Motherhood is in the Moments

Before they were moms…with their brother.
To my daughters who are the best moms I know.

I am a parenting educator. Each month I teach classes to parents who are getting divorced. The first thing I tell them, both for their assurance and my safety (because few parents arrive happy to have to take this court-mandated class) is that I don’t intend to “teach” anyone to be a parent. Long after my class is over they will be the parents they have always been. Good, bad, mediocre, awesome. It’s not up to me to judge anyone’s parenting, even in the throes of divorce. However, I have gained some knowledge through the years from my professional work and my own often faulty parenting. Now, as one of you negotiates going back to work when your twins are so new and the other continues to be buffeted by the frustrations of being a working parent even after four years, there are a few observations that I want to share with you.

The first one is: One of the hardest things in the world is to leave your child in the hands of someone else — anyone else. Family, friend, professional — it doesn’t matter. Whether it’s the first time or the one thousand and first time, no one can take care of your baby like you can. It makes sense…the child grew inside you. And it’s a fact that there are cells leftover in the mother’s body and brain from pregnancy that make that connection incontrovertible. You can’t leave your baby because of science. But there will be times that you will have to and those times will suck. That is also incontrovertible. You get to hate it and no one has any right to make you feel otherwise. And that’s that.

So, the next one is: If you’ve made the decision to have your baby looked after by someone else, then make sure your baby knows that you’re confident about it. Have your crying jag in the car after drop off and before pick up — who cares what the people at work think? Your baby trusts you, so if you’re dropping her off at daycare, make sure she doesn’t think you’re worried or upset about it. The disclaimer to this one is that if you have any doubts about with whom you’re leaving your child, don’t leave them. Trust your instincts. There are always options. (Me! Me!) As far as I can tell, both of your instincts are spot on. Don’t let anyone tell you differently about that, either.

Also, trust is about the most important thing you can have with your children. Much of it exists already simply because the parent-child bond is so complete. You are your child’s first significant relationship and, as their caregiver, you are required to provide everything for their survival and well-being from the moment they arrive in your arms. (I want to quip, “No pressure!” here, but actually there’s a ton of it.) At first, it’s all non-verbal and intuition…babies are in tune with every blink of your eye, every gasp that escapes your lips. It’s this initial, intimate communication that forms the basis for all communication to come. But, because they’re children, they don’t always know the right way to articulate their feelings or emotions. That’s why this next one is my favorite . . .

. . . When they’re the least lovable is when they need the most love. Actually, you can apply this to most people, not just children. Children feeling badly is a very different experience than it is for an adult…even though many adults still can’t make that distinction. But now that you’re parents, you don’t have the luxury of taking care of your feelings first. That’s just the way it is. With kids, it’s triage. Treat the most acute crisis first — and it’s always theirs. Your role as a parent isn’t only Judge and Jury; you get to mingle in compassion, caring and sympathy even in the face of seemingly trivial problems. Some of the most ridiculous laments will have roots in a serious dilemma for your child. Try to see it from their point of view and address their problem, not their behavior. If the pants feel “funny” they feel funny. Take them off and get another pair. Problem-solve rather than admonish. This is the way they learn to handle problems on their own.

And finally: Motherhood is in the moments. (I guess fatherhood, too, but I’m focusing on moms right now.) Don’t count all the mistakes you’ve made or are going to make…they are unavoidable. I write this knowing I made mistakes with all three of you. I might not have known that had I not entered into a career working with children and families, but believe me, I know it now. It’s not a particularly glowing feeling knowing you did wrong by your children, so I want to hang on to the fact that if I erred in the really big ways, I may have made up for it in the small ways. Those moments like sharing a surprise, reading together before bed, laughing uncontrollably at a funny movie. The delight of discovering how good it feels to hold you close in those rare, but cherished quiet flashes of love and connection.

I think those are the moments that activate the stray cells that insure a mother’s bond. It’s those moments that allow you to push against me, be mad at me, vent your frustration or test your limits. Those moments are the links in the delicately wrought chain of parenthood that will grow stronger every single day. With every decision, success, mistake, frustration and joy, you will become the parent you need to be. With advice, without advice; you will know your children better than me or their doctor, your best friend or their teacher. That, ultimately, is your job…to know your child better than anyone and nurture him accordingly. And I have every confidence that your children are in the best hands possible. I know this since you — my children — are the best people I know.

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