Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Where Do We Learn to Mother?

I know that many who would argue that mothering is a natural skill, inborn rather than learned. I agree - but there are necessary skills and sage wisdom that every mother acquires. Hence, my question - Where do we learn to mother?

Much of mothering is trial and error. It incorporates every general field of education, in an interesting harmonic balance. Management, Bookkeeping, Cooking, Medicine, Fashion, Music... to name a few. However most mothers have "mommy inspiration", a picture in their head of what their ideal version of motherhood is. Some of this probably comes from observing our own mothers, or the mothers of our friends. I am willing to bet that it is equally through both positive experiences ("That was great! When I have kids, I'll do that!") and negatives experiences ("I would Never do that to MY kid!"). That is where most of my parenting inspiration comes from. Television cannot be overlooked, either, though. How many women of a past generation looked at June Cleaver as a role model? Watching shows like "Jon and Kate Plus 8" and "18 Kids & Counting" or other parenting related shows, is relevant here as well. I don't want to emulate either Kate Gosselin or Michelle Duggar but I've learned things from them that I would consider to be essential! Experience dealing with children before having one of my own, I consider to have been an essential part of learning to parent.

I was entrusted with the care of four little boys ranging from 2, 5,6 & 9 years old when I was 16. The oldest was a great help to me. He was very levelheaded and enjoyed helping out with grownup tasks. The middle two both had mental issues - ODD, ADHD and the 5 yr old would later be diagnosed as Bi-Polar. The baby was just that - a toddler. He was the light of my life. Little did I know that from then on, I'd help my best friend raise him, while their parents were pursuing a musical career (not famous, but really talented - they teach now). They weren't the best parents, but they're far from horrible. I don't necessarily agree with all of their parenting choices, but that is part of the reason they influenced me so much. Who leaves two 16 year old girls alone for a weekend with 4 little boys!?

I learned to cook, do laundry and clean - it was expected of me. I also learned better manners, and actual proper table manners. They held their children to a higher standard than my parents did. Respect is a major thing in their household - "Yes, Ma'am, No Ma'am...etc". I learned not to slouch, let my mouth sit agape or talk over people - unacceptable behaviors that my parents ignored. I also learned an important lesson - how to behave in a manner contrary to your personality if that is what is expected of you. They also taught me when to hold my tongue, how to manage a household, and how to care for a very sick child. When the littlest one's appendix nearly burst, and he had complications from surgery I had to pack his wound with gauze and change the bandages when I cared for him. It made me love him even more.

My adopted parents were not afraid to bring up any topics with us. My best friend and I were often engaged in thought provoking conversations about politics, sex and other adult things - not lecturing, but conversing. They challenged us to think for ourselves. This definitely helped me become a more mature person (as if being thrown in charge of a household, didn't!) and to define who I am. They didn't hide things from us, but instead used real life lessons (no matter how awkward, difficult or painful to discuss) in order to educate us. I love and highly respect both of my friend's parents. From the time that I became an extended part of their family, they treated me more like an adult than my parents do even to this day. I hope to have a similar relationship with my son.

The children themselves taught me the most lessons. The oldest boy was mindful and smart, but he let his grades slip when in High School because he was lazy. As a team, his parents, elder sister, "adopted" brother (another friend who'd been taken in) and I found a way to encourage and motivate him to bring his grades out without threatening him (at least not too much!), and he did. The middle boys have been a struggle to deal with for years - testing their parents' patience. I gave them much more leeway than their parents would like, but the boys respected me more. Hrm... The youngest, he is a treasure. I can't believe he'll be twelve in July. They say that you can't love anyone the same way that you love your own child. The love I feel for that little boy comes very, very close. I watched him grow up, from a cuddly lap warmer into a kind, thoughtful young man. He's got an amazing imagination, and the drive to do whatever he dreams. I know that he will be successful. During summer break, I helped him understand the importance of legible penmanship - we wrote a story. After school, I taught him tips for remembering his spelling words, and challenged him to come up with more complex sentences.

There are some days while watching Connor run around and play, a memory pops into my head about the little guy that I watched grow. It melts my heart. I smile, but on the inside, I cry. Some things I do, the way I react - on first thought, it was an instinctual thing but upon reflection, it often turns out to be something I've experienced or observed before.

I love my parents. My mother drives me nuts, though. She's a cleaning nut. She loves to organize and re-organize. I like having a house that looks lived in. She likes perfection. I'm rather relaxed about dishes (isn't that what the sink is for?) and dusting (forget dust bunnies, I have a dust Zoo). My mom has always been supportive of me, but she has never shown genuine faith in me. There is always the shadow of a doubt behind her smile, and a hint of disbelief when I state that I believe or plan on doing something. I generally disagree with her parenting style. That probably is part of the reason that I respect my friend's parents more. Nevertheless, how she raised me shaped who I am.

Where did you learn to parent? Who do you cite as a mommy-inspriration? Where do you get your tips and tricks from?

2 comments:

Rebeccalynn_dj said...

My adopted mom over parented. She wanted respect as she always lost it with us. She expected us to clean, cook, and maintain the household. Her only job was to go to work.

I really learn to despise being task oriented. She taught me to do the opposite of her and just enjoy my family.

I am affectionate with my family. There is noting more important to a family than love. Showing that love in more that just words is paramount.

Other than that I go by instinct. I ignore all the advice I had been given and do what is right for us. It seems to work. I really don't have behavior issues. I don't have to hit or spank my children. I only have to yell about once a year when they make a big mistake.

javamama said...

I love your story. It shows lots of tenderness moving life experience.

My mothering is an eclectic combination of many things I dislike about my own mother, a few useful things I gleaned from her while growing up, some things that I have no idea where they came from, and a handful of genetic makeup that made me just a little bit more motherly than I would have been without it.