Friday, October 15, 2010

What Kind Of Mother Am I?!

Barbara: Call me crazy, but I’ve finally decided after twenty years of motherhood that there is no sure-fire prescription for parenting. After all these years of being an adult, I can confirm absolutely that kids of unbelievably amazing parents can still stumble and fall (sometimes spectacularly, sometimes heartbreakingly) and kids of terrible, apathetic parents can turn out unbelievably amazing. No great revelation, but still, it seems worth repeating.

They are them. Simple as that.

Why bring this up now? Well, my older daughter just turned 20 yesterday and––while there is no melancholy at all, believe it or not––it did inspire me to reflect on the job I have taken so very seriously for all these years. 
Stefanie at 20
What kind of mother am I? Given that both my daughters are almost grown (the younger one will be 17 in two weeks), I can say with all confidence that I am thrilled with how they turned out. But I am hard-pressed––and this is NOT me being a martyr––to take much of the credit (see above).

Sure, I think I did a pretty good job. But then, as we all do, I committed to the life-lessons I thought were important and worthy and didn’t commit to the ones I thought were incidental and mundane. Clearly, we will all disagree on which is what. My husband and I certainly sometimes did. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just say we always worked it out.
Stefanie at 14
For right or wrong, I’m pretty lenient. Not compared to a lot of parents, but on the sliding scale. Take Stefanie, my now 20-year-old. She is a burgeoning fashion designer. She has always been artistic. When she was a young teen of 14, she decided she wanted to dye her hair pink and pierce her upper lip. I balked. There was no health risk in flamboyant hair and a harmless piercing, so why was I balking? 
Stefanie at 14
Then I realized, I was worried about what people would think. And then I realized I didn’t want my kids to ever EVER make their choices based on what other people thought. Sure, they should understand that people might indeed judge them, but they shouldn't live their lives making choices out of fear. That epiphany shifted my whole parenting mindset.
Stefanie at 15
When Stefanie was rocking this look above, she remembers walking past an older couple and the woman whispering (loudly) to the man: “She looks like she could kill someone and not even care.” My daughter: sweet, peace-loving, fashion-curious, 105 lb-soaking-wet Stefanie.
Stefanie at 16
Stefanie at 16
Stefanie at 17
Stefanie at 17
I also let my kids stay out late. We live in a big city and I grew up in one. The city has taught me one thing: bad things happen at any time of day. So I don’t have a problem with late nights per se. Within reason, of course. Not on a school night. And I must know where they are and that they are with friends. They text or phone with updates. Otherwise, I am a believer in adventures, in exploring, in engaging in the social circle.

I also support their friendships with boys. I know they’ll like who they like and if we give them too hard a time about it, then that critical door would just bang shut between us. I hate “the door” and do everything I can to keep it open, even if I sometimes only manage to keep it slightly ajar.

I’m not preaching to try and convert anyone to this style of parenting. I know what worked for us won’t necessarily work for the next kid (see above) … or their parents. My choices might have been radically different had my children been any different. The trust they’ve received from us is trust they’ve earned.

I don’t regret the fundamental choices I’ve made—maybe I will after they go to therapy––although I do have a roster of dark parenting moments that I deeply regret (clutching my 9-year-old’s hand in angry desperation when she refused to eat her sandwich because it was “gross” during a social brunch for which we paid too much money––when money felt very precarious––and seething at her through gritted teeth to “eat the fucking sandwich.” If you know me at all, you know a) how out-of-character that “fuck” was, particularly directed at my precious––and very young––daughter, and b) I am not given to clutching arms and seething through gritted teeth. It was a dark day that I will never forget. My daughter? Says she has no idea what I’m talking about.)

What do I think I did well? I listened. I listen still. Again, not a martyr––I do it for me as much as I hope it benefits them. Nothing like a long car ride on the way to a soccer game or after a party to hear the best, the worst, the funniest, the strangest, the scariest, the most hopeful parts of their lives. What kind of kids are they? The very best.

Deb: Oh dear God, don’t we all have those moments as parents? The moments of which you are not proud. I still cringe at the memory of my 12-year-old boy asking me gingerly if he could walk to school with his friends …  instead of ME and his friends. Yes, folks, he was 12. Go ahead. Say it. Yes, I deserve your scorn.

And of course my attempt to make learning about sex an open, honest, and healthy discussion between a boy and his parents ended with my darling son cautioning me that he did not need to know quite that much information. Or the time he went to school and attached to his Thomas the Tank Engine sweater courtesy of static cling was my black thong, which the boy told his little friends was “Mummy’s eye patch.” And, ahh yes, the time I was at wits’ ends with him over schoolwork not done, and I pulled the car over, put it in park, turned around and screamed at the boy, “Well, I think it’s time to BUCK UP, ME BUCKOOOOOO!!!” So unaccustomed was I to reprimanding this easygoing child that the phrase just popped up from the old Disney pirate movie section of my brain and out of my mouth. OH, what I would not have given for it to have simply been “Fuck”!!!

