Monday, May 04, 2009

Mothering, then and now

Lest any of my gentle readers should think that I am going to embark upon a treatise examining the differences between mothering in bygone eras and mothering today, let me disabuse you of that idea. I will not. Instead I am going to muse upon what differences in my mothering styles and myself as a mother there are between my first and second families.

I guess it does no good to pretend that we don't have first and second families. The first two of our daughters are definitely in the "first family" group. The twins are in our "second family" group. Abigail? She's sort of in the middle, but I think it would be a bit much to classify us as having three distinct families going on.

When I first became a mother, I was young. Not as young as my own personal mother was, but young enough. I turned 26 about 10 weeks after Sarah was born. I was college-educated, married for about 4 years, and most of the way through my master's degree. I had two dogs and a mortgage. I thought I was an adult.

I deceived myself.

Now I can look back and realize that I so wasn't an adult. I can look back to last week and realize that I still don't feel like an adult. But I thought, "College, marriage, house,!" Would it that it were so simple.

I will confess now that being a mother bored me to distraction. I mean, Sarah was precious and adorable but she wasn't much of a conversationalist. I enjoyed playing with her and going places with her, but I felt very adrift, not really knowing what I was supposed to be doing. Part of the problem was a lack of role models. My own personal mother worked throughout our childhoods, so I didn't know what stay-at-home moms did all day. Aside from laundry and cleaning and I surely wasn't interested in those. Fortunately, I was blessed with a friend, Mary Ellen, whose daughter was 6 months older than mine. We met at the mall, walked around, talked, laughed, and cried together.

It's sort of hard to remember back then but I think I was into "doing the right thing" and was probably a bit of a supermom wannabe. I figured it was my job to teach Sarah (and then Rachel), to keep them safe and occupied, and to make sure they were hitting their developmental targets. I did enjoy being pregnant and I did enjoy nursing the little sweet things. I really can't imagine what I did all day, though. It's probably been wiped from my mind because it consisted of a lot of things I didn't really want to do. And a lot of television.

So, then we moved here, to the Cincinnati area. We worked on and improved our marriage. Sarah started school, another new step in the parenthood gig. We had Abby. And subtly, things started going wrong with Sarah at school. After a couple of years, we pulled her out and started homeschooling. Of course, homeschooling demanded that I do a lot of reading and studying, just to figure out what in the world I was doing. By the time I got it figured out, we moved from Northern Kentucky to Southern Ohio, not a big leap geographically, but a big leap in other ways. There were different things to do here that took up my time and energy. I still think I was a pretty good mom. We did fun things, we learned together, life was generally pretty uncomplicated.

Then we decided we wanted to have more children. Does anyone hear the ominous music swelling in the background? I still think that it was a good idea and I wouldn't trade the twins for anything, but when I think back I wonder what we were thinking. Well, I know I was thinking that this was the Last Chance Saloon for me, if I wanted to have more babies. Little did I know how prescient that was. After 3 years and one pregnancy that resulted in a miscarriage, I listened more closely to the discussions Friend Husband wanted to have about adopting internationally. So we started that whole process and two years later brought the twins home.

And I became a much different mother. Let's look at the differences here. I was a lot older than the last time I had toddlers around. By a lot older, I mean 5 years. Which is a lot of time in your 30s. Think about the difference between a 32 year-old and a 37-year-old and you'll see what I mean. I had children who were in a totally different phase of their lives to continue on with. And these guys were totally different than the girls were, even as babies. They were much more energetic, much more inclined to get into things, and there were two of them doing all this brainless toddler stuff at the same time. And did I mention that I was a lot older? And more tired? Did I mention that? And I have a lot more stuff to do, for Pete's sake.

The other day, Sarah mentioned that David or Keziah had done something that they weren't supposed to have done. What it was makes no difference (which is good because I don't remember) but she was calling upon me to exercise discipline upon them. And when I didn't jump to it immediately, she called me on it. And I went back in time to seeing myself and my own mother, discussing some misdeed my little sister had done. I felt so badly for my mother. I always joked that she just didn't give a rap as long as we didn't do anything that put us on her radar (drinking, smoking, failing in school, having sex, etc.). Probably what it was was that she was just tired. Period. And she was younger than I am now!

Ok, so I am not the consistent mother I need to be with the twins. That was not so much an issue with the bigger girls because they responded to other measures of behavior control. But the twins require consistency. Guess who never learned consistency, in any part of her life? Me mememememememememe! Guess who is tired and tired of learning and changing and being anyone but herself? That would be me. Guess who, when faced with the idea that she needs to change something to be a better mother/wife/teacher/friend instinctively says, "No way. I've tried to change that for 20 years and it's stuck."


So you can imagine the differences in my mothering, then and now. Then, I was more conscientious but less skilled. Now I am more easygoing and devious. Then, I saw mothering as something I'd do until the girls went to school, when I'd go back to a "real job". Now I know that mothering is 24/7/365 until you die. You can't mother a child without thinking about them in the future. And in that general group I also include the children I've mothered who weren't actually mine, like my sister. I assume that I will hit a stage of mothering when the children, their needs, their wants, their teaching, their laundry, their discipline, their futures, their EVERYTHING won't be the first thing on my mind but I suspect that it will be there, somewhere, all the time. Until I die.

Then I didn't know what I was doing and mothering scared me. Now I know more about what I'm doing and the responsibility scares me spitless.

I wish (hope, pray) that I could be more patient, more sacrificial, more into my kids. But I also feel the strong urge (need) to cultivate gardens of self so that I have something left of Lori when my children are no longer in my home all the time. As always, the trick is in balance. And I am not a balanced person (take that as you want).

Are there differences in mothering over time? Of course there are, don't be ridiculous. If there weren't, that would mean that the mother had not grown in and of herself in that period of time. Is it necessarily bad? No, but I think that we "old" mothers need to make more of an effort to put energy as well as intelligence into our littlest children. And if this doesn't apply to you (or if you get offended by it), I'm obviously not talking to you. I'm probably talking to myself anyway, so just ignore this whole thing.

And go hug your mama, will you? She can probably use it about now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

[Are there differences in mothering over time?]

You are very wise. In fact, I could just say, "Ditto" and link to your blog entry for mine today. Marissa called me on something the other day; something I would have never let her get away with. I don't remember what either. But, I told her that she had been my lab rat. I learned to parent on her. I learned that there are some things more important to me than others. And, whatever it was I learned it wasn't really that important.

I carve out time for myself and my relationship with my husband too. For the same reason, I want something left of me and us when the kids leave. Besides, I think the kids need to learn to honor the other person's need for time. But, I do sometimes feel guilty. I try to mother without me time. I am not a very good mother during those times in my life.