I'm a mom. Not some mixed-up mutable soup that I can sweeten up, warm-up, stiffen-up or simmer down. I can't be covered when I'm hot and angry. Can't be blended about into a pleasant mush of mediocrity when I've got a lot of drama going on. Can't be turned down when I'm sobbing or heated-up when I'm getting boring.
Unfortunately, I didn't exactly understand this when I tried to get pregnant eleven years ago. I immediately changed my diet, charted my cycle, and sipped herbs that made my face numb. A "doctor" claiming that my womb would likely never be a sufficient place for an infant to grow sold me this garbage. So I did stuff to make my uterus perfectly tilted and biologically appropriate for an egg to grow. I let people stick me with needles. I rushed to become the perfect mom soup.
After about a year, I quit all the quackery and miraculously, I became pregnant. After celebrating, I rushed on, scanning books and talking to moms who sprinkled me with more ideas about what to eat, drink and do as an expecting mom. The problem wasn't them -- some had good advice. The problem was me! I forgot to quiet down and tap into my own wisdom. I rarely edited the information coming my way.
I'd be a safe, natural, detail-oriented, laid-back, healthy, and active mom. I'd sing lullabies while nursing, cooking, cleaning and working part-time. I'd jog every morning, be sexy and not-too-emotionally-needy (must avoid scaring away husband, friends and family.) I wouldn't be the mom who screamed "no" at her toddler too much, or allowed her home to reek of poopy diapers. I wouldn't be the one who flinched when her husband touched her achy body. I wouldn't open the bottle of wine before 5:00 p.m. and forget to shower for three days.
Then my first baby was born with medical problems. He had open-heart surgery, a serious arrhythmia, and as he grew, his challenging behaviors emerged. As a toddler, he gathered all reachable objects and overturned them or hurled them down stairs, at me, or at my second baby (who came 14 months after the first.) He fled through gates, broke locks, and did a lot of yelling, hitting, and kicking. My pot of motherhood soup spilled into a goop of mushy motherhood lies.
But, just like any mother would, I cleaned up the mess and tried to become better.
So I read more books. I called specialists and I listened to the advice of other mothers, relatives and strangers. There were great people with helpful ideas. But there were also a lot of really ignorant statements thrown my way. People laughed and said, "He's just a boy." Others rolled their eyes and stayed away. I tiptoed about feeling afraid and ashamed (I must have gotten the mothering ingredients wrong!) Some people told me to relax.
And then I had my third baby. By that time, I was mostly isolated. I could barely leave the house with the oldest who was almost three. He was unable to be in preschool for a time or even at a playground without having a meltdown. No babysitter could manage him for more than a short time. I was told to try sensory diets, calm music, structure, picture schedules, vitamins, doctors, therapists and all kinds of holistic hoopla. But mostly these ideas made me busier and confused. Still, my mind continuously cycled through advice and judgment, perhaps to unravel the confusion from the original advice and judgment. Many who advised or judged didn't offer help other than the words they'd plopped in my lap before disappearing.
I read and heard that I needed a dash of flexible, a pinch of confidence, less independence, a bit more ability to ask for help, a cup of open-mindedness -- oops! Too much! A spoonful of holistic, a handful of medicine, a room full of therapeutic language -- careful, still act like a mom. Don't try to be the therapist! A dollop of strictness, but not so uptight! Sheesh. A splash of social, a bottle of faithful, cups less of sadness -- but be authentic! Try not to act so consumed by your child's problems.
And my favorite thing many (well-meaning) people still say to me, "Take care of YOU!" (Because if you don't, you'll make things worse for your family.) This advice has either imposed extra guilt or made me fall to the floor laughing. How do I take care of ME while juggling all the OTHER advice?
Of course, I did (and do) want help, wisdom, and boatloads of love. And I indeed should take care of myself. Today my child is still very ill, and our daily life continues to feel like a delicate balancing act.
But before I make sense of all of the ideas about motherhood that are whirling about me, I need to locate the compass in my body that untangles questions and tells me what is true for my family and me. My body contains knowledge from hours of bearing my children, watching them take thousands of breaths, and responding to the pitches of their cries. My experience as their mother guides me through questions and doubts. My heart shows me which advice to take and whom to trust. The throbbing love ache that shoots me upward in the middle of the night, pulling me down the hall to bend over my little ones' slumbering cheeks and give thanks -- that is the thing that will connect me to what they need.
So my advice to anyone who is starting her mothering adventures? Be careful about taking my advice! Let your love, your beliefs, your body, and your own experiences guide you. Be only the mom you were made to be. Accept her, and maybe, God willing, your children will learn to do the same.