By Kathryn Streeter
I look up and there is a bird across the street perched on the topmost point of the firehouse bell-tower. Why does she just sit there? What does she see? I need to follow the way of this mama bird, to get up high above the trees so I know where I’ve been and where I’m going. To get my perspective.
The blessing of perspective allows painful truths to emerge. Too often, I picked at blades of grass instead of getting up high. I’ve regarded myself as a good mom, yet as I’ve gained distance from the early days of babies and toddlers, preschool and elementary school, I can finally see.
Like that mama bird sitting up high in the tree, I stand now as a humble mom of 17 years, better able to discern where I’ve been and where I’m going.
My husband cautions me to take the long view as a mother of teens, but how I wish I had taken the long view from the beginning. When motherhood began long ago, the popular parenting manual among my friends having kids helped them bring order to their newborn’s schedule. Sleep. Eat. Play. But my baby refused to neatly follow the espoused principles. Instead of making adjustments, I persevered.
It wasn’t noble. It was stubborn. I refused to be defeated.
I wish now I had comforted my firstborn more when she was crying. In retrospect, I missed the season of straightforward consoling because comforting a teenager is more complex.
Today, I practice a more grace and less legalism approach. I am taking the long view. In no way do I want my kids to think that their behavior changes my love for them. Though my toddlers may have resisted naptime because they couldn’t settle down, they were enough. Though my teens may head directly to their room after school and shut their door to me, they are enough. Just as they are.
Deep down I’ve always known that motherhood is mostly shooting in the dark. I also knew intellectually that there wasn’t an equation for raising perfect kids, but sometimes I was flush with confidence in my particular way of doing things.
One day I had an epiphany that I wasn’t just a teacher in this mom-child relationship. Motherhood had automatically enrolled me as her student, painful as it is beautiful. Certainly, this is one of life’s most unexpected gifts, the self-improvement that stems from raising children. Deeper in is where the substance lies, the less straightforward but relentless shaping and sharpening.
The teen years promise personal growth because this season has a way of shaking foundations. Nothing is guaranteed. The inability to change mothering tactics to keep pace with their growth into young adults revealed I was not truly listening. It’s more than taking in the words, I learned. It’s getting up high like the mama-bird to hear pleas or complaints in their fullest context. Teens don’t act out in a vacuum. In fact, they long to be understood.
I’ve gradually come to appreciate I held myself as well as my kids to unrealistic standards. When my son was a toddler, he abruptly stopped eating his veggies. I needed his palate to change quickly. In today’s parenting climate, a child who refuses greens reflected poorly on me -- and I panicked. When he entered his tweens I finally consulted an older mom of three grown sons for advice. She questioned my plan to levy a $1 fine each time he refused greens, pointing to her husband in his mid-70s who still doesn’t eat his. She gently encouraged me to choose my battles carefully. Perhaps my relationship with my budding young man was far more important, she counseled.
Looking back, it was critical that I listened. In fact, a weight fell off my shoulders that day. I gave myself permission to stop measuring my success as a mother by my son’s diet. I let go of an expectation that had long held me hostage and inhibited my pure enjoyment of him.
Very slowly, I’ve learned to not beat myself up when I’ve fallen short of various expectations, themselves evidence that I was making motherhood more about myself than the raw acceptance of my kids.
Stepping out of the way to allow the children space to organically select their areas of interest isn’t easy. Projecting my aspirations on them through directing their enrichment activities early on could have hurt more than helped. At the end of the day, I know they will work harder and be happier if they are chasing their own dreams, not mine.
One can’t stop the days from rolling rapidly by. Years ago, each day ended with bedtime stories. If motherhood is about any one thing, it’s about teaching the art of story-telling. When I’m doing this well, I’m letting the kids tell their own stories. This is their life, after all.
Like that mama-bird, I humbly revel from my view up high. It’s a place I’ve finally found where I can fully see. Come join me.