I had an interesting conversation with my mom the other day. My mom has been helping my grandmother and it’s starting to wear her down. My grandmom has always been a fiercely independent and outspoken person. She has not taken kindly to needing assistance or having others make suggestions about what she should do. At 87 years old she’s becoming even more crotchety than usual. All this has not made things easy on my mom.
My mom’s frustration level is building and now she’s taken to talking about all the things her mom did wrong as a mother while raising her and her brothers. It got me thinking that the way in which our mothers raised us really has quite an affect (or is that effect?) on how we choose to act when we become mothers ourselves.
My grandmother was raised by a mother who had mental health problems. By the time grandmom was 16 her mother was institutionalized and her father had died. At a very young age she was forced to be independent and make her way in the world. My grandmother always ran the show in her marriage to my grandfather. She was a working mother at a time when most mothers stayed home. She expected a lot of her three children from a very early age. Being lazy or incompetent was not acceptable. Her oldest son was expected to be the little man of the house. He was expected to look after his brother and sister while mom and dad worked and he was often expected to fix things around the house because my grandfather was not much of a handy man. My mother learned to cook and clean in elementary school. Unfortunately, for my other uncle he was a shy, timid child who was more like his father in temperament. According to my mother he was often chastised as a child for not being able to do anything. I’m guessing that being raised by a mentally ill mother and then being orphaned at a young age made my grandmother fear her children would not be able to take care of themselves if necessary and so she pushed them to be independent too early.
My own mother was a stay at home mom for many years before finances forced her into the working world. She was one of those moms that always had a clean house, clean children, and a healthy dinner on the table at 5:30 sharp every night. There was routine and structure. She also did everything for us and tried to protect us from every hurt or inconvenience that life threw at us. My mom seems to have some resentment about being expected to do so many grown up things so young. It seems she overcompensated with my brother and me to make sure we didn’t have to grow up too soon. Like her mother, my mom is quick to offer her opinions and is very blunt and decisive. Even now, I often hear, “Well, I wouldn’t do it that way, but ….”
I, on the other hand, am the disorganized mom. There is really very little routine or structure in my house. My house is not filthy but it’s not always ready for guests to drop by at any minute. I constantly worry that I’m not living up to my mom’s mothering standards. I also constantly worry about what I can be doing better to make my son more ready for the world we live in. My mother tells me I worry too much about his development and to just let him be. I’m rarely decisive and am always second guessing myself. I sometimes just feel inept or unprepared for life in general. I’ll play armchair psychologist here and guess that it’s due to my very sheltered childhood. Mom and Dad handled things and we were free to be unencumbered children longer than we should have been. Maybe I worry so much about my son’s development because I’m worried that he will grow up feeling like he does not know how to be independent. Or maybe I’m just neurotic and would be this way no matter how I was raised.
I also wonder how much of our mothering styles are a product of the society and time in which we live. When my grandmother raised her kids people didn’t worry about child protective services showing up if they made the tiniest misstep in their parenting. Kids were supposed to grow up fast. When my mom raised her children there wasn’t as much focus on the competitive aspects of making your child a genius before kindergarten. Women were still expected to have clean houses and dinner on the table every night. Kids were supposed to play with guns, watch tv, and ride bikes and roller skate all without wearing helmets and pads. Today, woman are expected to have careers and if you make the choice to stay home with your kids then there is an unwritten expectation that you’ll make motherhood a profession. It seems your success as a mother is tied into how quickly your kids rack up points on the development scale and whether or not you’re enriching your child enough to make him a productive, highly functional, intelligent member of society.
As I sit here today, I wonder if it isn’t time to put all of these expectations aside and just be the best mother you can be in your own way. Forget about your mother’s expectations or what you read will make our children successful. Just be. Let your kids be. In the end, most of us turn out just fine. Maybe instead of trying to mold ourselves into something we’re not we should be happy with the person we are and the way we do things. I bet if we did that our lives would be less stressful and we’d be able to enjoy motherhood and our children more. Lately, I’ve been trying really hard to think less about what I “should” be doing and just do what I am doing to the best of my abilities. I’m not perfect and neither is my child but so far we seem to be managing just fine.