Rehearsing the role and performing with pride
The baby is asleep so I sneak off for a shower. Im a Stay at Home Mum (SAHM) so by definition this means that three young children are unsupervised in the house; briefly out of sight and hearing. Baby wakes and, both of us refreshed, I bring her downstairs and place her on a blanket on the floor.
“Look what were doing Mum! Were painting!” But I think to myself, surely youre not painting because we keep the paints out of reach for supervised play. So I take a look.
Tissues everywhere with green splatter marks. Drippy ink marks on the floor. I take a breath and gather my wits. I want my response to make sense.
“I think theres a better use for all those tissues. You have lots of paper in your desk for drawing. Why dont you take your felt pens and draw there instead?”
“OK Mum.” Phew, catastrophe averted back to business as usual.
“Look Mum look!” Green palms elevated show me their hand prints on paper. This is not what I meant when I suggested drawing at their desk. I compliment their creativity and advise them to go and wash their hands with soap before they touch anything else. Phew, second catastrophe averted. I congratulate myself for keeping cool.
The baby squawks and I go to her, unable to believe what my eyes obviously missed seeing before. I take a closer look. Green splatter marks down the wall, across the babys face and floor mat, over the carpet and up over the new couch in one giant swoop of the room. How could this have happened? When could this have happened?! Why didnt I see the glass of water before? (And who knew felt pens would respond this way with a bit of soaking?)
I lost it! Fair and square. I yelled! My grand show of cleaning up the mess was worthy of an Oscar. I insisted on showing them how each concentrated ink spot reacted to my washing water; expanding further and further until each pin head sized spot was smudged broader than my hand. I wanted them to feel bad for what they did. And they did, for a moment or two. Then it was back to playing and drawing as if nothing had happened.
Thank goodness there was no audience that day. No cameras rolling. I certainly wouldnt have wanted to see myself in replay and I doubt I would have inspired any converts. But you see, parenting is not about being perfect. Its about gradually moving in a forward direction and doing the best I can with each new day.
Then again, if there had been an audience, my response would no doubt have been different, and better. At least I now know what Ill do differently next time…. Trial and error. Is there any other way?
Ive read pretty widely in psychology and parenting but by far my greatest learning about my role in lifes greatest performance has come from observing other parents in action. In this way I have learned where my mothers heart presides and what kind of mother I aspire to be. And not to be.
I started a rank amateur as most of us do. My husband had more mothering instinct than me. I struggled in the first months with my newborn, with no mother-friends to guide me and no family to support me. How did I know I was doing the right thing by my baby boy? Why did he cry so much and sleep so little? I had read as much as I could about parenting a newborn. I applied my learning with clinical precision. I had lived in Japan and observed how baby wearing and co-sleeping were the cultural norm but my mothering instinct still eluded me. Until I met Miranda.
She wore her baby just like I did, but there was something different about the way she did it. She didnt read anything and she didnt care what the books and websites said. She was younger than me yet she exuded a confidence and a gracefulness in her mothering that made me want to emulate her. She didnt apologise for leaky breasts or baby spit on her shoulder. There was no guilt in her admission that her baby often slept with her in her water bed (when everything I read said such practices were taboo). She showed me pictures of herself breastfeeding. She touched her baby like she was a real child – not a china doll. We became best friends and I absorbed her ways like a sponge absorbs water. Aside from my own mother – she was my first role model. There have been many since, but her influence had a profound impact on my confidence as a new mother. We have since lost contact but four babies later, I still notice my Miranda-isms and remember her with gratitude.
And now I find myself the observed rather than the observer. I am still regularly taken aback by other peoples comments:
“You make it look so easy!” some say.
“Youre so calm,” Youre so together.”
“I cant believe you have four children!” and the one that gets me most of all,
“Youre such a natural mother!”
Is there such a thing? Perhaps there is. I believe I have met a few natural mothers. Miranda was one. But few of us are blessed with such innate wisdom. There are people who bear children without ever becoming acquainted with their inner mother. There are people – both male and female – who mother instinctively, sometimes without ever bearing children. I am in the former category, but Ive had the good fortune to be surrounded by good models almost from the outset. Not all necessarily natural mothers. Most of them are women like me who have learned mothering through observation and practice. Does it matter where I have come from? No, what matters is the destination, and possibly even more important, the journey that gets me there.
And now that I have come far enough to look behind and enjoy how far I have traveled I can see what others see me do and how it is subtly different to what some other parents do. And now because I can see it, and better understand it, I wear it like a badge of honour and put it on show for other parents to observe. I write all this now to urge you, dear reader, to do it too!
Do what exactly? Whatever it is that works for you and your family! Please, no more hiding in the public parents room to breastfeed your babies… or toddlers! Be out and proud co-sleepers. No more lowered eyes and voices when you admit your children have not been vaccinated. Explain your reasons for not circumcising your boys without apology. Communicate the benefits of carrying your baby. Demonstrate how gentle discipline makes you and everyone happier. Our combined effort just may start a revolution one mother, one father, at a time!
Like for my friend who, upon hearing that a certain GP was offering poor immunisation advice, announced that the certain GP was now her GP and “in for a real education”.
Like another friend who encountered negative breastfeeding attitudes at her sons sports events and so vowed to take along a folding chair and breastfeed on the sidelines.
Like many friends who have opened their homes (and bedrooms) to the curiosity of visitors who notice there is no cot for baby.
Like the gentle mother I observed who responded with ego-less patience instead of anger when her child addressed her with impolite impatience. Social conventions mean nothing to natural parents and challenging those conventions is vital to our authentic parenting development.
Please know that there is no perfection. We just commit to steady improvement for we will always make mistakes and there will always be hecklers who dont understand. Keep on rehearsing your special craft. Hone it. Polish it. Discuss it with other artists. This is how art evolves. For parenting is an art. And like all art of importance, it needs to be put on show instead of locking it away for private viewing. Be visible, authentic and, above all, enjoy yourself as you do what you do, for no one can argue with a happy mother or father! It does get easier with practice and there will be many observers who are empowered by your example.
Some of my favourite, well rehearsed comebacks to criticism:
“We couldnt be happier with the way things are.”
“This feels right for us.”
“Why does it bother you?”
And when no words come to mind, an improvised smile and cuddle for my child communicates more than fumbled words can deliver.
I have always admired those people who live their lives openly in spite of disapproval, who welcome objection without permitting it influence. They are my role models and my source of empowerment. I watch and learn as I have always done and continue to rehearse my own craft; compulsively analyse it, proudly perform it, expand my repertoire. Perhaps I am in turn empowering someone else? For this reason the show must always go on.