Friday, July 1, 2016

The Great Mommy Race

Parenthood is a competitive sport. I invite anyone who doesn't agree to sit in on a toddler play group and just listen for a few minutes. I guarantee phrases like these can be heard at any given time: "Oh, Johnny is still sleeping in a crib? Well, we got our little Susie, here, transitioned to to her big-girl-bed by her first birthday...AND got her to give up her binkie." "Ohhhh...you're having trouble with potty training? [insert practiced look of supportive pity] Yeah, we had Jane completely out of diapers before she was 2. It took some time and effort, but life is SO much easier now that diaper changes are behind us [insert practiced genuine-looking smile and light chuckle to camouflage the shameless dig at the other mother's obvious inferior parenting]."


Awhile ago I was gifted a parenting self-help book, instructing us how to raise "almost perfect" daughters. After months of looking at it sitting on my table, I finally picked the book up. I agreed with a few points, disagreed with many points, but most of all, I was surprised by the intensity of my emotional reaction. It began before I even lifted the cover...with fear. 


A lifetime ago, I approached parenthood with all of the typical dreams and aspirations of a first-time mom. I would breastfeed for a full year, then I would make my own baby food with organic ingredients. I would be home to assist with homework and to make cookies. My kids would know how to properly fold a shirt...and a fitted sheet. I would be actively involved with whatever extra curricular activities my children chose. I would become president of the PTA.




Then Fate or God or The Powers That Be stepped in and threw a monkey wrench into all of my carefully thought-out plans by giving me special needs children. I love my kids fiercely, but - even now, 23 years later - I still mourn the motherhood journey I expected, the one I craved. I feared reading the self-help book would be a painful reminder of all that my life doesn't include. Truth? It did just that. It started off in the introduction, where the author stated, "It is my deepest belief that if we spend more time nurturing, focusing and guiding our children...we would have more daughters who are ("almost") perfect."

Well...I certainly can't be accused of not putting in my time, effort, blood, sweat, and tears (lots and lots of tears) as a mother. For me, though, that didn't - and never will - produce the successful, contributing members of society the author seems to claim will result from a little extra "parental elbow grease". That's because the [faulty, in my opinion] underlying assumption of the book is that, as parents, we all start off on equal footing. She stated, for instance, that good grades are an important indicator of good parenting and that extra time and effort tutoring will lead to our children earning the "A" (and occasional "B") grades we strive for (just like her two daughters did).




Nope. My oldest daughter (23) has high functioning autism with mild to moderate developmental delay. Forget A's and B's; we've been working hard for months on the life skill of grocery shopping...and I assume it'll be at least another few years before she'll have that skill down well enough for independent shopping...if we reach that goal at all.


The author went on to say that with proper manners, morals, and education, our daughters are sure to become the person everyone around them "can't help but love" - just like her daughters. Wrong again. My second daughter has a rare genetic disorder. It doesn't matter what I could ever teach her about social skills or manners. She will never be someone "everyone can't help but love". She's a 50-pound 20-year-old who is non-verbal, non-ambulatory, exclusively G-tube fed, and incontinent. She has the cognitive ability of about a 9-month-old and a seizure disorder. When most people see me rolling her up to them in her wheelchair, "uncomfortable" is the general reaction. It's just a fact of our lives.




In the "Great Mommy Race", I'm the runner with a prosthetic leg who finishes the marathon last. I FINISH, and I'm PROUD...but even though I'm working just as hard (or harder) than the first place finisher, I will never, ever win. Ever. That truth hurts sometimes, but then I pull a Taylor Swift and Shake It Off. My kids may not be "(almost) perfect", but there are so many reasons to be proud of them. Over the years they have blown me away with their strength, courage, heart, and grit. My oldest daughter may not be able to spell her way out of a paper bag (good spelling is mentioned in the book as a trait of almost perfect daughters), but she wrote a tribute to our recently deceased cat on Facebook that brought me to tears. She has a beautiful, loving soul that ANY mother would be proud of.