And for the record, Barb is a great mom who has a similar general parenting style to mine. Let them be who they will be and allow them their rebellion if it doesn’t hurt them or others. Worked for me and clearly for Barb. We are the proud mistake-makers of three lovely human beings. 


  1. Barbara, I am thirteen years behind you on the parenting ladder, so it is perhaps not my place to comment on your parenting style, but all I can say is that if that is the kind of parent you were, it is no wonder that your kids both turned out as lovely as they did.
    And you better make sure I stay on your parenting path as I bumble through the next few years- I am going to need you all the way.

    And Deb- the eyepatch story really made me giggle.

  2. My mother had a heck of a time with me I'm sure,or what I can think back too. I am sure their were times where I put my mother through hell,not meaning to but did anyways. I think from the child side of things,the reason that we did or still do things that our parents might not agree with is so we can learn from what we did and not make the same mistake as an adult. I turned out ok if I do say so myself so everything that I went through as a child or that I put my parents through must have turend out ok. I'm guessing.

  3. "Eat the fucking sandwich?" I am shocked and appalled. Appalled and shocked.

    It gets better. My kids keep coming back to the nest and dropping off their pets (dogs, cats, horses, spouses). I should have bought a new lock.

  4. Aw, so sweet, Rayna! And I'm here for you, baby. Not with a great game-plan, clearly, but with support!

    Lyndsie, truer words have not been said -- we do learn from our mistakes and need them to make us who we are. Bravo!

    Walter, I bow to your shock and appallation (!). I've heard that kids keep coming back. What's that about? um...horses and spouses???

  5. Barb and Deb, This post could not have been more timely as my lovely Hayden turns 18 today and I have been mulling over this very subject for days. As Deb can attest, I could have written Barb's expose on her parenting style myself so closely does it align with my own. Beyond a total insistence on impeccable manners and an attempt to impart a sincere love of the written word, I mainly took my cue from them. My beloved boy, now 21, went through a stage wherein each hairstyle scared more people than the last. Loaded down with enough silver to keep the economy of Mexico humming along, draped in black from head to toe, a walk along the boardwalk resulted in us being bathed in dirty looks and whispered insults. He didn't give a toss and neither did I. I saw he was the rare soul who hears and marches to his own drummer...heavy-metal though it may have been...and walked beside him beaming the kind of pride that usually accompanies your kid graduating from med school. Both of my two, though wildly different individuals, right from the start have always felt free to be who they want to be...and its been my privilege to facilitate their wondrous journey!

  6. Well said, garedican! And maybe "facilitating" the "wondrous journey" is my favourite part. Your kids are lucky.

  7. Well, I'm sitting here crying. How is it that this blog makes me cry so often?

    3 things:

    1. Happy Birthday, Stephanie. Happy, happy birthday, Stephanie. You are a remarkably creative and daring young woman. I hope this year brings you limitless adventure, love, and blessings. And, I, for one, really like your beautiful, ever-morphing hair.

    2. With a 12-years-old-next-month special needs son who doesn't always act "normal", I can tell you that it's not just interesting hairstyles and piercings to get stares and judgemental comments in public. The lack of compassion in the day to day world is heart breaking. *sigh*

    3. Most importantly. Seriously, Barbara and Deb, this is why I'm crying. I'm dead serious. I wish I had been raised by parents like y'all. Your kids are already stronger, truer, braver, more creative, steadier people at 20, 20, and 17 than I am at 37. I wish I had been blessed with the kind of upbringing you are giving Stephanie, Michele, and Luke instead of the lump of pathology I got born into the midst of. And, I hope I can be more like y'all with my son.

  8. Dang it. My apologies for misspelling Stefanie. I plead migraine. Sorry. :(

  9. Barb:
    "My daughter? Says she has no idea what I’m talking about."

    That's because she's repressed the horror!

    "What do I think I did well? I listened. I listen still."

    This is major, this is core.
    How do you get yourself to pay attention when they "teen talk" about things that bore you? (assuming there must be something that makes you blank out, if you're anything like me; it's really hard to stay focused on 20 straight minutes of description of a videogame)

    "Nothing like a long car ride on the way to a soccer game or after a party to hear the best, the worst, the funniest, the strangest, the scariest, the most hopeful parts of their lives."

    This is so true with my son too; hm, will it work with husbands?

    "Deb: Oh dear God, don’t we all have those moments as parents? The moments of which you are not proud. I still cringe at the memory of..."

    F__K, Deb -- the eye patch made me laugh so hard my son made sure I was all right ... this is priceless.

  10. Dearest Rigel, and you are exactly the kid who grew up amazing despite the (as you so eloquently put it) lump of pathology. I rest my case.

  11. Katrinka, our comments crossed paths! Yeah, thank god therapy is still an option...

    How to listen to boring stuff? Maybe it's a girl-thing, but most of the convos are pretty engaging.

    And the eye-patch -- kiiiiilllled me!

