I have a Type A personality. That has been true from the time I was young and yet in many situations I would describe myself as being pretty laid back. I don’t really care where a group goes out for dinner. I’m sure whichever park you choose for our kids’ playdate will be great. I will enjoy whichever drink you’ve ordered for us because you arrived ahead of time. I really will. And yet there are other situations where I absolutely need to be in control of what’s happening. That aspect of my personality has served me well over the years. I graduated with Honours. I excelled in my jobs. And now that I have my own business, it gave me the strength to stand behind my opinions and decisions when they were under scrutiny in an industry that does things very differently than I do. However, enter motherhood and that need has often been a curse.
When my oldest was born, being a first time mom threw me into a tailspin. Until that point, I had the ability to master whatever task was put in front of me and yet this little person proved to me over and over again that there was no mastery to be found. Just when I thought I got the hang of things, everything would change and I was back to square one. Reading as much as I could, grasping at what I needed to know to be the best mother possible, but mostly I guessed and made it up as I went. In retrospect, all first-time moms do that. They always will. But it was such a foreign concept and certainly not how I had ever tackled anything before that it left me feeling inept. I had lost the integral piece of how I saw myself. I was no longer the competent, I-can-do-anything-person I believed myself to be. And it was devastating. So I focussed on what I could control, the minutia, the itty-gritty details of his days. It was so bad that I would send a printed ‘Mason Manual’ with him whenever my mom & step-father would babysit. Not that they had any experience with babies after raising 3 children of their own. As you can imagine, if I felt the need to control how my parents cared for my child, that spilled over to anyone who was involved with him, especially my husband.
My poor, poor husband. The man in many ways is a Saint because those first years with me would have been pretty tough to endure. He had to to everything my way. Diapering, bathing, feeding. If he deviated from my methods I was quick to criticize and correct. He felt immasculated, alienated and unappreciated. Not a good for any relationship and certainly not the foundation for a strong parenting team. Luckily he stuck it out and we had more children.
The addition of a second and a third child in many ways helped me gain a much healthier perspective. With three children under the age of 5 you simply can’t control everything. You have to let go and do what you need to survive. I had to rely on my husband to do things without my eagle-eye supervision. And then I had an illuminating conversation with my cousin who had just had her third baby while vacationing in France. The French are so smart, after a baby is born a psychologist comes to visit the mother in hospital. [palm to forehead] Why don’t we do that here? Who wouldn’t benefit from that kind of support? Anyhow, she told me that her conversation with the psychologist included the idea that children experience different kids of love. For example a mother’s love and a father’s love, and these types of love are expressed in different ways which provides children with a diverse experience of what love is from different people. More importantly, children are able to distinguish that different people do things in different ways and that’s ok. So when Daddy’s at home feeding them, he may not put them in their high chair. But when Mommy feeds them, they always go in their high chair. Both people love them, they just do things differently. Take a minute to absorb that. After I did I had a complete paradigm shift. I didn’t need to control the minutia and shouldn’t because I was robbing my children (and their father) of the ability to forge their own independent relationships. That concept extends outside of the home as well. If your children go to daycare, they are going to do things differently. Grandma does things differently. So does their best friend’s mother across the street. All of those experiences become the rich tapestry of our lives. We owe it to our children to let go of the reins.
There are, of course, some areas in which maintaining a watchful eye and having rules is necessary. Every parent has their non-negotiables. I have very strong beliefs about treating children with respect. I won’t compromise on that. Personal safety also tops my list of things that require parenting vigilance. However, if Daddy wants to take them to the park and do things that I wouldn’t do with them, that really is up to him. He’s an adult who has a vested interest in their well-being and I have to trust his judgement. And if something happens that makes me feel uncomfortable, we talk about it to find a solution. Sometimes that solution is for me to let it go. I struggle with that one, but I am trying.
As for whether I feel any more masterful in my Mommy-skin the answer is some days yes, some days no. What I do know is that we’re all doing our best but in taking a step back, being open to new ideas and letting go of preconceived ideas that formed from our own childhood, we have the chance to get out of our own way to give our children the best experiences possible.