I applaud the author for apparently raising two beautiful, successful young ladies. I'm truly happy for her. I also understand that competition between parents is just a natural part of the human condition - as is judgement. I just ask parents to remember two things before letting loose with their scathing assessments of the "less successful" parents around them. First: even when it's obvious that we're not on the same playing field, we still feel the loss of never being able to win your game...so have some compassion. My 20-year-old just "graduated high school" a few days ago. Clearly people aren't going to look at her in her wheelchair and judge my parenting because I don't have her college acceptance letters to proudly wave around. That doesn't mean I don't feel the absence of them in my hand. Graduation day was just another day for us...except for when I wheeled her off the bus and discovered her diploma discretely tucked away in her bag. I surprised myself with a cry - the slobbery, blubbering type, where you drop to your knees and emotionally vomit until your eyes burn and your throat is sore from your silent wailing. I pulled myself together and moved on just fine, but my thankful thought for the day was that she isn't aware enough to have any interest in things like graduation ceremonies. I don't begrudge all the beaming, happy, proud parents out there with their successful grads...but I don't relish the idea of sitting for hours, hearing about all of their amazing accomplishments and bright futures, either.


Secondly - and maybe most importantly, every parent is not equipped equally. Be proud of that straight "A" student of yours - you have every right to be! I'll be over here in an exhausted puddle on the floor, breathing my huge sigh of relief that with all of our guiding, cajoling, demanding, helping, pleading, and encouraging this year, our ADHD/dyslexic 7th grader squeaked by without a SINGLE "F" on his final report card. Heck, he even got twice as many "C's" as "D's" - I'm feeling like Mother of the freakin' Year right now!




15 comments:

  1. Thanks for your straightforwardness Stephanie. It seems that we live in a world which judges success only by what car you drive, what home you own, what clothes you wear and whether your children became prefects or not, that sort of judging monitor. However, most women in this world might have the ability to have children, but are they REALLY mothers? 0r do they accept that badge as part of the deal? To me being a successful mother, a parent really, is to see a child blossom, reaching the potential he/she has after their parents laboured with love, but blood, sweat, tears and why me? to lead their child on their road to adulthood. It would be interesting to have seen what has happened to all the bright A-Students even as little as ten years down the line. It's not the swift, the strongest, cleverest or richest ones who automatically win the race of successful living. You can be proud of your accomplishments, as can your daughters. Thanks for your uplifting blog.

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    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read my post, Maretha, and for sharing your thoughts. I completely understand what you're saying about "long-term" success. Two of my kids have ADHD/dyslexia, and academics is not a particular strength for either of them. I have no worries, though. They're both incredibly bright and creative. If you look at their report cards, one might interpret it as some level of failure. I have all the faith, however, that they'll do just fine in life...just like so many other highly successful people who report having done poorly in school, but went on to shine (like Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Justin Timberlake, and Michael Phelps). And that's just a few people who have succeeded within the most broadly accepted definition of "success". I don't aspire to have kids who become famous. I aspire to have kids who - as you said - are happy and who reach their greatest potential. Thanks again for sharing, take care, and have a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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  2. Wow. Thank you so much for sharing. As a homeschooling mother of 5 I have plenty of struggles, but you have totally put them in perspective. You are an inspiration. I struggle with the competition coming from other (often newer) parents who think they have it all figured out. They don't understand what life is for another parent. You put it perfectly when you said we are not all on equal footing. I think compassion and grace is something we should all be striving for when dealing with each other. Thank you so much for this post. You made me cry, and made me think!

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    1. Thank you so very much, Alicia, for taking the time to read my post, for sharing, and for your kind words. My hat goes off to you; I can't even begin to imagine homeschooling 5 kids. Wow! Best of luck as you face all of the challenges that inevitably crop up along your parenting journey, and know that - should you ever feel the need to vent or whine or grumble...I'm here, ready to listen without judgement or scorn. Take care, enjoy the rest of your week, and have a safe and festive holiday season! :) ~Stephanie

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  3. Once again, very thought provoking. I have four children (two of them daughters) and I have probably been guilty of many of those competitive urges and pronunciations that fly in the face of someone that has started, as you so aptly point out, with a different deck of cards. I immediately felt guilty reading your article. It is so tempting to "keep up with the Joneses" of the parenting world!

    I hope that over the years I have gotten more mellow though. What I have learned is that much less can be attributed to parenting than we all like to think. Otherwise, all my four children should be very similar, and they are not at all. A lot of how they've turned out was already with them when they were very little.

