I don't know why I decided to write about Moms. Turns out it's quite a difficult topic, especially given that I'm not one. I have a Mom, and she's quite awesome, and I have two grand-Moms, a Mother-in-law, and some Mom-like women in my life who rank right up there in the Mom category. But turns out that the whole being a Mom thing is, well, it's own thing.
There are a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions about Moms and Motherhood. The whole "young Moms don't sleep much" seems to be pretty accurate, but there are other Mom-related ideas that might not be so cut-and-dried as they might seem. Helicopter Moms, for example, vs hands-off Moms, or tired Moms vs active Moms, or Moms with clean houses vs Moms without clean houses, or working Moms and stay-at-home Moms, or single Moms vs married Moms vs divorced Moms vs step-Moms vs unmarried but partnered Moms. Some Moms are on their own and some have a full support system. Some are perfectly healthy post baby, and some struggle with physical or emotional health issues.
And the thing is, from what I can see, every single Mom is different.
So for this Mother's Day special, I interviewed three Moms!
I'm going to start with Sarah, the youngest of the three. You may remember her from my blog post a couple of years ago on National Best Friend's Day. Really long story short, Sarah and I met when we were three and are still friends, plus she has a baby now which is cool. Sarah is a mother, of course, as well as a wife, sister, daughter, Christian, health enthusiast, aspiring gardener, avid reader (though apparently having a kid makes time to read a rare commodity), half introvert and half extrovert, and she loves decorating and design. Her baby, Jack, is 14 months old, and she and Jordan also have one baby in heaven due to a miscarriage.
As you might imagine, having Jack changed Sarah's life. She explains:
"Quite a few years ago I began working on becoming a healthier person--physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Since having Jack, that desire has only increased as I realize that what I want for him in life isn't always what I model. I will never get it perfectly (that's not my goal) but I feel like working on my heart issues will actually make me a better parent, and so I have been continuing to pursue health and that is really a lifelong goal, parenting aside."
But it's more than that. Having a child has been a huge learning experience for Sarah. On one hand, she says she wishes she could have been more prepared for things like breastfeeding challenges and other similar things; but on the other hand, every day right now is fun as Jack learns new things for the very first time, allowing Sarah to see things for herself in a brand new way.
She has also learned to let go a little bit more.
"[I have learned] that I am not in control and never will be. God is the only one in control. Germs are out of my control, whether he sleeps all night long is, what foods he loves, etc. I am not helpless and I have a say in what he is introduced to and influenced by, but ultimately we are talking about another human here, an individual with free will. My heart's desire is to teach him how to govern that free will and become a healthy and confident adult."
I'm going to take a minute here and jump to my second interviewee, Stefanie Jolicoeur. Stefanie is a Mom, but she is also a wife, a sister, an author, a sarcasm pro, a TV addict, and a book lover. I met her in NH when we were doing all the same book events. Stefanie writes books for kids (Mousamus!) and has a middle grade novel and an adult horror novel. She has been a Mom since 2004 and has four kids--a boy aged 12, and three girls: 11, 9, and 7.
Stefanie is in a much different stage of Mom-hood than Sarah. Gone are the months of sleepless nights and the dirty diapers and the baby's cries. Other challenges have appeared instead--like bickering kids and having to break up fights all the time. She mentions that managing play dates can be difficult, with constantly having to interact with and reach out to the other kids' parents, people that she might not know very well.
But Stef's kids have changed her life as well. She says, "They've made me want more for myself and for them... I put them before myself most of the time--sometimes it is hard to remember what I like to do!" Having kids has also impacted her writing. She didn't write books before she had kids, but her kids inspired her because she was able to see what they liked. She wanted to give them something fun they could someday share with their own kids and say, "yeah, your Grandma wrote this!"
She has learned a lot from her kids, and says,
"I've learned that new things might be scary but you'll survive. I've also learned that I'm very glad to be done with school, the mere idea of homework is awful. As a parent I've learned that your kids love you no matter how bad you screw up (like forgetting to pick someone up, etc). They are forgiving and thankfully don't hold grudges!"
Finally, let me introduce you to my own Mom. Nancy is her name and being the best Mom ever is her game. Anyway, in addition to being The Best Mom Ever, Nancy is a wife, a daughter, a gardener, a seamstress, and a friend (also did I mention the Best Mom?). She has three kids--me of course, and my two brothers. I'm the middle child. She has been a Mom since 1985. That's almost 33 years and she is waaaay past the days of diapers and sleepless nights. All of her kids have grown up, moved out, finished up college, and bought houses. Two of us are married, and all three of us have pets. Mom is even past the so-called empty nester stage, and has spent the last 10 years filling up our old bedrooms with things that are more fun than kids (like antiques and fabric).
Having kids changed Nancy's life. I should know. We made a lot of messes, after all. But according to Nancy, having kids forced her to become more flexible and spontaneous. She likes organization and order, in addition to quiet and solitude (ha!). This is, of course, exactly the opposite of life with children--particularly us. Evan played drums, just saying. And when I was quiet, it usually meant I was drawing on things. Like my face. Or the walls.
