Mothering 101: Parenting in a Modern Age

What does it mean to be a good mother? I struggled with that one today. So many of our performance indicators in this society are tangible and objective – dollars and cents, scores, grades. Sadly, this has devolved into how we judge so many non-quantifiable skills like mothering, marriage, friendship, and just plain life.

I had a tough mothering weekend. It started on a Friday when I was late to my daughter’s dance recital because I didn’t even know it was happening. I walked in late – feeling humiliated, dejected and deflated when I saw the glowing parents with their bouquets of flowers. With tears in my eyes, I got to see the last dance number, and bless that child’s heart – when she saw her shell of a mother standing there – she still flashed me a beatific smile that may very well be the last thing I remember this side of the grave. However, for the remainder of this weekend, I was a punching bag. My older one was disappointed at my inability to get her things she wanted, and both children decided to go the full 15 rounds fighting over everything from how the other chews her bread to the music on the radio.

I don’t have the patience for this. And I don’t know where to get it.

I had to pause for a minute on what constitutes a “good” mother – and confessedly I had an archetype in place. Clean house. Healthy food in the cabinets. Perfectly styled jeans and well fitting albeit casual blouse. Carefully timed provision of positive reinforcement. No obscenities hurled ever, even in traffic, even when cut off on the freeway. No bribery. Never forgetting recitals. Always remembering flowers. Gift wrapping presents instead of stealthily sneaking gift cards into the pile. Thank you notes. Participation in the PTA.

Using this list – I came up bupkes, zero, not even a passing grade.

What’s a mom to do? I am not good at mothering in a modern age. I am divorced, and fortunate to have an ex-husband who is a devoted and present father. That said, I am outnumbered when they are in the house.

I work multiple jobs, and am trying to carve out a more stable financial path for my children. I work constantly because my window of opportunity is now. That makes well wrapped gifts, clean toilets, chaste vocabularies, and organic cuisine aspirational at best.

Every day I wake up and say – I am going to get it right today. I am going to be structured, disciplined, empathic, loving, organized, nutritionally sound, well-groomed, patient, and circumspect. That goal tends to disappear by about 715 AM. It is a lot like dieting – you wake up – committed to a healthy day full of lean meats, fruits and vegetables, lots of fiber, exercise, and no sugar. Then by 9 AM you find donut sugar on your face with little recollection of how it got there. Most mornings I find myself screaming like Faye Dunaway sans gin in order to get us out the door.

What will my daughters get from having an ambitious, albeit spontaneous and moderately histrionic mother, rather than having the involved, well put-together omnipresent mom? Will they learn the value of working hard? Or will they opt out of career and search for a more traditional path of breadwinner spouse and suburban lifestyle? Will they learn to value education and a career characterized by intensity and discipline or pursue a less arduous path? Will they attempt to create domestic scenarios full of cleanliness and home-cooked meals, or will they heed the sloppiness, wanderlust and love of adventure that pulls their mother?

I wish I could sit here and say – my iconoclastic path is right – but I can’t. I feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the moms who make it look so easy, who don’t curse and cry, who don’t shove Captain Crunch in a ziploc bag, call it lunch, and hope the teacher doesn’t find out.

We don’t grade motherhood on a curve – it feels like a pass/fail class – and today, it looks like I am going to have to ask for some extra credit if I am to pass this class.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 1st, 2010 at 1:23 pm and is filed under Health and Wellness, Parenting, Relationships and Sex. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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