    Having said all that, and NOT having read the book in question, I do have a few parenting pet peeves though, the kind that I suspect the author of the book took as material for her own feeling of superiority. For instance the mothers at many an airport or other public place I've observed asking their children to stop their bad behavior and proceeding to count to 3. And then, at three, proceeding to repeat their threat, which of course has been totally ignored since nothing happened on the count of 3. In those situations, I can't help but feel a little smug:-)

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    1. Thank you so much, Sine, for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts! I thought of my grandmother as I read your comments. She has always said that the biggest shame about parenting is that by the time you have it down and really know what you're doing, your kids are out of the house and ready to start families of their own. I think that's where the "mellowing out" you mentioned comes in. As we become more "seasoned" as parents we calm down, recognizing the truth that all parents have their attributes and their short-comings, as do all kids. I think it's perfectly natural to silently celebrate a feeling of accomplishment when we recognize a possible miss-step by another parent - particularly one we feel we mastered (like the lack of disciplinary consistency and follow-through you mentioned). That being said, I can think of 1000 different areas where I feel I have fallen short as a parent, too. Will that parent's disciplinary faux-pas result in a juvenile delinquent? Probably no more than my propensity to just do the damned housework, myself, because it's so much easier than trying to teach the kids to do it [right]. :) Thanks again, take care, and have yourself a safe and happy new year! ~Stephanie

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  4. Great post - so human and real. I can relate - parenting was not at all what I expected, and then on top of that, I had a son who just did not fit any mold. I can't believe the audacity of that author to give a how-to on raising perfect daughters. It's not possible. I have a saying: "Perfect isn't." Cuz it isn't.

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    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, Karen, and for sharing your thoughts! You're absolutely right. There's no such thing as "perfect" in real life! Thanks again, take care, best of luck to you and your son, and enjoy the rest of your week! :) ~Stephanie

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  5. Great post! As with many of the mothers above parenting is not what I expected. Nothing prepares you for a special needs kid. (my kid will never fit "the mold") but that's ok, I just take it as a honor to do things differently.

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    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and for your kind response! Best of luck to you in your parenting adventure, take care, and have yourself a terrific Tuesday! :) ~Stephanie

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  6. I enjoyed the humor and poignancy of this wonderful post, Stephanie. I've hear more than one person who knows the author refer to that book and say in effect, "It should probably be titled 'How to Raise Almost Perfect Bullies.'" This is because the author has a reputation for verbal bullying. That illustrates two points I think are important when considering parenting how-to, some of which is exquisitely good, and more of which, well, isn't:

    1) Every parent's expectations for what is "almost perfect" varies widely; and

    2) Every parent's ability to judge the children's achievement is always skewed.

    Thus, a guru who saw her mother dominated and controlled might strive for daughters who are perfectly willing to brashly demand their own way, a trait of being the ones who push others around to assert their own prerogatives. Another parent might recoil at such personalities and strive instead for daughters who are empathetic, understanding, willing to give of themselves and even cede control or territory for the common good. "Your idea of perfect is not mine."

    The second point about judging success, in this example, could be that the author is proud of daughters who "stand up for themselves" but fails to recognize they do that by bullying while the next parent's "failure" is in raising girls who most subtly stand up for themselves, when they need to, but who also stand up for others.

    I contend that no parent can judge a child until his or her true self manifests over a lifetime. What kind of parent will that "almost perfect" daughter become? How will she handle adversity, difficult choices where no good option is available, frustrations and failures? What playground braggart parent in the long game would truly prefer indifferent children scoring good grades over "average" kids who love each other and will be there for each other's families long after the parent is gone?

    (continued in next comment)

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  7. (part 2)

    The older I get, the more my ideas of almost-perfect children broaden to encompass traits that might not emerge until later in life or when they are tested by lives radically different than they expected. The older I get the more I understand that while we are busy seeing what we want in children, the less we are able to see what they will truly become.

    I can only imagine the challenges of special needs. There amid the efforts to help a daughter learn to shop must dwell twinges of worry about who will help her shop after her mother is gone. I helped raise a young man we worried about how he would manage on his own, but he's proven that somehow he does and we laugh that he's achieved a level of simply not worrying about things the rest of us envy. I helped raise another who is not special needs, but who suffered some hardcore emotional wallops. I would have loved to help him harness his deep intelligence and navigate the academic world toward being a high achiever like me, but that was never him; so instead I strove to teach him simply how to be a good man who looks out for others with loyalty and kindness. Now so many decades later he is teaching me new dimensions to friendship that can move me to tears with pride over who he has become. People bragging about potty training have no idea what kind of people those potty achievers will become, so I'm not interested in hearing it. We try to teach young people what we think they need to know, but in the end they'll absorb only what they want to learn.

