Becoming a mother is one of the most beautiful and life changing stages that exists, and probably one of the most challenging jobs for any woman. But let’s all agree that despite all the warm fuzzy feelings that motherhood brings, being a mother, and needing to have the light switch in your heart and in your head ‘turned on’ at every moment, is damn difficult and can be emotionally exhausting.
When you think about motherhood several generations ago, women were giving birth in the fields and back at work the next day. They were walking hoards of kids to school, no matter the weather conditions. They were washing clothes by hand for a family of 6 without batting an eyelash. This list can go on.
So do mothers of our generation really have a right to complain? Why is it that being a parent now feels so draining to so many people? And why is it that women in particular are feeling so ‘down’ on themselves when it comes to their children?
Both in my practice as well as in my personal life, women describe feeling as if their parenting skills are lacking, or that they are incompetent as parents. These feelings are not derived from any one or two incidences, but rather are a general feeling of ‘never doing enough’ by your children. It is unbelievable how common this feeling is. I suspect that dads too feel it but are more hesitant to admit it out loud.
For starters we do live in a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ type of society, where we want our children to fit in and feel like part of a community. This desire, at least for most, is not derived by materialism, but more so by our desire to see our children happy, successful and comfortable within their own skin. And to be accepted by their peers. Unfortunately, this adds tremendous financial and emotional pressure to parents, not to mention a HUGE time commitment, resulting in kids being enrolled in too many extra curricular activities and parents who are running themselves ragged trying to fit it all into a day.
Unlike generations ago, our economy is such that the pressure is also on most families to have a double income. Often two full-time incomes. Mothers are not as easily able to stay home with her children, and give them that ‘extra mommy time’, without it seriously affecting their quality of life. And by quality of life, I am not referring to giving up fancy vacations or expensive items for the house. I am referring to being able to adequately put food on the table, keep your kids clothed and clean, and make sure at the end of all that there is enough left to pay your mortgage and heating bills.
There is also tremendous pressure on woman in particular, to do it all - run the house, manage a career, and always be available to her children with patience, nurturing and understanding…OK let’s get back to reality. The truth is, kids are terrific, but they are draining. And it is unrealistic for any woman to work 8 hours a day, make dinner every night, do all the household chores and greet her kids with a smile every moment of every day. I have yet to meet that woman.
So what’s the moral of the story?
Mothers need not be too hard on themselves. They are often their own worst critics. Children are resilient. If they have love and nurturing and the basic necessities, we need to have faith that they will be alright. The truth is, we are all doing the best we can. Some days are better than others. Some days run smoother than others. I consider the day a success if my kids are fed, have been bathed, completed their responsibilities and if I have not lost one of them or my mind.
So I pondered for awhile about whether to even write about this controversial topic. Violence in the world, in our streets, at our schools. It happens too often to dismiss as random. House break-ins, cars being stolen from our driveways, shootings in neighborhoods adjacent to our own. It’s out there and we are all vulnerable.
On Friday, December 14 2012, like any other day, parents of those Newtown, Connecticut students said goodbye to their children as they dropped them at school. Only to get the most horrific news, texts, phone calls that there was a shooting at the school, a mere 90 minutes later. Imagine the fear of not even knowing where your child is…not being able to hear their voice or comfort them.
The same day the shooting happened, I found myself driving past my kids’ school and watching them play in the yard, contemplating whether I should bring them home and keep them safe and secure, where nobody could get at them. While at the same time, trying to fathom how our lives could change at any given moment.
This thought sends chills up my spine and gives me a sense of overwhelming fear. No parent should ever have to receive news like that. No parent should ever have to bury their own child. That is not the way life is supposed to be. Especially when the death of these children was not an accident. Who would ever think of describing school as being in the wrong place, at the wrong time?
The days following the shootings, I found myself being much more attentive to my children. I would catch myself staring at them and for a moment imagining how empty and sad my life would be without them. At times I would cry, and my children would look at me worried as if something was really wrong with mommy. When they asked me I told them I just love them so much. All this being true…could they see right through me? Could they sense that I was not being completely forthcoming?
How much of this violence is being absorbed by our children? How much of what goes on in the world should we share with our children?
Children need to grow up to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings but at the same time we want to shield them from unnecessary fear or anxiety.
Like most parents with whom I spoke after the Newtown massacre, we chose not to tell our children anything. We determined that at this stage of their life, they are too young to grasp the enormity of the violence that exists around them.
My children did feel a change when they arrived to school the following Monday. Parents were not allowed to enter the premises. Children were escorted to their classes by school staff. Although this makes perfect sense to parents, my children, especially my 3 year old, were upset and confused. We explained that there must be new school rules…which they seemed to accept…at least for now.
How much is too much information? Is any information too much? Should we shield our children completely or does this do a disservice to them in the long run?
Hopefully together we can learn to find the ultimate balance. Over time, as our children grow and mature and become more in tune to the media and the news, I am sure the questions will come. We will have no choice but to be forthcoming with information and relay to them what is going on in an age-appropriate and sensitive manner. In the meantime, in our home, we have decided to let our children hold on to their innocence as long as possible, and just be kids. They have the rest of their lives to worry and be ‘grown up’.
Photo: Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a reported shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks.
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