On Being a Good Mother

My feet touched one door and my head barely touched the other as I sprawled out across the backseat of my parent’s car. I was listening to the soundtack of any given trip to any given family gathering. It was a mix of 1950s rock & roll with a recurring intrusion of violent arguing in the form often in the form of my mother complaining about the direction my father would take to the freeway and my father throwing violent temper tantrums in reaction to the criticism. I don’t have many memories of specific instances in my childhood, just all of them merging into this blur of Doo Wop and screaming at various frequencies – my father’s low and unsettling, my mother’s high pitched and with the potential for dog-genocide across the entire Tri-State area.

Sometimes I close my eyes and try to remember my childhood, as I know the little girl me has died a long time ago but still I want her to come back. I want the few memories I have good or bad to live on in my mind even if all I remember are the fights and the chaos and the uncomfortable moments. I remember the waft of chlorine dancing into my lungs the second I walked into the pool cub in the summer, doing hand stands and somersaults underwater and holding my breath as long as I could. I remember going over to my grandparents for thanksgiving with our loud and boisterous family and running off to cause mischief with my next oldest cousin who managed to be even more ADHD than I was. I remember the day I brought my pile of rocks collected from my home landscaping in to show and tell in a Halloween pumpkin from McDonalds and I included the skeleton of a small fish that I ate at my Portuguese neighbor’s house and saved because I was fascinated by the bones inside of a living create as much as I was fascinated by the smoothest and shiniest of rocks. I remember being sent to the principal’s office in second grade because this other kid and I were child-flirting and he pinched me on the arm so I pinched him under the eye because I always have to one-up my competition and he immediately started bawling and I was for the first time in my life in trouble with anyone other than my father. I remember sitting embarrassed in the principal’s office and coming up with a plan to get out of my parent’s finding out.

I vaguely remember preschool, only insomuch as I remember already not fitting in and feeling like a massive outsider. Since I went to Kindergarten at age 4, I imagine my first real memories are when I just turned four years old. I remember feeling old. I remember starting kindergarten and thinking 5th graders were ancient and almost adults. I remember a few family vacations to exciting destinations like Disneyland and Turks and Caicos and I remember the hotel lobby with a piano player when I visited Washington D.C. with my father. I remember my father screaming my name and telling me to come downstairs “this instant” after he got home from work, knowing full well that meant it was time for a beating because I refused to clean my room yet again. I remember being sad and finding happiness only in the moments when I made other people laugh or entertained them. I’m not even sure if it was happiness, but I felt good. I remember strong obsessions with my crushes and feeling like I wasn’t worthy of them, almost being addicted to lusting after others in order to frame myself as worthless in relation.

I wonder if I was broken from the day I was born of if my family environment turned me into the person I am today or a little bit of both. Probably that. I think of my future children and wonder how someone as broken as I am can raise them to be stable, empathic and good people. I know no parents are perfect but I really want to do my best to raise kids that value their self worth at the appropriate level – not too much or too little. I want them to understand how they fit in the context of the world at large and be appreciative for what they have, and should they have a desire for more than that to have a realistic mindset in how to achieve their goals. But I don’t want to be too overbearing or come across as trying to direct their lives. I want to share my wisdoms but leave plenty of room to make mistakes and grow from them.

When I visited my cousin in the “72 hour hold” facility after she overdosed the other day, she told me that part of the reason she is so unhappy is that she feels he parents are never satisfied with her performance in school. Although they tell me that they are perfectly ok with her getting average grades, her take on their commentary is that they always say that was good but let’s figure out how you can do better next time. Now, I think genetically she’s predispositioned to be paranoid about these things, and may very well be overreacting to a perfectly normal response to a report card or test score. Still, this made me think about how I will respond to my children’s grades in order to make them know it’s ok to fail without providing a general acceptance of laziness. I want to instill the values that hard work is how to succeed and grit and tenacity are more important than raw IQ.

My husband will certainly instill a sense of creativity and love for literature in our kids, and together we’ll share our passion for theatre, music and design. I hope when we disagree we can figure out a way to do this in a mature and calm way. I told him I want to purchase a house with a special sound-proof room where mommy and daddy go to have “discussions.” And, I don’t mean create another child. I mean actually talk out our opinions like mature adults and come to an agreement but not in front of our children. Sometimes Mr. HECC talks down to me and I always call him out on it and I know it’s when I’m being a pain in the ass and I’m not even upset at him or disagreeing with him for what he is saying, I just don’t like his tone. I understand he’s frustrated and has every right to be, but when he starts sounding like my dad my alarm goes off and I tell him to stop. Unlike my dad, though, he’s never ever hit me. He doesn’t even yell. He just gets extremely frustrated and in a very disapproving, angsty tone tells me what I’m doing wrong. It’s uncomfortable and I don’t want him to ever act like that in front of our children. Certainly I can work on my own behavior to now inspire this reaction out of him, but being able ot have these discussions is what I believe will make us a strong and stable family.

I view raising children like a business, but where the ROI is not net profit or revenues, but instead the goodness of our children. By goodness, I don’t mean they never get in trouble. I mean goodness in a way where they do not see themselves at the center of any given universe, and that they are dedicated to a life to giving back to the world, whatever that means to them. I do not want to raise selfish brats, although I’m not quite sure how to avoid that as that seems to be a part of being a modern child. I also never will lay a hand on my child or scream at them. I admire a friend who disciplines her child in a very calm and slightly disapproving voice, and does not ever raise her voice even if her child does something that other parents would scream over. At the same time, I appreciate discipline, and think it’s necessary in raising children.

I’m so curious who my children will be, if I have children. I know it’s a crap shoot and one doesn’t know what she is getting until that child is born, and personality is certainly already formed to some extent before the child even leaves the womb. I think I will enjoy all the good and bad of watching my children grow and seeing them turn from creatures who eat, cry and poop to toddlers to kids to young adults and eventually adults in their own right. I want to raise children who have many good and happy memories. I want to be a good mother. I think, above all else in this world, if I can do that, even if I don’t achieve any other goals, then I know when I’m old and grey at least I’ll feel like I did some good in this world and lived a life worth living.

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2 comments

  1. Stephonee says:

    On how to raise a child that isn’t a selfish brat in this modern world: I just finished reading How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims, and I would highly recommend it. It covers so-called “helicopter parenting” or “lawnmower parenting” (where parents metaphorically walk in front of their children and mow down all potential obstacles in their child’s path), and the effect it has had on kids and millennial that grew up with that sort of parenting… and how to avoid those parenting traps. My first child was just born this month, but I’m already thinking about how I can avoid such pitfalls while raising kids, because I was the beneficiary of a different type of parenting that turned me into an independent adult… and I want that for my kids, too.

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