It is a marvel how new mothers handle anxiety with the endless bombardment of information they receive about perfect parenting. Each stage of the baby’s development is analyzed and the list of things to avoid and to watch out for continues to grow.
Websites abound for mothers to express their concerns to helpfully solicit answers from other mothers who have faced the particularly terrorizing problem that this poor mother is shakily facing.
Parenting experts get asked questions that wouldn’t have made it to the problem stage during past childrearing days. “My child will only pee in the shower. It is becoming very difficult to take him anywhere because most commercial bathrooms don’t come equipped with a shower. What should I do?” “My 3-year-old will only wear pajamas and refuses to get dressed.” I’m not kidding. I didn’t make these up.
The problem is that the mothers of today are better educated and have more experience in the business world. Therefore, they believe it is prudent to approach mothering as a task that can be accomplished by planning your work and working your plan. After all, how hard could it be to manage one little person when you have successfully managed a whole department of peers with no sweat?
The part that is overlooked is that when an employee doesn’t toe the line, you have the option of firing them. Not so with your children. They can emancipate themselves from you, but you are in it for better or worse. Therefore, it is a good idea to decide early on whether you are going to be “the hammer” or “the nail.” Do you set the rules, or are you going to allow your children to run the show? On the other hand, if you try to control every move they make, you will end up controlling nothing because your expectations are unrealistic and unattainable.
The formula for a one-way ticket to the crazy house is to approach mothering in a linear manner. Mothering requires a doctorate in multi-tasking, but the essence of the job is non-linear. The number one job of a mother is to be a grounding pole for her children.
Imagine a small boat that is tied to a buoy. The job of the buoy is to stay put so that the boat can float out and away from its source point, but it is also safely tied to home base. Therefore, the little boat can’t float too far out into unfamiliar or dangerous waters before it can handle the challenges.
The trouble is that being a buoy isn’t particularly exciting. It is crucial to the inner security of a child that someone act as the buoy but who can do it, given the other demands that are required of the mothers of today?
The still-prevalent image of the “good mother” goes something like this: “She is quietly strong, selflessly giving and undemanding. She is unambitious. She is receptive and generally intelligent in only a moderate, concrete way. She is of even temperament. She loves her children completely, unconditionally, and without ambivalence.”
How is that for a stultifying and suffocating definition that would require that most women would need a frontal lobotomy to be able to scale down their sense of themselves, in order to get one-sided enough to meet this job description?
Our new mothers are getting mixed messages. The outcome of the, “Be all that you can be and tone yourself down since you’re a mother now” is what is creating the massive internal questioning around the job of mothering. No wonder there is so much performance anxiety.
Too much control creates little puppets. Too accommodating and your home will be in constant chaos and drama. So, what is the best approach to the mothering maze? There isn’t one.
The perfect parenting style does not exist. Every mother starts out overwhelmed and anxious. Some just manage it better than others.
If babies came with instructions, here they are: Babies must be coaxed into life. They need your face in front of them beaming love and acceptance. They need to hear your voice and be held in your arms. They need to be included in conversations and be where the action is. They need exactly what we all need to develop and grow.
Susan is the mother of four daughters, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, and is the author of “Beyond Intellect: Journey Into the Wisdom of Your Intuitive Mind.” Reach her at susanvelsquez.com.