Mothering is the only practice we expect to get right with no practice.
We expect ourselves to get it right. It's natural after all, right? But this is hard, right? Hello, anyone? Anyone? The hard stuff is hard. The easy stuff, well, that came with practice and hard work. Or, maybe it was easy? Was it easy? I think. Maybe? Easy?
I can practice with nieces and nephews, cousins, the neighbor's kids, siblings, children I babysat or educated. It's good practice but it is also different. As many have said before, that child or children go home to their parents.
I can practice in my head as I advise other mothers how deal with their children. I can attend classes, webinars, and groups. I can read books, websites, chats, FAQs, and threads. By this time, if I haven't hit my stride or seen some light, I am hanging by a thread. Still practicing. Damn, practice is hard.
We expect others to get it right. I'm saying "we" here and will get back to "I" in a moment. We might say, "If I was that mother, I'd: a.) hug, b.) ignore, c.) acknowledge, d.) query, e.) smack, f.) all of the above, that child."
How many times have I said to myself, if I was that: a.) father; b.) grandparent, c.) caregiver, I would... Many times, definitely, but likely about a thousand times less than "If I was that mother, I'd..."
It happens. Not every time, but let me be honest. I put myself in other mothers' shoes. In the mix of the profoundly good advice I am mentally forming to give to another mother, I think, "Mercy, this is hard stuff. Nobody really needs advice right now." Even if advise is coming from a good place, a place of caring about the other mother and child, nobody needs advice. Acknowledgement, yes, Then, support.
What if I just thought, that mother is practicing. What if I told myself I am practicing at having a seven your old. I am observing mothers practicing with older children.
Practice is also where the fun happens. Bright ingenuity. Problem solving. Play. A rainbow starting at one end of the orchard and ending at the other, which we all got to see as we stood in the soaking rain last week! Yeah! This is good practice!
A friend's husband told me how much he loved being a grandparent. I asked why. "Because I don't have to make all the hard decisions that parents have to make," he said. I suppose he's practicing at being a grandparent, which is a role with expectations, too.
I came into motherhood with expectations. It's impossible to do otherwise. The mind imagines. It's helpful. I prepare. However, some expectations I have had to let go. One of them is that my child will do as I say.
If you know me, this may surprise you. If you are a parent or caregiver, this may not surprise you.
Well, all my life, I looked around and noticed that children were doing what the adults wanted. Adult authority was supreme. If not, adults yelled, disciplined, whined, ignored, cajoled, smacked, withheld, detained, threatened, suspended, marked down, or in some manner punished the child.
Ok, so that's the worst of it. That's the demonstration of the hard power of adults.
What about soft power? But what about when the bell rings, and it's time for children to move on to the next class, and they do so. Or, "Five more minutes and it's time to go!"
That's preparing children for real life, we say. We are protecting them, we say. Sometimes, I am not so sure. Sometimes, I like to take a look at this. Sometimes, I have to because my child is doing something I would rather he not, and he does not seem to want to stop. Sometimes, he doesn't see the problem I see. Or, does not have the same values at that moment.
And so, my son drew on his bed frame. Well, I thought, isn't he old enough to know not to do this?! Haven't I spoken to him about this before?!
I took a breath after I saw the drawing. We continued to play together in his room. Another breath. "I notice there's a drawing on your bed," I say. "Yeah," he says.
"Hmm." I pause, considering my next move, sensing that my son may deliver a skillful parry. "I am not happy about this. I have to think about exactly why."
I am being honest with him because I want a moment to distill my thoughts, again sensing his not yet manifest return volley. I sense that saying because I don't want you to or because I don't like it will not fly. I sense that problem solving will not work, as in, we're not going to have a jolly discussion about whether a soapy sponge or eraser or belt sander will remove the drawing.
I sense that I am sitting next to a stone-child full of quiet will. I sense that in this moment my divine authority is being questioned. I sense that I must let go of my child will do as I say, because it ain't gonna happen. And yet, I need to be heard.
"Drawing on furniture ruins the paint, leaving the furniture unprotected."
Incoming! Take cover! The return fire:
"I don't care about that."
Pause. Call for back up!
"I do. And, I expect that our furniture last a long time."
Stone-mother and Stone-child resume playing quietly, dressing stuffed animals in infant clothes.
Part of me says, That drawing should be erased immediately! Another part says, I'm not sure I really care. Another says, what really is happening here? But, you know, I felt that we both said our piece, found space for it, and made it ok.