelda, her mother's lack of love resulted in stunted emotional development and self-destructive behavior. Glory missed out on having a mother during her early years (which she didn't remember anyway), and the list of her issues is too long to enumerate in a post this length. Suffice to say, she would give Drs. Freud and Jung plenty of grist for their mills. 

Today I thought I'd let these shadow teachers point the way toward positive parenting tips and tricks. It's easy to point fingers, criticize, and play Monday morning quarterback on all that our own mothers should or could have done. Or all that we should or could have done better, would we have known. But what about parenting that inspires? What does a good mother look like?  Of course, it would be grand if I could peer into a mirror and know what good motherhood looks like. And on some days I can. Like when my sons write heartfelt cards about what my support and belief in them has meant over the past year. That feels awesome. A good mother is always there to pick up the pieces, wipe away tears (surreptitious ones, in the case of teenaged boys), assure our children that what they are going through is normal and that it will end.

But that's the catch, isn't it?  Kids don't have the perspective or experience to know that everything comes to pass and nothing, not even heartbreak of the overwrought, adolescent variety, lasts. But that is such an important message in this age of increasing teenage suicide. Good mothers keep track of what's going on with their kids. Even when those kids would prefer to fly under the radar we hunt for the signs of impending self implosion.

And what about that?  We have more and more tools to know what our kids are doing, who they're doing it with, and where they are doing it. But utilizing all of those tools makes us more Big Brother than good mother. Unless there is a compelling reason, such tactics don't appeal. There needs to be a certain amount of mutual trust, which is hard to achieve when today’s moms are making like Mata Hari on a mission. Spying is not cool. Being informed is. It's not OK to take "I don't know" for an answer. Neither are one-syllable responses to questions asked. I understand that boys and girls, once they reach a certain age, would rather grunt at us than talk to us. Tough shit. Real answers are de rigueur in my home.

For me, being a good mother means getting down and getting dirty. It means being rejected over and over again, and growing a thick skin, not to mention a big, brass pair to be able to take these teens head on and be firm in the conviction that "no" is a complete sentence. Good parenting also means sticking to my guns, something that can be hard for me. Saying "yes" can be so much easier in the short term than saying "no" and listening to all the bitching and moaning.  Consistency is good too. Hard to achieve, but good. 

Being a good mother means that in just a couple of short years, my chicks will fly from the nest, never to return in the way they belong at home now. All our hard work, if done well, means we will lose them to spouses, jobs, friends, lives that don't include us, except tangentially.  And that is the natural order, the way of the world. I know this, and I celebrate my sons' independence. But it's a hard pill to swallow, knowing that many of my actions are making me unpopular at exactly the same time I feel like I should be pandering to their every desire, lest they forget me and leave forever when they go off to college. But I resist those urges to bribe them for their love and approbation. I've always said that if the cost of raising them right is their good opinion of me, so be it. I fervently hope it won't be, but I owe my children the best parenting I can manage, which is often the path of most resistance. 

But all of this is hard, hard, hard. It's hard to walk the line between discipline and punishment. Not to mention treating each child as an individual, which, from their perspective, can look unfair or biased (I get that a lot in my household). It really is the hardest job I've ever loved.

All that limit-setting is as hard on us as it is frustrating to them. So, I hope that you were good to your moms this weekend. If you are one, you know that it's a tough road to hoe, and that our own mothers probably did the best they could. Although I doubt that my own mother rose to her best parenting self, a dubious distinction I share with both Zelda and Glory. Life imitates art. Or art imitates life. Or maybe both.