    You're a hero to me, Stephanie. I suspect your children are "almost perfect," but despite daily frustrations and the occasional victory, the truth is you don't really know yet what you might see in them someday. No how-to book can tell you what to look for and what it might mean. Nobody will ever know what you know about your children. Most how-to gurus expect to raise kids to function in their parents' world, but you strive to be the kind of mom who loves them enough to live with them in their worlds. So, I guess your job really is simply to be an almost-perfect mom, and theirs is to find ways to become their own almost-perfect selves.

    Thanks for a wonderful, thoughtful post. I wish you and your family all the best.

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    1. Thanks so much, Stephen, for taking the time to read my post and [even more] for your very well thought-out response. I hadn't really thought of the "bully angle" in regards to that book, but now that you've mentioned it, I can totally see that.

      To be honest, I just don't "get" the whole premise of self-help parenting books at all. Educational books about stages of human development - sure - that's helpful information. But if you're so narrow-minded to think that there is only ONE way to raise kids "right", then that, alone, disqualifies you from having any right to write about it and put it out there for public consumption.

      I wrote another post about common "suggestions" to families with special needs kids. There are people out there who will tell you how you should react to being a special needs parent, how you should feel about it, and how you should cope with it. It's all hogwash. "Special needs" is a MASSIVE catch-all description. There's no WAY I could or should have the same feelings/reactions/responses to my ADHD/dyslexic son as I do to my daughter with a rare chromosomal disorder that left her in heart failure and with a kick-ass seizure disorder, even though both are [accurately] described as having "special needs". If you're a special needs parent who "got through it" (or is getting through it) successfully, great for you! Don't tell me, though, that your way of thinking about it and dealing with it are the only ways to do it; I guarantee our situations are different!

      "Typical" kids are no different, really; raising them just tends to be a little less intense. They all have individual talents and face unique challenges. There's just no way anyone could have a suitable guide to raising them ALL "successfully".

      I completely agree with your comments about "the long game". Just this morning my husband and I were chatting about an article he read about the fact that (brash, inappropriate, offensive, and controversial) comedian Daniel Tosh was raised in the very strict home of a Presbyterian minister. If folks watched snippets of the parenting he received, would they say his parents "did it right"? Well, if you're into that whole religious thing (like the author of the self-help book seems to be), you'd probably say an enthusiastic "YES!". When I imagine the strict, uptight, unyielding upbringing Daniel may have endured, however, my heart aches for him and I would have to say, "Absolutely not!" Would the "yes" group view an episode of Tosh.0 and stand by their assessment about how he was raised "right"? Probably not. Meanwhile, I laugh through one of those episodes (okay...with the occasional wince and shake of my head), and I think of him as a "success" [who very well may have turned to comedy to battle the demons of his upbringing]. Who knows if he was one of those "potty achievers" you mentioned (I loved that phrase, by the way; you should get it trademarked), but he's out there in the world making people laugh [and cringe and grimace and sometimes groan, but still with smiles on their faces], and he's doing his own thing. Assuming he's not ripping heads off of chickens or abusing puppies in-between his comedy acts, What more could a parent ask for?

      Thanks again for your thought-provoking contribution to the conversation. Take care and have yourself a wonderful weekend! :) ~Stephanie

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  8. A wonderfully insightful glimpse into your world. Having raised 3 children, all at the 20-something crossroad, I can say with certainty. There is NO such thing as perfect children. And doesn't that work out well, since they weren't raised by perfect parents? Life is about joy after the tears, about successes after the failures and some days - it's just about slogging through the mud and muck of parenthood. I'm with you. I wouldn't trade any one of those days. Congrats for being a parent you can be proud of.

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    1. Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post and for sharing your thoughts! It's always nice to hear from a fellow imperfect parent who has his or her priorities right! Thanks again, take care and have yourself a wonderful week! :) ~Stephanie

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