A handful of years ago, when I was still pregnant with MaryElise, we took Ian to visit my Aunt --who is a nun -- in the Bronx. I was still homeschooling him at the time, and we were learning about Chinese New Year, so a trip to Chinatown was among the weekend's events. It became apparent to me during this trip that my Aunt had been referring to me as "The Perfect Mother". Upon meeting at least two of her fellow sisters, I was met with a broad smile and a handshake, followed by a sideways glance at my Aunt as they said "Oh, yes... the perfect mother.
Had I just been called out by a nun?
My immediate reaction was to be horribly embarassed infused with an air of how-the-hell-am-I-supposed-to-take-that and sprinkled with Oh-no-she-didn't. (And in fairness, my Aunt is a nun, not a Saint, and coming from my Dad's family, there's most likely an extra sarcasm gene in there somewhere.)
Then I got really, really self-conscious.
I don't know about you, but chances are I'm not the only one who has that ridiculously critical inner critic who sometimes for moments and sometimes for months, decides to hang out just beside your left ear and whisper all sorts of things that you would never even think about saying to a friend. So, you kind of already know to some extent what that conversation between me and the Inner Critic sounded like.
Something like "Oh my God, is that what I do?"
"Yes, Heather. She's totally onto you."
The potential answers to "how the hell am I supposed to take that" immediately became the following list:
1. You are supposed to take that in the worst possible way.
Old habits, hard they die.
I began considering all the parenting choices I had made with Ian. Breastfeeding, babywearing, strictly limited television, vegetarian diet, Waldorf Education then homeschooling.
"Am I doing all this because I think it makes me look perfect? Do I think I'm perfect?"
Thanks in no small part to the miracle of anti-depressants, I did not spend a long time entertaining the voice of criticism and self-doubt. I decided that I would consciously examine this hypothesis ("Heather mothers the way she does because she wants people to think she is perfect.")and objectively consider that this may or may not be true.
Ultimately, I concluded that I parented the way I did because it was the only set of choices I could make based on the vast amount of things I had learned about child development and parenting since seeing two red lines on a pregnancy test all those years ago. And I learned all those things because I wanted to be a good mom. Certainly not a perfect mom. The bar was actually set at "I just want to be able to not eff this thing up."
So I started reading and googling and talking and listening. And I did that because already from that moment when I looked down and saw two pink lines, I loved my kid more than anything in the world.
And based on what I learned and continued to learn, what makes a person a good parent is that they understand that parenting is an active process. Children don't raise themselves to be kind, compassionate, thoughtful, self-aware human beings. In fact, if they have to raise themselves, you can be almost totally assured they will not end up all or any of those things. So whatever a person's values, whatever they hold to be the goals for their children's upbringing, the fact that they have goals and parent toward them makes them a good parent.
The choices I have made as a parent are so not about what I want people to perceive me to be. Who parents that way? Im guessing not even the woman out there who has made every single exact opposite choice from me in parenting her son.
No, we make the choices we make because we love our kids and are doing whatever it is we have to do to not eff this thing up or to parent as consciously as possible, or to raise self-reliant children, or whatever it is that we value for our kids. That's what it means to be a good mom.
I am going on night number two of no sleep with MaryElise. Oh, she sleeps. She does nothing but sleep. I just don't. She has been sick with a fever for a couple of days and is just not her normal Mary self. I have been holding her, at her request, for almost two days. As I was rocking her in my arms earlier tonight, I thought about how her father had thanked me for caring for her the way I do. It seemed such an odd thing. Thank you? I have no choice, I think. It would be impossible for me to not care for Mary the way I do. Im her mother. And for the all the ways I fail to deserve the title "Perfect Mother", I love her more than a person could possibly love anyone else. And I mother her accordingly.