  12. Well, I can't say much about parenting styles for me. I met Jack too late in life. But according to my mom I raised my sister there was 9 years between us, and she turned out great.
    But I do have one story from my sister. When she was in Jr and High school her mantra was when I have kids, I will never say "Because I said so." Well she kept that promise. She just said "Because I am the MOM that's why"
    BTW her parenting style is like you to ladies and she has 3 wonderful kids. (22,21,and 15). All 3 are very smart and talented.
    And quick thinking on the part of Deb's son with the eye patch thing.

  13. TJL -- love that! And it's great your sister had you.

  14. You know I would love to say that my son's wit was was way beyond his years, but frankly, I think he was sincere. I think in his little boy world he quite decided it was my eyepatch, even if he suspected otherwise. I am glad that gave everyone a good laugh. It will be added to his wedding reception stories.

  15. Ohmygoodness Barb - I love you even more now that I know you dropped the F bomb! It makes me feel sooo much better for all the insane moments I've had as a parent. Listen, we have had the absolute joy and privilege of dancing along together on this crazy ass Parenting road since our girls were babbies. You have been a spectacular mother. Be very proud, not only of your girlies but of yourself. And Deb - The Boy is a remarkable man.
    When I had Sydney I vowed that I would not have the same relationship that I had/have with my mother. I work diligently to be the kind of mother that I always wanted to have. Wasn't always easy but I am so grateful for the glorious relationship I have with my daughter. I marvel at what an incredible person she is and that I didn't totally screw her up. I suppose there's still time. Until then I've learned (and still am learning) when to offer advice, when to offer a cuddle and when to shut the hell up. Not an easy lesson for me - the shutting up part. At all.
    I think we can sleep soundly knowing we are unleashing some spectacular citizens into the world.

  16. Tannis you nailed it with the "when to shut up". there are times I want to reach out and snatch my words from the air. But all in all, I am proud of the job I am doing. The key now, with a 20 year old is when to hold it,when to fold it...again, all comes back to the possible shut up right?

  17. The joy of living a 9 hour drive from my parents is that I can always slam the phone down and force them to shut up. ;)

  18. mummy's eye patch. Classic.

    my best parenting moment was the one where I launche a box of 164-color crayola crayons in the air. "Pick them the fuck up!" I yelled or something close to it. I'm not proud. Even if it was quite pretty.

    There was one other, that I won't even disclose. Suffice it to say that it haunts me some nights.

    Parenting is hard. I listen well and often. I love my children dearly. I forgive them their lapses and I hope they forgive me mine.

    Thanks for sharing, beautiful ladies. <3

  19. btw, how CRAZY-GORGEOUS is your child?!? Makes me want to have gray-blue and/or pink hair.

  20. She is beautiful, creative and happy. What more could you ask for?

  21. Rigel! At least you've found an effective management tool.

    Gae, I hear you. And have no fear you are everything your kids need. Your synopsis is beautiful.

    Hollye: exactly!! Which is why I can sit back now and marvel.

  22. They are what they are ...... after you breast feed, diaper, feed them, then hug, cuddle, love them, than match wills with them, than bring them to swimming, dancing, skiing, painting, video, movie, piano and finally design lessons ... whilst you (or Phil) wait in the lobby. With each step they become more of what they are,(or will be) ... they develop wings, first they flatter than they fly and finally a full fledged designer walks around (soon to talk about designer babies?) You and Phil set the stage for Stefanie and Michele to soar and what more could you possibly give? Dad

  23. I was just reading over some older posts I missed, and this one had me "aww-ing" and envying (and almost crying -- Shh).

    a) I am 21 and just last week put a strip of purple in my hair for the first time. I've wanted fun colors for forever and a day, but my mom IS one of those who worries about what other people think, so it's taken me this long (and on my 4th year out of the house) to build up the courage. That said, I utterly adore Stefanie's hair in each and every stage. My favorite was the blue & blonde.

    b) I have to echo Rigel in saying that (someday) I hope I can be more like "y'all" when raising my kids if I ever have any. I love my parents, but I've often wished for that open door you talk about (it's there sometimes.. but it takes much effort) and the trustworthy behavior equalling trust. That was, perhaps, one of the most frustrating things for me. The number of times I said, "I've never given you a reason NOT to trust me!" Also, the acceptance.. there's nothing more significant, I don't think.

    Anyways, this was a very sweet and inspiring post! :)

  24. Awww. Kassy. It's a poignant topic, isn't it, this life between parents and children. xoxo

  25. 1/15/2012:

    It feels REALLY good to read this particular blog. This is how I try to parent. Bit of a loose leash, but with Communication as THE TOP PRIORITY.
    Got "scolded" by her dad today for letting her go over to her "friend who's a boy"'s house without informing him. You'd think I'd left her on the Titanic to freeze to death, KNOWING she'd freeze to death.
    I admit to "occasionally" logging onto my daughter's FB page, but now I'm properly motivated. She has a DAMN good head on her shoulders. She's a "proud, sober virgin" and has every intent to stay that way til she meets someone she can guarantee she'll be with long enough for that pledge to be... unnecessary, I guess.
    I was right. I am right. Her dad will never see it that way.
    I'm right.


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