May 10, 2016

TrishBits #22: Notes on All Kinds of Mothering

Notes on All Kinds of Mothering

Notes on All Kinds of Mothering

There is wisdom in holding a lantern, sending love, and letting go of control – because you never really had it anyway.

I’m planning a trip to Africa with my daughter.  We chat about what to pack, who’s bringing batteries for the camera, how much does the blue duffel weigh so we can get on the tiny bush planes for safari…?  As we chat and laugh and plan, I’m struck such gratitude:  My daughter is a grown-up, and she’s done that very well.  It’s great to like the people you love.

And liking each other comes more easily when you let go of our culture’s ridiculous assumptions about what a good mother is supposed to do.  We imagine that mothers are supposed to point our children in the right direction and then doggedly hover, intrude, discipline, teach, and worry until they grow up.  I suggest a different approach, based on the idea that we do not ‘make’ our children become anything.  They have their own journey.

As a mother, stepmother, adoptive mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, my task is to hold a lantern along the path (because I’ve been there), and then wait patiently while they take the scenic route…

Trish Ring, Ph. D.When my husband and I married 12 years ago, we did something that is fraught with difficulty – we took two people in love and made a family of 6 who didn’t much know each other, much less like each other.  If you’ve ever blended a family, you might agree that it’s more of a stew than a blend.  It takes a container, some heat, and lots of patience.

Back in the early days of step-mom-hood, I was on a mission to make this thing work.  I worried over imagined slights and had an anxious trajectory toward doom whenever one of our 4 teenagers had a problem.  I wanted holiday dinners and vacations to be seamless and fun, so much so that I rarely had fun myself.  I worked too hard and got in my own way.

Of course, I couldn’t keep it up (thank God), so I had to let it go.  I could not fix, meddle, or worry enough to keep 4 teens on course.  Instead, I developed some clearer boundaries, based on faith that what happens in our children’s lives is happening FOR them, not TO them.  And I’m there for love and good sense.  And fun.

Here is a short list of what I wish I’d known when I was a new mom figure for 4 teens:

  • Don’t take anything personally as a parent.  Teen (or toddler) drama is seriously not about you.
  • Moms & Dads can have too much ‘power’ with teens.  A thoughtless remark can wound.  So, be thoughtful as a parent, but – it’s still not about you.
  • “No,” is a useful word.  If you follow it up with trying to convince, plead, shame, guilt, or badger your teen, it loses its usefulness.
  • It’s not going to go according to plan.  And that’s ok.
  • The empty nest is a myth.  They keep coming back.
  • There may be a time when you are not ‘friends’ with your teen.  This is perfectly ok.  They need parents who’ve got their back, not more friends.
  • Navigating problems and ‘bad things that happen’ is actually one way that we learn to rely on each other.  It’s what family is for.
  • Remember to be playful and have fun, because these worries will pass.  Memories of all of us taking our grandchild for a first swim or cutting down a Christmas tree at the farm – those memories stay.

Whether you are a parent, or whether you are simply caring for another human on this planet, there is wisdom in holding a lantern, sending love, and letting go of control – because you never really had it anyway.

During this time of year when we honor moms and dads, I’m reminded of the many ways that we all care about each other.  And I’m grateful for my own parents, and for my ‘other mothers’ who helped me along the way, and who still do.  Love abounds!

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