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Monday, May 14, 2012

Does anybody know how to be a good mother?

I recently admitted to my children that I don't know what I'm doing when it comes to being a mother. I admitted that I had been winging it for years. They said they already knew.

There are hundreds, even thousands, of books on how to be a good mother. I haven't read any of them. I've been too busy on the front lines of the battlefield raising children to take the time out to read a book on how to do it.
I remember back to when my first child was born. After 12 hours of excruciating back labour and a nurse telling me to "Walk off the pain" I finally delivered a 7 pound baby boy. The nurse cleaned him off and placed my beautiful blue-eyed, naked baby boy in my arms. I looked up at her, with wide eyed innocence and asked, "Why is he naked?" To which she responded with a laugh, "They don't come out with clothes on!" That should've been a clue to call child protective services.

That night, after my husband, mother, sisters, and friends finally left I was lying in my hospital bed, staring at this newborn baby wrapped up like a mummy in his glass basinet. It was then I noticed he was also staring  at me. We were both sizing each other up wondering what to do next. I began to have a mini panic attack thinking "Who in their right mind would give me a baby? Don't they know I kill plants. I can't even remember to feed my cat everyday!" The next 20 years flashed before my eyes. Before I knew it I was envisioning him getting married and moving out and he hadn't even come home yet. The craziest thoughts were bombarding my mind. Who would I trust with him? Who would I not trust with him? What if somebody tried to hurt him? What if he gets sick? All of a sudden keeping him safe became the most important thing in my life. It still is.
Those first few months were quite a learning curve. I tried to be the Beaver Cleaver mother and Martha Stewart all rolled into one. It didn't work out well. It turns out he was colicky and I had postpartum depression. He cried. I cried. I cried so much my husband banded the country music channel from out house because country music would make me even more depressed. Then one day my sister came to visit. My son was in the high chair crying as usual and I was trying to wash the kitchen floor, crying as usual. It seemed I couldn't do anything right. My normally spotless house was up to my ears, the breast-feeding wasn't working out and I swear people in prison got more showers than me. I was afraid to admit to anybody that I was a failure. That day my sister walked in and caught me crying in the mop bucket she asked "Did you take six months off to clean the house or to raise the baby?" She explained that nobody knows how to do this right, you make mistakes as you go and then you learn from it. Having a clean house should no longer be a priority. She told me if someone complains about how messy her house is she says "The vacuum is in the closet. Feel free to use it."

Then she gave me the best advice ever  "Everyone you meet will tell you how to raise a child. Especially people who don't have any. Before you take anyone's advice look at their kids and ask yourself, do I want my kids to be like their kids? Then decide if you want to take their advice or not." My mother always says never judge a person's success by the type of car they drive or the house they live in, judge their success by how their kids turn out.
Now that may not be fair either, because the mother gets the blame for everything. When my son was diagnosed with a nut allergy it was because I ate peanut butter when I was pregnant. If your kid has "issues" it's because we mother them too much. No one ever accuses men of "fathering" kids too much! It comes back to the old saying "The hand that rules the cradle, is the hand that rules the world."

As women, it's in our nature to try and run everything. We all start out trying to be "Stepford Wives" those submissive and docile housewives who turn out to be robots created by their husbands even though we're trying to climb the career ladder at the same time. Then we find out we are not robots. We can't do it all and we hit the mother wall and crash.

For the first few years of my children's lives I only had portraits of them together. We never had family pictures taken and the reason was because I was too stressed to sit for a picture. By the time I had all the kids washed, dressed and their hair combed there was no time for me to do my own hair and makeup. Then I basically had to wrap them cellophane to keep them clean until we got to the photo studio, keep my daughter from pulling out her pig-tails, break up the fight between them, prop them up in clothes that they did not like and then try to make them smile. I was so stressed I wasn't fit to be in a picture. Family portraits make me crazy. Even to this day when I mention it's family picture time my kids run in all directions.

When you add the second baby to the mix things get twice as hard. When my first child was born I would spend my evenings sterilizing everything he touched. Every toy he played with and every pacifier he put his mouth would all be washed in blazing hot water. By the time my daughter came along four years later I wasn't so crazy. I would do my best to wipe down her toys when necessary and if her pacifier fell on the floor I would wipe it in my jeans before I put it back in her mouth. Apparently, so I am told, this is why my son catches every flu and my daughter is never sick. Once again it's the mother's fault.

My mother had 10 children. I never appreciated what she went through until I had my own. I can't imagine feeding, clothing and trying to discipline 10 children. I asked my mother one time why I didn't have any baby pictures. To which she answered "I was too busy cooking, cleaning and working to take pictures. Later she gave me a baby picture of one of my sisters. I told her "That's not me" and she informed me "No one is going to know the difference just put it in a frame and say it's you." I told her "I'm not doing that" she answered "Why? That's what I did for your sisters. They all think that picture is of them." I don't even know if that picture is of any of us! It could be a neighbour's kid for all I know.

Whenever I asked my mother about raising children she would say "If you never have them to make you laugh, then you'll never have them to make you cry, but you laugh a lot more than you cry."

I decided that as a Mother there were 3 things I would do every day for my kids: 1. Tell them I love them and kiss and hug them no matter who's around or where we are. 2. Make them laugh out loud even if I had to hold them down and tickle them. 3. Make them feel good about themselves in some way. That's really all anyone can do besides providing the basic necessities of life.

Maya Angelou, the famous American poet, once said when it comes to being a mother, you do the best you can and when you know better, you do better. That's been my motto for 16 years. There's no book, there's no instruction manual, there's no one who can tell you how to do it. You just do the best you can and hope they don't grow up to write a book about you called "Mommy Dearest."