Am I The Mama I Thought I’d Be? Part 1

Are you the Mama you thought you’d be? The question was posed to us by the creators of the parenting event, Mamafest. And that got us thinking …

Here are my musings, Ellen will share hers next week.

In lots of ways I’d say that I am. My parenting style was pretty planned and deliberate. I was the offspring of artistic, creative parents who were eccentric and interesting. But they were also missing something in the responsibility and consistency department, so I was bound and determined to provide my own kids with all the stability I had missed out on.

At the same time, my medical and pediatric training coincided with becoming a mother, and though I would never recommend that timing, I think I saw it as added insurance that I would do parenting RIGHT. It was almost like the American Academy of Pediatrics was giving me my very own, personal stamp of approval. “You’ve got this nailed, Rachel, you’re one of US now.”

But what I didn’t count on was the messier side of parenting. The fact that no matter how pre-planned and custom-designed a mother I am, stuff happens that drags you kicking and screaming into the abyss, not knowing what to do.

A great example is what we objectively call, “gender differences”. That term doesn’t begin to describe what can, at times, make you feel like you’re raising two entirely different species in your home.

I was part of that foolishly naive group of baby-boomers who bought the notion that sex roles are culturally defined and have little basis in biology. When it came to nature and nurture, I was all in on the nurture side. So I dressed my two infant sons in a bright rainbow of colors and bought them dolls along with their blocks and action toys. I was convinced I could raise boys who were emotionally connected AND could bake a mean soufflé while pounding their chests.

So imagine my surprise (massive understatement) when I realized that their brains really weren’t like mine, and that I really didn’t get what made them tick. From almost the moment of birth their little bodies were in constant motion. At two and four they couldn’t pass each other in the hall without someone’s arm shooting out to smack the other. It was their greeting.

Those dolls were left untouched in the toy box, and every evening ended with a wrestle-fest on the family room rug. The level of sheer physicality just floored me. My husband, on the other hand, was right in there with them.

Testosterone poisoning is real.

This was unbelievably confusing to me, and continued to be until I had a daughter. That’s when the light bulb went on. No academic explanation needed. It was obvious … she came out like me, and they didn’t.  There are biological differences on that Y-chromosome that will not be denied, and they influence temperament and behavior as much as they do the shape of the genitals.

That’s not to say that this is the experience of all new moms, or that mothering a girl turned out to be easier for me than mothering boys, even with the mind-meld. Or maybe because of it. The need to be perfect, the naked emotion, the intuitive tuning in to the feelings of others in her orbit — it was all achingly familiar. And so much more complicated than the compulsion to smack your brother when you pass in the hall.

Am I the mother I thought I’d be? Well, yes and no. But were they the children I thought they’d be? Not a chance.

No tabula rasa happening, my three continue to be who they are. Is it possible to screw them up? Sure, though it’s not as easy as we think. Can we provide love, limits and encouragement and help them maximize who they’d like to become? Most definitely! But form them? Shape them? Uh-uh.

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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One response to “Am I The Mama I Thought I’d Be? Part 1”

  1. Barbara

    I have two girls. The toddler is a car, truck and train obsessed little dynamo that keeps beating up her eight year old sister. My tactic is to watch and learn who the kids are. The cars trucks and trains are largely ignored toys of the older sister. The older sister, in spite of her more traditional girl personality, also ignored dolls. Her favorite toys were books and animals stuffed and figures. Your sons may show a surprising feminine side when you least expect it.

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