Saturday, May 7, 2011
The Art of Mothering
It's Mother's Day and I want to write about my mother. Endlessly devoted, never wavering, steadfast in her efforts to support my brother’s and my every project and share our successes with the world, my mother is definitely up there with the best. I've known this since I was a child and feel it twice over as an adult. I'm not saying she's perfect. I don't know any perfect mothers. I am definitely not one and I'm pretty sure that hers was not one. Mothering is an art that needs constant attention, adjustment and tweaking. I don't know one mother who thinks they have it "down pat". Along with the multitude of challenges that come with the job is the need to change and adapt as we, and our children, grow. Although my own mother is mother to an adult, and accordingly no longer needs to parent, she still serves as a major, and I want to add excellent, role model.
Growing up it was obvious that my mother liked to plan. I used to find her daily to-do lists, itemizing exactly what needed to get done before the sun went down, around the house. She always got an early start, and still does. There's so much to do! She always included some form of physical exercise (a bike ride, a row in the Schuylkill, a brisk walk, a game of tennis) and still does. She always worked-in time to read a chapter in at least one book, and sometimes two, to make whatever phone calls were needed to keep the house running, and scheduled cherished time to put together dinner for whoever was home. Although as a child I used to find these lists daunting, amazed at her daily aspirations, as an adult they garner respect. For my mother, then and now, each day is full to brimming and, as far as I can tell, she closes her eyes at night knowing exactly how much she has accomplished and what's coming up the next!
Recently my mother was put to a test. Her ability to plan every moment, to anticipate every next step, was washed away. A situation arose which entailed an enormous amount of flexibility. "Go with the flow" was going to have to be the new mode and I wasn't entirely sure how she was going to handle that.
As most mothers learn to do, mine has quickly adapted and risen to the occasion. Pouring endless energy into something which she wanted no part of and never asked to have in her life, my mother is proving tenacious, unfaltering and dedicated. Her strength, which I have admired from afar my whole life, is shining through. She's only at the beginning of something very unwanted that's been shoved onto her plate, but I am certain she will handle this exactly as she has handled everything else: with determination, fortitude and unfailing love.
My mother's performance on a new battlefield has inspired me, setting the bar for how I want to mother when my children mature into adulthood. Although I’ve also become a list maker, I have never subscribed to her method of daily scheduling. In fact most of my lists get lost in the ragged shuffle of my life and I usually move on to a new one before completing the items on the last. Nevertheless, I've recently discovered that her seemingly simple routine may offer a solution to some of the challenges I’m presently facing as mother to three adolescent children. Last Fall I stumbled over an article that, by introducing its own to-do list, goes a long way toward easing the bumps of parenting teenagers. In "What Do You Tell Your Teen Every Night? 15 Things Every Parent Should Tell Their Teen," psychotherapist Dr. Mary Jo Rapini doesn't give her opinion on the role of the parent in the age of technology, the methodology of parenting or, heaven help us, the dichotomy between Western and Chinese forms of mothering; instead she offers an itemized list reminiscent of those I've seen my mother prepare, check over and actually complete, for decades.
Rapini's nighttime checklist of things you should say to your teen, including items such as "My job is not to be your buddy, I am your parent; It is okay to mess up, I do it all the time; and I am sorry you don't like my rules, but you will have to abide by them," not only satisfies a natural desire for checks and balances but, even more significantly, reminds us of what we might be forgetting. Sometimes watching our grown children lope through the house, a foot taller than us and one step away from walking out the door, we forget that they still need our love and direction. Rapini's list offers a way to step in, do our work and get the job done.
Sometimes simple steps go a long way. My mother still makes lists, today’s containing certain things she could live without right alongside her favorites, and her daily accomplishments show the results of direction, focus and determination. The fact remains that whether actively parenting, or serving as role model, our responsibility as mothers is both essential and infinite. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, "God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers." On this particular mother's day I want to pay tribute to my own. There are a lot of great mothers, and she is one of them.