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The Parenting Spectrum

It was challenging to accept that the mother I am is 'alright' to be. As I stated before (link at bottom of page), the majority of close-up examples I had of mothers were women focused on the task. Some seemed to struggle, others thrived in the way they were carrying out the role. When contemplating this as an adult, I realized that the close similarities in the examples around me had built the impression in my mind that there was a "best" way to be a mother and to deviate too far from that path would be detrimental to my children.

The mother's eyes sparkled with joy as she peered through the glass pane in the door to her two, almost three year old daughter's dance class. Her life had been building to this moment. She dreamt of this ever since she found out she was having a girl, and perhaps for years before that, as she imagined this possibly being in her future. I could have figured most of that out from her body language. Some of the mothers walked their daughters to the door, ensured they were comfortable, and then set out for an outside run or into the basketball gym on cold days for laps. Others gathered in little pockets to chat and share about themselves. She was friendly, talkative and her eyes only left that window for a minute or two at a time. She was there to watch her daughter's every stumbling toddler twirl with adoration. "Tuesdays are my favorite days," she enthused on one of her moments glancing away from the door. She was soaking these moments in, they would probably only come once. Her infant son slept peacefully in the carrier next to her, occasionally absconded in the baby wrap she kept handy. They thought about three, but were probably going to stop with the two they already had.

There is a vast spectrum from which we all arrive at our role as a parent. There are women who imagine the moment from the first second they can pick up a baby doll. I have known men whose eyes shine to their depths at the thought of becoming a father, or who already are, their glance of pride seeking out a tousled little head across the room. Some women and men strictly pursue professional success, realizing later that they do want to try parenting, and begin the path. Others imagine a freewheeling, responsibility-free adult life before deciding to become parents. Still others arrive accidentally, never intending to become a parent, yet decide to own the role they have stumbled into.

The spectrum of parenting choices is also broad, yet, unless abusive or neglectful, I would like to make a case for grace towards one another and ourselves. Yet we tend to have an instant gut reaction to parenting approaches that differ greatly from our own, often finding it extremely difficult not to disapprove of one another and even of ourselves, if how we carry out being a parent doesn't match the expectations we hold.

A mother gathering up her children at the park last week proudly wore a shirt that said Momma over a photo of a cuddly bear. Momma Bear. She wore the casual t-shirt with a latent fierceness in her demeanor. I believed the connotation; if you messed with her children, she would not have backed down in inch from their defense.

'Mother' is a weighty title to take on. It is a role both extremely private and utterly public. The preconceptions behind it are enormous and extensive. I have had to learn, slowly, to allow myself to be the mother I actually am, without guilt.

As in every area of life, we are shaped by our own past experiences. Parenting is dramatically affected by what you knew as a child, what you enjoyed and wanted to carry on, what you didn't like and wanted to change, along with other ideas you assimilated throughout your life to that point. When in a two parent household, there is the added mixture of two personalities, with two potentially very different backgrounds, melding those experiences together to shape a new one for your children. We make choices about how to be present for our own children based on deeply held convictions, (within the limitations of our budgets and the involvement of the other parent) making it difficult to objectively appraise others' choices without judgement.

My own journey was convoluted. 'Mother' to me meant cooking, cleaning, teaching, correcting, disciplining, caring, reading, driving and raising my children, constant and all-pervasive. 'Mother' to my fellow college students meant I was different, changed, outside of their bubble, care-taking, unavailable for socializing, unable to attend events, juggling a baby carrier and diaper bag and shushing my baby in the corner trying not to have her scream cry in a restaurant. 'Mother' to the mom of my "Little" from Big Brothers Big Sisters when I came across them in a store once visibly pregnant, meant she finally had a way she could relate and connect to me, her eyes lighting up as she fumbled excitedly through her broken Spanish/English to share all the tips and places she knew of that could help me. 'Mother' to the nurses glancing at me sitting in my purple college sweatshirt as I waited in the hall of the birthing center where I went to get confirmation of the at-home result meant pity shining from their eyes and hushed conversations around the corner wondering what I would choose to do.

I discovered myself fighting a subconscious resistance to the expectations I placed on myself when my daughter was born. I enjoy baking, but do not enjoy the steady day in/day out of cooking every meal, washing, folding and putting away laundry, cleaning the house and all the other mundane, ever-present housework that came along with my new life as a wife and mother. Having a hot meal ready for my husband when he arrived home from work spoke love to him, as that is one of many ways his mother shows her love that he enjoys, but frustrated and angered me, and I didn't fully understand why. Playing with my baby daughter was truly delightful, but in the same instant I was belly laughing with her, an entirely different part of my personality and brain was suffocating until I returned to school and resumed more daily adult interactions and intellectual challenge.

I LOVE putting my children in activities, because that is something I thoroughly enjoyed from my own childhood. But the activities are for them, not me. If they give it a fair try and don't want to continue, we move on. The joy I feel watching them is that they will have this hobby for themselves that they can enjoy, maybe even into adulthood. I am not the mother whose heart is filling to the brim from her imagined moment arrived at last. It brings me joy, for my child's sake, not my own. I am not saying she shouldn't feel that way, it was beautiful and truly precious to witness, simply that it affects my emotions differently, and that is okay.

I would never wear that Momma Bear shirt. It is simply not how I define and present myself, but it was perfect for the mother at the park. Her children are loved, as are mine, differently.

My own mother's life dream was to serve God, be a wife, homemaker and mother. Granted, life always manages to throw in many difficulties and curve balls along the way, but she, more than most people I know, lived out her dream life. She serves God still, she has been a committed wife for forty-one years and counting, she kept house (and keeps still!) at a level of cleanliness that belies belief when you consider the amount of people living in the home at times, and raised nine children who are now all successfully adults out in the world on their own.

I am not my mother. I am not my mother's friends. I am not the mothers I observed growing up. And that is alright!

I can have professional dreams and career ambitions without it meaning my love for my children is any less profound. I can engage in hobbies simultaneously to raising my children, even ones that take my time away from them for hours on occasion, without it meaning that I dislike being a mother. I can breathe and dream and exist on many planes of existence that have absolutely nothing to do with me being a mom and still LOVE MY CHILDREN.

To paint an extreme picture: a parent could have an only child by surrogate (not due to infertility or health issues, just for the convenience), use full-time nannies, continue to pursue a full-time demanding career, and send their child to boarding school as soon as they are old enough. They could more readily define themselves by their career accomplishments, educational achievements, clubs they participate in or hobbies they enjoy than begin with mother or father as their title. But this parent could still be a great parent.

Most of you reading this probably fall into much more of a middle ground. But did you feel yourself leaning one way or the other? Did you judge my homeschooling mother of nine whose hobbies and free time for decades were directly with or shaped by her children? Did you judge the career parent having one child who was raised by nannies and then sent to boarding school?


These could all be labeled a picture of a leaf or leaves. But which is best?

Well, that depends. What level of magnification do you desire? How closely do you want to be involved in the minutiae of the daily life of your child?

The parenting spectrum ranges dramatically. Let us have grace and seek out others drastically different from us, to simply listen, learn and understand, not pass judgement.


Here is the previous post I mentioned:

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