There's a war going on. Maybe you've heard of it--it's a war on parenting, between parents, about parent, by parents, and for parents. In this case, I'm talking motherhood, specifically. There have been countless articles published on thousands of blogs, internet sites, newspapers and magazines about how to correctly parent your children. There have also been countless articles published on thousands of blogs, internet sites, newspapers and magazines about how there is no true correct way to parent your children. Conflictive? I'd say so.
Instead of taking a side in this battle for parental godliness, I'm going to talk about the things I've done for my kids that have convinced me that I am a good mother, nay, a gosh-darn great one.
1. I worry. I worry about their health, their safety, how they look, what they are playing with, what they are eating, what they aren't eating, whether they've pooped recently, where they've pooped recently, their future, their past, what conversations we'll need to have and when they'll need to happen, how to explain life's hard questions to them, how to explain life's easy questions to them without diminishing their appreciation for things, if their bath water is too hot, if I'm brushing their hair too hard, if I've clipped their toenails too short, if playing with an old cell phone will destroy their sense of imagination and adventure, if making them play outside when it's chilly is mean or not, if they're having bad dreams, if they are already afraid of monsters, if the things that I'm listening to on the radio are inappropriate for them, if the things I watch on TV are inappropriate for them, if they'll hate me when they're teenagers, if they'll remain too attached to me when they're older, if they'll confide in me like I want them to, if they'll never tell me anything that is on their mind, if I've shouted at them one too many times, if seeing me naked when I'm getting dressed in the morning is going to scar them for life--essentially I worry about everything...whether it's warranted or not.
2. I laugh. My girls are so silly, and they make me laugh! They see me laugh when they are silly, and they laugh too. They enjoy being silly, and I encourage it because A) it's an expression of their personalities and B) it's normal for their age. When they see me enjoying them, I know that they feel loved. Even at their tender age, they pick up on so many things (it's mind blowing!) and I never want to be a source of shame for them. I want them to be open about expressing who they are and what they enjoy, and I want them to know that I enjoy who they are too. So, I laugh--great, big, belly laughs--at their silliness, and it's all the ab workout I could ask for for one day!
3. I say no. Sometimes, it's vital that deny your child something they they are asking for...like when want to touch the hot stove or put their head inside the oven. Or when they want to shake the medicine bottle like a rattle for fun. Sometimes it's important to say no, even if I've said yes to that same thing before. Life doesn't work out evenly, in some concise pattern (don't we all wish it were that easy!) and the answers to the same questions are not always the same. Sometimes I say no because I'm lazy, and that doesn't make me a great mother, it makes me a real one. If there's a show already on TV that's playing and they ask for a different one, sometimes I say no because I don't want to go through the hassle of clicking the remote a few times to get something else going. Sometimes I say no because something better is coming ("no, you can't have that to eat right now because we're going to Nana's house now and she's going to have dinner ready for us!"). Sometimes I say no, because it's not possible to say yes. Saying no isn't something I do to deprive my children. It's not something I do to be mean or nasty or to exert my authority over them. It's something that I say because it needs to be said.
4. I acknowledge that I am far from perfect. If I hold myself to ridiculous expectations, how will my children learn that it's okay to fail? In their simple world, this happens during times as simple as me tripping over something on the floor and falling (mommy falls sometimes too) or spilling something out of a glass (mommy makes messes too) or apologizing to them for an outburst (mommy is sorry she yelled, I should have used my words better). These are things that my girls relate to and can understand. I need them to know that they don't have to be perfect to be loved and accepted in this home. I need them to know that just simply being who they are is all that anyone can ever ask or expect of them. I'm sure this is a lesson that will persist throughout their childhood and probably into their young adult lives as well, and I'm up for the challenge of showing them how imperfect their mother really is, every single day.
5. I show appreciation to my husband in front of them. I want to model a healthy marital relationship to my children. Matt and I always do the best we can to be at our best in front of our children, and that includes showing love and appreciation to each other when our girls are around. That also includes showing love and appreciation to each other when one or the other of us is not around. When Matt leaves on business trips and the girls ask where daddy is, I choose to explain to them that daddy is at work and he's there because he loves our family so much! If I'm feeling aggravated by the lack of support I'm feeling during those "single-parent" times or if I'm feeling overwhelmed by the task of raising two toddlers on my own for a period of time, I make sure that that's not the message I convey to them about their father. I want them to know why each of their parents plays the role in this family that we do--Daddy goes to works and earns a living to pay for the things we have to be thankful for in our life. Mommy stays home to take care of you to make sure that you and sissy are happy and healthy!
6. I take them to church. I realize that this is an incredibly personal aspect of parenting for me that not everyone will agree with, but I stand by my decision that bringing my children to church is the right thing to do by them. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and my church family is part of that village. I surround my children with people who love them and who care for them and who pray for them. While I often fall short of being a Godly example to them at home, I know that including them in this environment will help keep us all on track when it comes to our relationships with God.
With this ridiculous war on parenthood/motherhood/fatherhood going on, I'm going to take a step back and be my own advocate. If someone doesn't like the way I'm raising my kids, they're welcome to keep their opinion about it to themselves. I can't sit around and wait for people to write articles that validate or invalidate the things I do as a mother for my kids, so I'm taking things into my own hands and I am choosing to appreciate myself for the things I know I do right for my children. I think a lot of women have lost sight of the fact that they are in control of their feelings, their emotions and their behaviors and have caved to the pressures being placed on mothers by warriors of each side of this parenting battle. My wish for these women is that they would shut out the world around them, take a look at themselves from their own perspective and appreciate what they are doing for their children, all on their own. As mothers (and fathers) we have to be our own advocates, and stand up for ourselves. We know in our bones what is best for our children, and if someone else doesn't agree with the things we choose to do, that doesn't mean that we are choosing incorrectly. We're not perfect--that's the inherent nature of being human. I'm not perfect by my own standards--I'm on my iPhone way too much in front of my children, I'm impatient and moody, I slack when it comes to playtime vs. TV time, I don't always prepare the most nutritious meals available, I sometimes let them stay up too late, I don't always watch them do every little thing all day long, and sometimes I resent them for the ways my life has changed since they were born. The point is that the things I know I'm doing right for them and the things I feel I could improve on are my own standards and no one else's.
I refuse to let this parenting war affect me, and I'm going to do my best to raise my children to be invulnerable to the parenting wars of their generation too.