Wednesday, March 19, 2008

What Kind of Mom Do You Want To Be?

OK, so I am in Burger King last night with my youngest two kids. I look like hell (which happens a lot lately) but I have had a long day with a lot of fatigue and I don’t really care. After we had been there a while a new family appears (three kids, grandma, thin and smartly-dressed mom, and a metrosexual dad who met them their after a while – I could swear that all their jeans were pressed!). Now this mom is the most uptight mom I have seen in a really long time! She tells her little ones (who are impeccably dressed) to NOT take their shoes off in a voice that makes me wonder if she is about to pull out sanitizing wipes for the table. Then, of course they have to sit & eat their whole meal prior to playing, including applesauce rather than fries, which wouldn’t be that unreasonable is they weren’t sitting IN the play area – I usually try to sit out in the regular restaurant part if I want my kids to eat right away. It is less torturous to them. The kids couldn’t even turn around and look behind them without mom correcting them.

Now, when I say correcting I don’t mean yelling at them, but talking in this voice that I can only describe as naggy-bitchy with a sweet tone that you try to use to disguise your bitchy-naggy-ness. She said all the “right” childhood phrases as well: “good job” (as opposed to “good boy”); using the word “please” in front of every strained request; and rather than saying (as I said above) “don’t take off your shoes” she states, while using positive appropriate behavior expectations, “your shoes stay on your feet” – albeit through her teeth. Her kids looked, the only way I can describe it, henpecked.

My first reaction was to wonder what she was doing on our side of town. We live in a very much bifurcated town: the rich (or want-to-be rich) and upper-middle class people live in the south side of town. The minorities and those who are less well off live in the north side. We live in the north. Usually the north and the south are very separate (even through they are the same city). However, what really hit me hard as I observed all this is that I think I used to aspire to be like her…in a way.

I used to think my kids should be perfectly behaved (sometimes I still struggle with wondering what people think of me when they are not). What is sad is that I have still struggled with this even though I have two children with disabilities that affect their behavior. Now, I became a mom for the first time when I was 19 and for the last time when I was 38 so my mothering skills have been honed over time. I am a much better mother to my 7 year-old who has a developmental disorder than I was to my 18 year-old who has a psychiatric disorder. However, I think that when you have a child with these kind of issues you learn that 1) your children are not going to behave perfectly (and often not even well), and 2) you have to really not care what people think about your parenting skills because they don’t know you or your family. Still, it is hard to remember these things at times.

I do know that if I am at Burger King, I really don’t have put on all my make-up or style my hair. I really don’t care if I am wearing perfectly pressed clothes or all my gold jewelry. I know that it is OK for my kids to take their shoes off. Heck, my 7 year-old has such sensory issues that I can’t get him to keep his shoes on from the time I pick him up from school to the time we get home (about 4 minutes). I also know that if he is determined to sit on the floor in Burger King amidst french fries and old napkins to put his shoes back on, it is better to let him do it than him have a total meltdown in the restaurant with I am there with two young children on my own.

But, I also know I don’t want to be like another mom I saw at Burger King either. There were two boys, probably 5 & 8, that were terribly wild while playing in the play area. Their mom sat inside the restaurant with the grandparents (?) and was looking very pitiful and weak…maybe she was just having a bad day. However, the behavior I saw in these boys seemed to me to be a cry for attention…seeing just how far they could push things until someone set some limits with them. However, mom did not step one foot in the play area the whole time she was there. Now, granted, these are my judgments. I know I am doing exactly what I talked about in #2 above. I am judging the mom, or her parenting, without knowing her or her family. Nevertheless, I do have a reason for all this rambling.

What I realized as I sat and watched this all unfold is that I have been at both ends of this spectrum during the course of my career as a parent (because I have made quite a career out of raising children it seems…though the pay sucks!). I have been (or aspired to be) the uptight mom – which, I must say, leaves me feeling quite ill. I have been overly tense and controlling with my kids. I have also been, during the worst times of depression/Chronic Fatigue the pitiful mom as well, not having the energy to set the limits I need to with my kids and allowing them to “run wild.” I also realized that, like much things in life, the answer/truth/ideal state is somewhere in the middle…at least for me.

Being the “uptight mom” stresses me to a point that I cannot be a good person. Being the “pitiful mom” stresses my kid to a point that I think they feel lost, scared, and uncertain and they act out in order to deal with that. It is quite a balance though because when I am at one end of the continuum, when I come out of it I usually swing to the other to compensate. Learning to relax and live in the middle (and to forgive myself for not doing so in the past) is something that is an ongoing struggle and probably will be for much of my life.

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