When I imagined myself as a mother, I pictured a sweet, gentle woman, making use of every teachable moment, nurturing her sweet, adoring, compliant brood of children. I knew just how I wanted to do things, and I had Great Plans. We were going to do fabulous art projects, go on nature walks, make music together, attain spiritual maturity, always get along. And my children would never, ever make a scene at the grocery store, because I was going to raise them right.
Well. I knew so much more before I had kids. And actually, I have really, really fantastic kids. They can be incredibly sweet. ( They would probably tell you I’m sweet, too, but I have a sneaking suspicion that’s because I’m the only mom they have.) The fact is, like every other parent in this world, I brought a whole bunch of flaws and fears and sins with me into this calling. And my beautiful children, like all other children in this world, each came with their own set of flaws and fears and sins.
When Oldest was just a baby I told a friend, an experienced father of four, that I was afraid of not doing this whole mothering thing right. He told me, as gently as possible (and probably trying to hold back sympathetic laughter), “But Karen, you’re going to do lots of things wrong.” Intellectually I knew he was right, but it was knowledge that was hard to understand or even to bear at that point.
So I read lots of parenting books, and I figured it all out. Ha! I actually don’t read parenting books at all, these days. There is plenty of good advice to be found in them, but the whole experience of reading an entire book that showed me all the stuff I was doing wrong was overwhelming. I ended up feeling defeated, discouraged, and condemned.
I’m trying something different. I look at my children. I try really hard to listen to them, (or at least I try to start listening again when I realize I haven’t been listening well.) I try to look at myself. I pray. I dig deep in my faith. I talk to other moms and find out that I’m not as insane as I thought I was. I pray. I eat chocolate. I try to admit when I’ve messed up, and I apologize a lot. I think about what I’ve learned and try to apply it.
I find this works better for me. I have to deal with who my kids are and who my husband and I are. I have to look at who we are as a family. I have to live my own life in the context of faith instead of trying to make my life look like someone else’s. This is difficult, but it has also been necessary. And while I still wish I looked a lot more like that mother I imagined ten or so years ago, the real experience of being a parent has proven to be a lot richer.