Am I The Mama I Thought I’d Be? Part 2

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 …

Last week Rachel shared her thoughts and here are mine…

I’m pretty deep into my parenting gig at this point, coming up on 26 years on-the-job, so I definitely have enough data to analyze. I thought about it a lot as I prepared my talk. I pushed my mind and memory back to the days when I was thinking about becoming a mother and tried to remember what my expectations were.

I thought about how I always knew I wanted to be a mom. The idea of mothering was something that just seemed to fit with me. I was one of five kids myself and growing up I spent tons of time babysitting and playing with children. I felt a keen connection to kids and a clear knowing that my life would not feel complete without a few of my own.

So I approached the whole business of becoming a parent clear-eyed and consciously. I went to school and studied all about child development and families and what made them tick. Then when I was done with school I spent countless hours sitting with families in therapy. I got the insider’s viewpoint on how much can go wrong and how much can be healed and brought back on track with a little help. I loved it all and my respect for parents and the awesome commitment they make to their children skyrocketed.

By the time my own kids came along, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from parenthood and how I wanted to personally live out the role of “mommy” myself. And for the most part, truth be told, I am the mama I thought I would be. Not always as patient perhaps as I had hoped and I definitely had no idea how much I would worry about them.

BUT  (and there’s always a but) what I didn’t expect was how each of my three kids would pull such different things from me. I didn’t know that in many ways I would end up being a slightly different mother to each one of my children. I hadn’t really counted on the difference that personality and temperment could make.

We had the same basic rules and expectations for the lot of them but how that played out and where we had to focus our time and attention differed depending on the kid. Sometimes we had to be tough and other times the exact same situation would call for a softer, gentler touch and perhaps a different message completely.

Let me give you an example and see if you can relate: My oldest son was a very bright child and also very social, especially once he got to high school. Let’s just say that he had the smarts to make decent grades without exactly killing himself. His orientation was social, social, social. So, to put it mildly, he needed a lot of checking up on.

My daughter, on the other hand, who’s a couple years younger is a very focused, organized, busy-bee kind of gal with a slight bent towards perfectionism (she gets that from me and I apologize regularly). When she was only four years old I would find her in the kitchen, perched on a stool, organizing my cabinets, for example. It’s just who she is. She came out that way.

So once they hit middle school and beyond it was pretty funny to hear the dialogue going on in my house on any given night. In my son’s room I would be all up in his grill asking in a stern voice, “Did you do your homework? All of it? Are you sure? Turn off that TV and get going on that report. I mean it!”

Ten minutes later, I would be in with my daughter saying, “Honey, stop doing your homework. It’s enough! Eat junk food and watch TV!” Although they were equally bright, a “B” on a test would be cause for celebration for one of them, and a source of annoyance and disappointment for the other. Go figure.

It’s amazing to me how the differences in children’s personalities force us to engage with them in different ways whether it’s helping them to solve a problem, giving them a pep talk when they are down and discouraged, or clarifying our expectations for their behavior.

But what also struck me then and continues to strike me now, is the range that we parents are capable of once we figure out who it is we’re dealing with. It’s really kind of wonderful, because I honestly do believe that children arrive with their temperments and personalities intact.

So that, in a nutshell, was the big surprise for me. And  frankly, now that they are all almost young adults I’m still learning. (Although between you and me, I pretty much have them nailed).

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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