As parents of school aged children everywhere face another back to school season, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences parenting my son who is entering his senior year of high school this fall. Since he was 5, I’ve sent him off to a new year of school anticipating what it would bring- the new friendships, the struggles, the frenzied pace, and-of course, the growth and learning.
And each year, as his mother, I’ve felt myself growing right along with him. I’ve had to learn how to manage the pace, set limits, and say no when needed. I’ve sat by his side, trying not to nod off as he worked painfully slowly sounding out his first little readers. I’ve tutored him through long division, made sure all of the dang science fair projects got done, and sat in the principal’s office with him. Multiple times.
Expectations, Expectations, Expectations
Mark Twain once said, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it”. As the mother of a close-to-grown son, I relate to that quote now more than ever!
Because the relationship I have with my children matters so much to me, over the years, I’ve placed a lot of pressure on myself to be a good mom. Additionally, we face messages of cultural idealism around the idea of motherhood–idealism that stressed me out before I could even put my finger on it or had a name for it! I was bombarded with messages in entertainment, at church, and now- in social media- that idealized motherhood, and, as a result- turned up the heat on the pressure I felt. The unrealistic expectations that I allowed myself to build into my life added unnecessary hardship.
Dr. Julie’s Wisdom
Recently, Dr. Julie Hanks gave a talk at the TedX event held in Ogden, Utah. She spoke about the religious, cultural, and historic messages we take in as women, and the damage it can do when we hold motherhood up on a pedestal. She describes the difference between idealizing and valuing motherhood- valuing is to consider something important or significant, and idealizing is to regard something as perfect, or better than reality. Dr. Hanks explains, “When we accept messages from external sources about something that millions of women experience in millions of ways across the globe, it reinforces the idea that there is one right way to be a mother.” She challenges us to think about motherhood as a relationship, and not a role. Roles are rigid- prescribed, scripted, with set expectations and rights and wrongs. Viewing motherhood as a relationship, she shares, allow us to be our authentic selves. It allows us to value the connection between mother and child, and not discount it because it’s in any way different from the idealized standard.
Some of the most valued learning I’ve gained over the last 12 years is accepting and honoring the mom I am to my kids. I’ve kicked mom guilt to the curb and try hard not to let it cross the threshold back into our home– but like every bad ex-boyfriend, it tries to come back around again and again! I’ve learned new patterns and set realistic expectations. I’ve made peace with reality- our lives are not Pinterest boards, my kids get in trouble, and growth is hard. And that’s ok. I’ve learned to honor and value the ways I uniquely mother: with creativity, with humor, and with a little occasional snooping in Instagram DM’s. I’ve realized I’m a good mom because I value the connection I have with my children above all other indicators of success.
I love the freedom offered to us in Dr. Hank’s message- that there is no one right way to be a mother to my children. By focusing on connection in our relationships with our children, it frees us up to parent in the way that works best for our families- conventional or not.
This back to school season, give yourself permission to let go of idealized standards of parenting. You and your children will benefit when you honor the unique ways that you show up as a parent. Neither us nor our children are perfect- we all need space to grow and learn!
Lastly, if the growth and learning your child encounters this year lands you in the chair in the principal’s office, take a deep breath and know you are in good company. Many a good mom have sat in that chair in the past, and many a good mom will sit in it in the future. Consider this your across-the-internet fist bump.
Hanks, J. (2019, July 22). The Costs of Idealizing Motherhood, Julie de Azevedo-Hanks, TEDxOgden. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlC8XqTSLUE
Twain, Mark. “A quote by Mark Twain.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7595047-my-mother-had-a-great-deal-of-trouble-with-me