Be the Mom You Wish To See in the World

A couple of days ago, I asked my sister Kate whether I seem like a good mother. That’s an awkward thing to do to a person, and unlikely to be helpful besides—luckily, the baby woke up almost immediately thereafter, giving me a reason to run from the room.

On the planes back from Illinois, Joey had a pretty rough time. I’m starting to suspect that he’s not a good traveler; if so, he comes by it honestly. My husband felt the need to stage some kind of “You are a bad traveler” intervention with me, an accusation that I hotly denied:

Him: You’re really exhausted and messed up whenever you travel! You need recovery time, and you have to tell your sister that!

Me: I’m a great traveler! I . . . I’m quiet, and I don’t have to go to the bathroom very often!

Him: You’re an adult now! No one cares about that!

I brought up this conversation with Kate and my brother, hoping to rally them to my side, and my brother pipes up with “You do get really tired and need to sleep a lot whenever you travel. . . .” Now I’m begrudgingly nearing step one: admitting that I have a problem.

Anyhow, so Joey did quite a bit of crying on the plane rides home. And I’d hold him and talk to him and pat his back, because sometimes my chatter seemed to help him feel a bit better—I had to pretend that no one else could hear me, but was pretty successful at that until I landed. Then a surprising number of people said nice things to me or told me that I was doing a great job, which I found intensely embarrassing; for whatever reason, I have an easier time dealing with the people who are just mad at me for having a crying son. One woman kept telling me that I was so patient, and finally asked how I could be so patient, and I said lamely that “I’m crazy in love.” And that’s true, of course, but also, how could I get mad at him? He’s a tired and sad baby, and he’s got a long way to go before he’s home. Too, I wonder how much the fact that he is generally so sweet-tempered helps; as soon as I got him home, changed his diaper, and set him on the bed, he was smiling and laughing. It might very likely be harder to be understanding if he just screamed all the time. But yesterday was one of our harder days, for sure—and yet I spent much of it thinking that maybe I don’t want to have any more kids, because just having Joey is so perfect, and I’m so happy with him, and why spoil that? His whining little scream doesn’t make my socks roll up and down, but Lord knows I can’t fault him for feeling puny—and surely he should get to say what he’s feeling.

I’m worried about my parenting because today we go to see my parents, and my mother does not approve. She thinks that Joey is manipulating me, and while I no longer completely endorse the position that “a baby’s wants are his needs” (the boy does not need to be standing all the time, or to get a sip of my soda, or to be allowed to launch himself deep into the bathwater without Daddy’s interference), I do in general want to help him to the things that he wants to do and let him take comfort from me whenever he wants it. And we’re not going to hit him. And I have lines all ready about how this isn’t me indicating disapproval of their parenting, it’s just that the times are different and I am different, etc. But it is, frankly, me making a conscious decision to try to make Joey’s childhood better than mine was. My parents prioritized obedience in their children, and are pretty open about that; I want something different. I read a parenting book about trying to cultivate qualities that you appreciate in a child or qualities that you value in an adult—my parents chose the first, I think, and I aspire to the latter.

Thanks so much to those who agree with me about Joey’s cuteness; his eyes were much grayer when he was born, and that blue is his dad’s and likely to stick. I am delighted.

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7 thoughts on “Be the Mom You Wish To See in the World

  1. That was a hard thing between my mom and me. When Noah was about three (two? don’t remember) and I finally said to her, “No, I will NOT be spanking him” and she was hurt because she made it about a criticism of her mothering. And sure, in a way it was. She spanked, I remember what it was like to be spanked and I made the conscious decision that I would not spank my children. It was a barrier for a little while.

    Anyway, I loved this entry. I loved picturing you chattering to him on the plane. You are indeed a very good mama.

  2. Yes, what a good mama!

    I have always found it oddly relaxing to be with my baby on a plane, precisely b/c all I can do is pay attention to her. If she cries, she cries, and there are a limited # of things I can try to do about it–feed, change diaper, pat back/belly, take out toy/book, make faces.

    I wonder if it would help to think of yourself not as a bad traveller, but as a traveller who needs a lot of sleep while on the road. If you know that, you can work with it. It’s just a different way of getting there, and you might decide that a given trip isn’t worth the fatigue that results. But it’s not good or bad. It’s just tired.

  3. You’re a thoughtful and empathic mom (in other words, awesome). I also got a kick out of picturing you and Mr. Snerks on the plane. Travel can be really draining.

    Sorry you have to fend off criticism of your parenting style! That was a neat distinction about cultivating qualities in children v. adults. Maybe from time to time you could bring up holiday traditions you’re passing on to Joey. That way you don’t have to act nostalgic about childhood, just bunny cake.

  4. I think grandparent disapproval of parenting style is pretty normal, although preferable when they keep it to themselves. You’re a great mom and I hope your mother can focus on how much she enjoys getting to see Joey again rather than any flaws she finds in your parenting style. Have a good visit with your parents!

    • yep, my mil was always complaining that we let him sleep/eat too much as a baby, that he wasn’t potty trained by 2, even (weirdly) that I don’t really let him watch TV! Luckily my mum thinks I do an amazing job 😉 DH says to ignore his mum, but it isn’t always that easy!

      And I agree about trying to cultivate the qualities you hope they exhibit as an adult. I think it’s the difference between authoritarian parenting (which I guess a lot of our parents did) and authoritative.

      And traveling is so hard (and tiring) with a little one. You are at the mercy of this tiny human who is out of their comfort zone while you have limited resources. You have to just try and take it as it comes and not get too stressed, IMHO.

  5. I would have been admiring your patience on the plane!

    And love the notion of helping them become prepared to be the people they will emerge into rather than “good little children” — it’s a lot more draining-slash-time consuming that way, but so it goes. Worthwhile.

  6. I love how you are parenting Joey. Responding to a child’s needs is not showing lack of discipline. You are showing Joey that you are there for him when he needs you.

    Now, if you let him run up and down the street without clothes on, that might be a different story. He is a baby. We are supposed to respond. Babies cry because they need us.

    I also nursed on demand, slept with my children, and I let them wear cowboy boots with shorts.

    But I don’t let them lie, or talk nasty to anyone, or only eat candy for breakfast.

    Now I have a child who is a senior who does not sleep with me. (Even though he insisted until he was 4 years old.) None of my children still suck their thumbs or have a pacifier. And not a single person asks them when they finally potty trained.

    None of that matters.

    My job is to mold them into good adults who have faith in God. Past that, it is up to them to brush their own teeth (I do take this very seriously and it is one of the mommy things I gripe about.)

    You are doing such a great job with Joey. There are no right answers to being a parent. I just fly by the seat of my pants and live by the philosophy of “First do no harm.”.

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