Friday, April 16, 2010

"Putzing around" - Thoughts on Motherhood

I often ponder the meaning of being a mother, from the perspectives of both the mother and the child.  Life experiences, observations, and reading have informed me that the needs of the mother and the child can compete with each other and are often mutually exclusive. 

I have had the very good fortune of being raised by a mother who was "there" for me and my siblings.  Of course, this was a generation ago and she was not financially obligated to contribute to the family finances (i.e., work outside the home for wages).  Further, she was truly born to be a mother, and there are many who gratefully consider her to be an honourary mother to them.  She has more maternal love, energy and goodness to give than her three children and numerous grandchildren and step-grandchildren require.  There continue to be times for her when being a mother (or grandmother or mother-in-law) is difficult and crazy-making.  However, she understands that it's all part of the package of loving, caring and being there.

From a child's perspective (first-born, introverted and lacking in confidence), she was - and continues to be - my rock.  In trying to tease out why I feel this way, it is because she was always "there".  I would not deem her to be a martyr or a crutch or a door-mat.  She has consistently demonstrated resolve, good judgement and a deep sense of what her priorities are.  Before we were adults, she quietly helped us to understand that she would continue to support us and shepherd us along as life and circumstances required it - without setting us up for crippling dependence.  For me as a child and teen, there was a palpable security in knowing that my mother simply was.  I never felt abandoned by her and I never felt that her passions came ahead of my well-being.  She is an energetic, engaging, friendly, creative woman who continues to be able to knit her strengths, dreams and desires into her understanding that she has a long-term duty to the children she bore - without them taking advantage of her.

I am reading a book of short stories by Neil Smith (Bang Crunch Stories).  In one tale, a seventeen-year-old boy who lives with his widowed mother expresses himself as follows while his mom prepares herself for an evening date:

"I want to say, Don't go.  Not that I'm afraid her date is an axe murderer.  Or that I don't want her meeting someone, getting over my father.  Or even that I want to talk about what's eating me.  I'd just like her here, that's all.  Putzing around the apartment the way moms do, while I sulk in my room."

Boom!  That little paragraph says it all for me, where a child's perspective is concerned.  In healthy, normal relationships, kids (even late teens), just want their moms home - around - near.  I remember having the same deep desire - and usually having it satisfied, save for the occasional times when my mom went out in the evening or had a very brief vacation from the chaos of home and kids.  

Our twenty-first century western lives of education, employment, financial independence, entitlement and an awareness of the self might serve the personal needs of mothers.  I am not so sure that it satisfies the deeper attachment needs of the child.  My concern is that once we become mothers, it's not about us anymore.  We give birth to young, developing, vulnerable humans who need to know we are there for them (thnk of elephants and primates).  It strikes me as primal and foundational.  Children need to be able to take our maternal presence  - not our personhood - for granted in order to develop secure attachments and emotional stability.  It seems to me that if we consistently give them the message that our needs come ahead of theirs, attachment bonds weaken and children develop defense strategies to dull the pain of accepting that their primary care-giver is conditional in her care-giving.  It is all about actions, not words, where children (and pets, for that matter) are concerned.  As mothers, if we message to our children by our actions and our presence that their emotional health, physical health, and well-being is our priority, we set our children up for emotional security.  If, however, our message to our dependents is conditional upon our needs, our schedules, our hobbies, our jobs, our loves and our desires, their emotional security falters.

Motherhood requires of us that we be grounded, giving and sufficiently developed beyond our own need for self-gratification.  It's not about us anymore.  Happily, once we embrace that ideal, it no longer matters that it's not about us.  Love and service to others - especially our dependents - has the power to elevate us to another state of being, not measured by earning power, wrinkle-free skin, degrees, dress-size, marathon times, golf scores, airline miles, Facebook Friends, etc.   Our children do benefit from seeing that we are fully-formed, happy adults with balanced lives.  They benefit even more from experiencing the stability that we can offer them because we recognize that, in the grand scheme of things, it's our turn to support their growth and development - not get side-tracked or consumed in our own.  After all, if we as mothers are not mothering our children, who is?

Our busy lives require that our homes are typically empty by day due to the demands of work and school; however when evenings, week-ends and holidays arrive, there is an opportunity to be together in the same space.  The fictional seventeen-year-old reminded me that the mental health and well-being of our children requires our maternal preparedness to simply be at home, "putzing around", when they are home. If these windows of time are not appreciated, what time does it leave?

Our children will become adults some day.  As mothers, will we look back and see that we actively raised them or that we shared the same mailing address and they raised themselves while we continued to develop ourselves?

Interestingly, in the same way that adult women yearn for the company and love of adult companions (not self-centered juveniles), children yearn for the love and guidance of adult parents (not self-centered juveniles). 

Wondering and worrying....

Wondering Woman

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


"There are other currencies besides money."

This I learned over a decade ago during a session with a counsellor during the break-up of my first marriage.  It was brought  to my attention again during a fundraising drive at the church I attend.  The point has now been made to me many times  that we all have multiple avenues for giving and receiving. 

There are times in almost every life where money is in short supply.  This may be a chronic norm for many.  However, we are able to indulge others with time, energy, food, a listening ear, labour, drving, babysitting, reading materials, the use of tools, clothes, equipment, etc., and so on.

Different peoples' lives have served to bring financial realities into focus for me lately.  How do we manage money?  How do we manage debt?  How do we plan to pay for our lives if we live to be 90 years old (and our parents do the same)?  Should we be "living for today" if we are living in the red?  If we have a financial obligation to children, at what point do we wake up to the fact that we have to plan for them?  Where children are concerned, at what point do we say, "You're an adult now...make some choices and figure it out..." (but don't come to me for money)?

It is subjective, tricky, emotionally loaded terrain.  Running through the veins of any discussions about currency is the weight of responsibility.  Are you responsible?  How much and what for?

Like eating and sleeping, a mindfulness towards  money and all other life currencies is requisite.

Hoping you're wondering too!

Wondering Woman