By Lauren Gonzalez/for the MISSOULA CURRENT
There was a time when I scoffed at parents who displayed their children’s artwork on the refrigerator. Yes, of course it’s cute that your child drew colorful, naked stick-figure people who are larger than their little red house, but also somehow smaller than the blue flowers in their front yard… maybe next time they’ll remember to include hands, feet, and a sky of some kind?
I don’t think anyone would argue with me when I say that your perspective on these things shifts dramatically once you, yourself, become a mother. All of a sudden, everything this little human creates is art (even when it involves bodily fluids – hey, that pee spot looks a lot like the state of Montana! Awesome job, buddy!). This shift in perspective extends beyond your children to your own parents. Where, at one time, it felt so easy to pick apart your parents’ performances, now you realize the invisible gaps that you missed. The unseen sacrifices, the unnoticed frustration, the long-suffering love woven through the messy moments.
Mother’s Day always sneaks up on me (who has time for holidays in the midst of endless appointments, play dates, and meetings?), and it strikes me as the perfect time each year to reflect on my experience of motherhood, as well as my memories of my own mother as I grew up. My relationship with my mom had its natural ups and downs. I carry fond memories of car sing-alongs and roller-blade outings in my early years, while the mystical teen years are one big blur of angst and frustration. Most of the time, our rocky moments were more the evidence of the number of traits we shared rather than a testament to how we felt about one another.
Still, from the moment I conceived my first child, I battled a terrifying, unshakable fear that I might recreate with my own children elements of the same tumultuous relationship. Would the swath of similarities between my mother and me lead to the same emotional distance, the same misunderstandings? What if these same traits – the strong work ethic, fierce independence and self-sufficiency, the wit (and sometimes bald sarcasm) that steers me safely through life’s rough patches – are parts that I have come to love about myself, and are what make me, “Me?” Is it possible, or even desirable, to shed such deeply ingrained parts of myself in the hope of creating a better relationship with my kids?
As is often the case with parenting, the freedom comes in letting go. I spend hours upon hours obsessing over my children’s perception of me as a mother. Did I discipline Joey too much today? He probably thinks I don’t love him anymore, because I’m always so frustrated. Did I let June cry it out too long in her crib? Great, she probably feels abandoned and unloved. You’ve gotta hear me, sister, when I say you cannot control the way in which your children perceive you, or the experience they have of you as a mother. When you obsess about these things, you drive yourself – and quite probably your children – crazy. Your duty is not to become The Perfect Mother, but to be authentically yourself, faults and all, and to own up to the mistakes you will inevitably make.
Yesterday, my son came home from preschool with his very first finger painted art piece. Without a moment’s hesitation, I ran and posted it to the fridge – not because it is perfect, or because I resonate with the artwork itself, but because now, every time I pass by the kitchen, I am reminded that the real joy of parenting is not in creating some idealized, reciprocal relationship with my children (as wonderful as that would be). Rather, the miracle and privilege of motherhood is in bearing witness to these tiny humans we created as they, in turn, create. I cannot say how my relationship with my kids will ebb and flow over the years, but I know with certainty what an honor it will be to see what they create.
Lauren Gonzalez is a Missoula mother and parenting lifestyle coach. For honest mom empowerment, sign up for Lauren’s monthly newsletter at www.LaurenCRS.com and check out her services offering connection and support. You can also follow Lauren on Twitter @TheRealGonzie and find her on Facebook