A month ago I read the article in Time Magazine about the self-proclaimed Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, who berated, threatened, and strong-armed her children into "excellence"--her form of excellence anyway. Ms. Chua's in-your-face mothering leaves little wiggle room for her children to step a toe out of line as she molds them into the adults she wants them to be. (Read full article here.)
Contrast that with the article I read today about a woman who took the opposite extreme--divorced her husband and gave up custodial rights to her children when she had an "a-ha" moment and realized she no longer wanted to be a mother but would rather pursue her professional writing ambitions. She claims this new lack of 24/7 mothering gives her the opportunity to be the kind of mother she wants to be when her kids come to visit. You know the one--she meets her kids at the door with a plate of cookies to snack on before they sit down to her well-planned, perfectly wholesome dinner. This mother is fresh and energetic to help her children with any concerns or troubles they might have in the short time she has with them. (Read full article here.)
Well, yeah! Of course she's a better mom for those two or three days she gets them. But I have to wonder what her measure of a good mom is. She didn't have to stay up all night with the child who had a cough and fever the week before, so OF COURSE she feels fresh and eager to talk to him for five minutes about his day and then pat herself on the back and think with self-congratulation--"My, what a good mother I am now." She didn't spend hours helping one kid struggle through a science fair entry and another work on an essay for literature class, but she sure is one great mom for having a fresh plate of cookies for them when they come to visit.
Inserting finger into mouth and gagging now.
These two ladies get recognized because of their extreme forms of mothering. In short, their kind of stories sell. They cause a buzz. People talk. And then those people feel strong emotions one way or the other. And some question what they are doing. Should they adopt similar extreme attitudes?
But what about all those mothers who are out there quietly doing the back-breaking, time-chewing, self-forgetting job of REAL motherhood? Their stories aren't as juicy, as gossip-happy. The only thing extreme about them is their love for their children. They don't have fancy methods. In fact much of the time they wonder if they're really cut out for the job. They KNOW they don't hold all the answers. Maybe their children watch too much TV sometimes, or they don't learn to read before they enter kindergarten. Maybe their children have runny noses a few minutes too long before they get wiped. And sometimes dinner is a box of macaroni and cheese or "GASP" cold cereal. But these mothers find a few moments during the day to sit and read to their child. They let her make a mess in the kitchen when she wants to make pancakes on a Saturday morning, and then they praise her for her less-than-perfect results. They puzzle for hours over a new method to teach math so their 2nd grader won't fall behind in his studies. They clean a bathroom when they'd rather be reading a book. And they are making their chocolate-chip cookies with a six-month old on one hip and a two-year-old who can't wait to pour in the chips--and the whole group waiting eagerly to lick the bowl, spoon, and beaters.
And if necessary, these are the ones who modify or place on hold their own ambitions in order to help their children achieve their full potential. You might not read about their story at all, but they're out there, thank goodness.
These are the REAL mothers. And in my opinion they deserve the most attention of all.
Searching for Irene by Marlene Sullivan
3 weeks ago