Thursday, March 5, 2009

Not Perfect Mama

I could hear him singing. Joe, singing "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear. Years ago I used to read this poem out loud at street readings when out with our poetry group, The Irradiated Poets. We used to read on street corners during First and Last Thursdays, and compared to much of the stuff I wrote and read, Lear's poem was something I always felt comfortable reading in front of the "not having sex yet" set.

Big laugh there, hopefully.

Mamas aren't perfect. I know I'm not.

While reading a book last night, one on child rearing (I won't say which one, because some of it's worth reading), I was taken aback by the regal tone of the author. The subject was colicky babies, and the author asserted that the parental caregiver--usually the mom, right?-- should stay calm and nurturing while their child screamed and screamed and screamed.

Oh, goodness gracious.

Some people know that I'm currently working on a book on parenting. So let me explain---this whole "parents should have superhuman responses to dire situations" thing is exactly the opposite message of what parents need. I've worked with colicky babies. Being told to hold and nurture them constantly to counsel the child through their trauma does not help parents.

I wanted to write the author and ask if any of her kids had colic.

Really. Although I believe that a lot of cases of colic can be treated through chiropractic work, many parents don't have this information available to them. For many parents, colicky babies are the curve ball life threw at their face. Babies who cry for hours, then finally nod off to sleep, to wake up two hours later and begin crying again. It's exhausting. My son wasn't colicky, and I was constantly tired. I can't imaging being the 24/7 parent of a colicky baby and having to be present and supportive.

It's when I read things like this that I think parents, especially mothers, need a good long break. We don't wear capes and have names like "Mighty Mama" or "Warm Womb Woman". We are incredibly human. My advice to parents with colicky babies would be to put them down when necessary and go into another room to catch your breath and count to a hundred. They will not be damaged by this. And then come back and hold them again.

It seems that there's an incredible amount of pressure on women to be every little thing to their children. We must provide intellectual and emotional support, notice and identify all of our children's interests and be unconditionally nurturing. Unlike Atlas, we aren't depicted as carrying the world--instead, we are 'just' caring for our kids. But we aren't allowed to screw it up, either.

Mothers are carrying a burden that we should seriously question. Whether we home school or send our kids to public school, guess what? There will always be someone out there to criticize our decisions. If we do or don't breastfeed, if we chose to cosleep or not, there will always be people on both sides of the fence, either congratulating us on "doing the right thing" or telling us how we've made our lives harder than they needed to be.

Isn't it crazymaking?

So, here and now, I'd like to stand up at the meeting of IMA--Imperfect Mom's Anonymous. "Hi, I'm Hazel and I'm an imperfect mom. I lose my temper occasionally, causing me to swear under my breath when my son pulls new plants out of the soil. I sometimes make him ride in the stroller, because it will take forever when he walks and I really want to get to the coffee shop so he will play with the toys there and leave me alone for five minutes. Motherhood doesn't make always me glow; it makes me glower at times and wonder if I've turned into Mr. Burns from the Simpson's, because I feel so damn cranky and set in my ways. I can go into a coma of boredom while playing with him. And he's my kid and I love him to pieces and wouldn't trade him for all the warm summer afternoons of trashy magazines and beer on the chaise like I used to have before I got knocked up."

It's not that I'm not polishing the halo, or playing horseshoes with it-- I just never got one. And that's the crux of this rant, I suppose. I think we should do our best, whenever possible, and also be allowed to be mediocre sometimes without sweating it or thinking that our kiddos are missing out on something major. Frontier women didn't get this much leisure time to worry about every little thing their child was feeling. Perhaps, with all their hand-washing the clothes and making the cheese and butter, this distraction was a good thing. I can't say for sure. But we've got to be nicer to each other as parents and accept that no one is going to do it perfectly. No one has all the answers. And if you have to go into another room for a minute of peace, you shouldn't feel bad about it.

So, here's to the Imperfect Mamas. Playdate at my house--see you there.

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