Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Frailty, Thy Name is Mother!

I've had one of those weeks: the kind that make you feel like a total failure as a parent. Looking back, I would say the vast majority of my parenting experience has felt like a failed experiment, and I've only been a parent for 5 years and 4 months. My son has been in trouble at school this week because he showed his penis on the bus. Most parents would keep this information in-house, but I'm going to broadcast it, because, well, it's just funny as hell; And I want other parents to know they aren't alone, kids do some very embarrassing crap. My son and one of his friends thought in their 5-year-old brains that showing their butts and penises would be hilarious. One of the little girls on the bus didn't find it hilarious, and went home to her mother, who called the school principal, who called me in. And what am I to say? I mean really, when I relate this story to grown men, they just laugh, because apparently this is hilarious even when you are an adult man.
This isn't the only embarrassment he's caused me recently. A couple of weeks ago, we were at the dentist, and when his Korean dentist spoke to him in her heavy accent, he replied rather irately, "Speak English!!!" Of course, she was speaking English. I wanted a hole to open up in the floor so I could crawl in and die privately of embarrassment. Thinking about it later, I realized his reaction is the result of living in a foreign country and having people speak to him in a language he doesn't understand. He's already really tired of hearing German and feeling like he's on the outside of whatever is going on here. I'm tired of it too, if I'm being honest.
These two anecdotes alone could serve to prove my failure as a mother. Why haven't I trained him better? Why haven't I coached him on proper behavior; why haven't I foreseen the situations he would be put in and all the possible actions he would take? Why? Because I can't. Because we never know what our children are going to do until they do it. And that's the beauty of parenting children; they are these incredible amazing layered trifle dishes, each dip into them reveals new things. I've finally realized I'm not responsible for all the impossibly varied personality traits and quirks. And I really want to glory in this diversity and the surprises my children present.
This spring I took a class called "Life Writing" in which we wrote personal essays and then workshopped these pieces. I wrote an essay called "Mommyhood" which I've since re-titled "The Job That Took Over My Life" (I'm going to post this essay when I have a chance to type it out here on the blog). This essay was met with such resistance by the female population of the class that I was shocked and dismayed. The essay was meant to be humorous, a meditation on how motherhood has changed me; it was snarky and sarcastic. The first line is, "I hate being a mom." This was supposed to set the tone for a sarcastic look at the woes of motherhood, but the women in the class were horrified. How can you hate being a mom? How can you admit such a negative emotion about the highest calling women have on earth? Even the women in the class who are not mothers attacked me with vehemence, which I found both amusing and absurd. I was really hurt by the reaction, but it was a good experience for me, because my workshop experience is limited and I needed to be reminded not to take critique so personally. I've pondered the polarizing effect my essay had in the class (the males were immune to the rage; they thought the essay was funny and accurate) and my conclusion has been that women take mothering very personally because it says something crucial about their selves. A woman sees motherhood as more than an identity; she sees it as an expression of her innermost self. The child becomes a mini-me in which to mirror my finer points. The problem is when the child disappoints, embarrasses, loses. If you've ever seen the mom who is gussied-up at the mall with her toddler daughter in tow, wearing a matching outfit and gaudy lip-gloss and nail polish, you know what I'm talking about. If you've ever seen the agony of a dad on the sidelines of any sporting event when his son makes a crucial mistake, you know what I'm talking about. If you've ever seen the shame of parents when their teenage daughter gets pregnant or they find out their son is addicted to meth, you know what I'm talking about. They way we react as parents is so crucial in these moments. If we see our kids as mini-me's, our self-image will be shot. And our parent-child relationship can be damaged for a lifetime.
For me, I'm slowly learning that I have to be my own person with my own life and my own interests, or I can so easily fall into the trap of obsessively living vicariously through my children. I'm also learning to let my kids be their own divine little souls, with their own spark of fire, entirely unique to them. And when that spark flares, and embarrasses me, I try to remind myself of all the ways I embarrassed my own parents, and all the times they graciously ignored the little fires I set.
Blessings upon you, Mom and Dad.


  1. I actually just listened to a parenting seminar that discussed many of the ideas from this post. Way to go, you're on the cutting edge of certain elements of parenting philosophy.

  2. Have you read Confessions of a Slacker Mom? I laughed out loud reading these stories. I used to read a story from the book when I was feeling bad about my own parenting. It is funny, and from this post it looks like you have started the sequel!

  3. I liked your post! That is hilarious about Breck. Sounds like he may be needing to see someone like me soon :-)

  4. Mari - i'm sure he now everyone knows why we are stopping at two

  5. Mothering and parenting is a most difficult job and anybody out there who thinks it's a pansy job can come duke it out with me!!
    Love, MOM

  6. Hi, Kim:
    I admired your willingness to post this. I've never been a parent, but it has always struck me that it is a very difficult job, especially these days, for the very reasons your describe. I'm sorry to hear about your experience in the Life Writing class, but it's the sort of the thing I wouldn't find surprising, especially here in Oklahoma.

    John G. Morris