Anyway, Nancy quickly learned that she needed to carve out quiet and creative time for herself, or else she would go crazy. She would get a babysitter to come to our house (Jodi!) a couple of days a week after school so she could get things done. Sometimes Dad would watch the kids, too, so Nancy could have time to herself. We also had mandatory nap time, apparently, until we went to school. Even if we didn't sleep, we had to play quietly in our rooms. Nancy says, "This made me a much better mother and ensured their survival." :D
She enjoyed the moments of intense discovery for each child, how we learned to interact and understand the world around us. It made her see, discover, and appreciate the world all over again. On the other hand, she didn't like having to discipline, being the mean parent all the time--but it was still a critical part of the job.
Parenting is a learning experience, no matter how you look at it. She explains:
"I learned how easy it is to fall into the habit of parenting the way you were parented, for better or worse. Children are individuals and what works to motivate or discipline one child might not work for the next one. It takes work to understand your child and break from what your parents always did but it's worth it."
And just like in the rest of life, the learning never stops. So I asked Sarah, Stefanie, and Nancy: what advice would you give other Moms out there?
- If you want to be a Mom, go for it! You are strong and capable.
- Don't fear failure.
- Don't be pressured by other people's expectations.
- Leave room for evolving and changing because that is part of stepping out, and more times than not it helps make us into a better version of ourselves.
- Carve out time for yourself!
- If you have something to say, say it!
- Be flexible--learn to work around the baby's schedule.
- You might feel like you exist for the sole purpose of cleaning up puke, changing their diapers, and feeding them and that's it--but it doesn't last long!
- Get that baby in its own room.
- It's okay to let them cry.
- Give the milk machine a break!
- You are never too old or too young to chase your dreams! Work hard and put your work out there and you can make it happen.
- Make sure you have enough physical and emotional energy for what you hope to do so your family doesn't feel neglected. For me that meant getting part-time work once the kids were in middle school.
- If you don't have one, find or make yourself a support network--people who will listen and/or help when you feel overwhelmed.
- Don't use the TV as a babysitter.
- What you do matters as much as what you say--kids copy what they see and you are their primary role model.
So what about the kids? Kids are fun, right? Sarah says that she loves watching Jack's face when he tries new foods. She also says that the joy on his face when he goes down the slide makes her day, and watching his personality develop and grow is fascinating.
Stefanie's kids are each a little different. Her son is a little shy and loves to read and watch videos--though finding that quiet time can be difficult with three boisterous little sisters! He loves jokes and making up puns. Her eldest daughter loves to travel and try new things. She likes animals and wants to be a veterinarian one day. Stef's second daughter can be very dramatic. She loves to paint and create, and while right now she tends to be the one who gets in trouble the most, Stef can see her one day becoming an actress or an artist. Her littlest daughter is very fierce and protective. She tells you exactly what she thinks and is very funny.
"All of my kids enjoy and use sarcasm," Stef adds, "a trait they've inherited, no doubt, from both sides. I'm very proud of that!"
And my Mom has a million and one stories about me. I'm just going to leave them here. Make of it what you will.
"Ariele went AWOL, and we found her under the piano having colored her entire face with markers. She drew on everything. I still have a photo of her early stick figure drawings done in red marker on her sheets."
"In the custody of her father, she snuck off (at age 2) and made it almost 1/4 mile down the road before she was found."
"She took a "shower" under the gutters one year during snow melt and learned it was very cold."
"At 3 months old, she was zooming around in a walker and followed her older brother everywhere. She was fascinated by everything he did."
"At age 3, Ariele saved a picture on my computer and named it STOP. I assume she knew it as a word from riding in the car. I was amazed that she had managed to save a file so young."
The definition of Mom changes from culture to culture, era to era, and person to person, and there is no one definition to fit them all (unlike the one Ring--sorry LOTR on the brain). But there is one question that we haven't addressed yet. What is the most important part of being a Mom?
"Wow! That is a big question. I think the most important part is to love. As a Christian, the basis of my beliefs stem from a God who loves us unconditionally. If I can learn to love purely and healthily, the other dimensions I seek in motherhood will flow out of that."
"I think the most important thing about being a mom is letting the kids learn how to be independent. Teaching them how to butter toast lets you know they can feed themselves in a pinch and that is very liberating as a mom. A lot of parents tend to baby their kids which is a very easy thing to do if you watch the news/read the internet. It seems horrible things happen all of the time and you just want to protect them from every little thing. I try my hardest not to sugarcoat things if they've seen something on the TV or heard something at school. I always tell them the truth, even if is difficult."
And Nancy says:
"Love. It sounds like a pat answer, but I think love means a lot of things--including but not limited to giving of yourself, disciplining and teaching self control, listening, helping your child find their own voice and their own path, protecting them from danger, celebrating their successes, and encouraging them when things aren't great."
So there you have it. Everything you could possibly want to know about being a Mom.
Just kidding. There are SO MANY facets to being a Mom, this essay doesn't even touch the iceberg, let alone get a glimpse at the part that's under the surface of the water. But this Mother's Day, just remember that your Mom, if nothing else, gave you a chance at life--the most important opportunity you'll ever have. So maybe say thank you, buy her some flowers, and leave her alone for a half hour or so. She deserves it.
So Happy Mother's Day to my Mom, Nancy; and to Ellen, my mother-in-law; and my grandmothers Bernice and Dorothy and Deidre; and to my grandmothers-in-law, Faith and Bea; and to Sarah and my cousin Alicia who just had her first baby; and to Stefanie and to Ellie and all my aunts and great-aunts; to every Mom I've ever met, or who has advised me, who I've lived with, or who has been my friend. A very happy Mother's Day!
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