Saturday, March 14, 2009

Extreme Mothering

I really wish I had thought of this title on my own, but I didn’t. Nan (my friend and hero, raising twin boys and now pregnant with her third) called me excitedly one evening, “Turn on 20/20—they’re doing Extreme Mothering!”

What images does that conjure up for you? I was expecting to see raw footage of me in the bathtub, teaching my 15-month-old baby the letters in her name…or surreptitiously nursing her in the isles of Stride Rite…or “wearing” her, as the attachment parenting folks like to say, on a two-mile round-trip walk into town.

Yes, guilty as charged, I am an extreme mother.

My problem is, I still don’t know where the lines of demarcation exists between questionable parenting, good-enough parenting, awesome parenting and extreme parenting. I think, on any given day, depending on what you’re observing (Holding her down and prying her mouth open to brush her teeth—questionable or good enough? Fixing her a perfectly-balanced, low-sugar, chemical-free homemade meal—awesome or extreme?), I probably fall at different points on the continuum; the object being to land somewhere in the middle, 90% of the time. But then there is this punishing little voice. It's the same little voice that used to pop into my head when I taught (and was staying until 6 every evening, preparing lessons), the same when I was caring for my ailing cat (and running home to give him shots of insulin twice/day). The one that says:

You’re not doing enough.

Like, is emptying the dishwasher and letting Sophia putter around in the kitchen drawers negligent or necessary? How much time should I expect her to play on her own…and when am I illegitimately using these free moments to check my friends’ status updates on Facebook? How much should I be labeling everything we see, and when is it okay to leave her alone to think her baby thoughts, or observe her surroundings, or practice our alien language as it trips off her tongue in delicious neologisms (e.g. g –g-gorkley)?

Yes, guilty as charged, I am obsessing again.

But I go to extremes because I don’t know what’s sufficient. What should be my benchmark? A day without bloodshed? Or one that ends with an invented lullaby, Sophia’s small arms thrown around my neck, a quick kiss, and her reverent whispers of “mamadadamamadada” as I lay her in her crib? A day where I know I spent a solid hour pretending to eat plastic cake and fabric toast or one where I spent five minutes eating said meal before rushing out the door to a meeting? And how do I measure how I’m doing? In smiles or tantrums?

I envy my husband’s comfort with his parenting—the deep satisfaction he derives from giving what he can, not fretting over what he can’t. Kevin says that this is because he has confidence in what I’m doing as a mother…I relieve him of this anxiety. I am grateful for his faith in me. It is reassuring. Yet, I wonder: What will it take before I begin to trust my instincts they way he trusts my instincts?

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