I’ve now been writing Confessions since May of 2009, when I tapped out my first post, The Birth of a Mean Mom. In reading over random past posts this morning, I felt the urge to re-read a couple of favorites, just to see if I still agree with myself (for those of you who are not writers: writers do this all the time. And in case you’re wondering, yes, I do still agree with myself ).
So, as 2010’s clock runs down, I thought I would share seven of my favorite posts from the last year.
In January of 2010, I wrote a post called Spoiled Rotten, in which I wonder whether the modern parenting penchant for doing every little thing for our kids (because we want to coddle them, because it’s faster, because it’s easier) might in fact backfire on our kids later, when they expect things to be done for them (and are quite naturally disappointed), and when they don’t have the skills to do things for themselves. As I wrote:
Then there’s the other kind of spoiling, which to me is far, far more insidious. It’s the kind of spoiling that encompasses everything from the sense of entitlement that grows like a cancer in homes when kids get everything they want without a moment of having to wait, or save, or consider whether they need it; to the lack of respect that’s bred in families where kids are not required to speak kindly to each other or the adults around them, or where manners aren’t enforced; to homes in which there are no rules, no clear sense of who’s in control. That spoils kids because it slows their progress toward maturity.
In April 2010, it was bullies, in a post titled Bullies, Bad Boys and Mean Girls: When Do Parents Get the Blame? I was upset and disturbed by the story of the young girl driven to suicide by bullying (this was before the recent media attention paid to bullies targeting homosexual kids and teens, but it’s all part of the same sad continuum). And I wanted to know:
…where are the parents?
Now, I don’t believe that parents of middle- and high-school kids can be as savvy about what their kids are doing as, say, I can. But I do believe that we all, as parents, should start as we mean to go on. I’m constantly walking a fine line between wanting to know what’s going on in my sons’ lives, the part that exists outside the boundaries of our home, and letting them be free to make friendships and deal with the sometime fallout of those friendships. And I plan to continue that, as best I can. I don’t plan to give up, and I think a lot of parents do.
Moving on to May 2010 — appropriately for the month dedicated (supposedly) to mothers and motherhood — I wrote a couple of posts that zero in on mother-y feelings. The first is Let’s Tell the Truth About Mother’s Day, in which I make my case against treacly sentiments about mother-love, triggered by one of those Facebook status lines one was meant to copy and paste to “prove” how they loved their children. As I wrote:
I tell you, Mother’s Day or not, I refuse to rely on someone else’s words, on words that only graze the surface, or on words that — most dangerous of all — turn mother love into something false and a little bent out of shape. Mother love isn’t flowers in a field; it’s messy and angry and crazy (like me!).
The second May post, You Can’t Always Get (The Kid) You Want, is about how mothers all have to — if they’re honest — deal with the fact that what we imagine about motherhood, about what sort of child we’ll have, doesn’t mesh with the reality of the kid we actually get. Here’s what I said:
It’s heartbreaking not to get the child that you want. These longings, these things you imagine, they are less about the child himself (he’ll be smart, he’ll be gorgeous, he’ll be a good friend to many, he’ll be a wonderful father or the person who finally cures cancer), but about you. What you imagined you’d be doing with your child when he is one, or five, or 11 or 21.
In July 2010, it was all about happiness. When I wrote In Does Being Mom Make You Happy?, I had just read a New York Magazine article on the subject of parents and happiness. Do we go into this adventure expecting to be made happy by it? I said this:
…while I expected that I would feel pride in his being, joy in the sight of his face and a renewed sense of being needed and wanted, purely physically at first, but psychically, too, as I raised this human being; while I anticipated that I would fall madly in love with my son and any other children who followed him out of my body, it honestly never, ever occurred to me that he would make me happy. Or that parenthood would be all joyful, or even, I don’t know, as much as 25% joyful. I knew it would be a lot of shit (literally, at first), a lot of snot, a lot of laundry, a lot of money, not a lot of sleep, not enough sex (in the early months and years), and other scary and amorphous non-happy-making things later.
Jumping forward to last October, I got into a contemplative mood, after hearing about the death of a mother in my town. In Hail Mommy: A Requiem for a Lost Mother, I struggle — not for the first time — with the sadness of potential loss that comes with the whole package of parenthood. As I wrote back them:
The one thing I am absolutely sure of is that I won’t soon get the image out of my head of Alexa’s mom in that class last spring, her blond hair precise and neat, her hands folded in her lap, facing the hardest moment a mother is likely to face with such composure. Hers were the only dry eyes in the room. Maybe she’d cried it all out already, or saved her tears for when she was alone. Or maybe she knew something that I resist understanding but know I must learn: That to raise your children, you have to be open to the pain of knowing you may not be able to finish the job.
And in November 2010, I gave a shout out to a fictional dad, a sitcom parent who didn’t take the laugh-track easy way out, in “The Middle”: A Sitcom Dad Actually Gets it Right. I wrote about how I was surprised — and pleased — to watch a half-hour mass market TV show in which the father not only isn’t a thinly-drawn dope, but also steps up to the parenting plate. He declares, in an episode that involves tween girls being mean to each other, that in fact it is a parent’s job to tell their kids when they’re being, you know, idiots:
…he [Mike Heck, the dad in “The Middle”] said what he needed to say to Mr. Shannon’s Dad: When kids are headed down a path that’s going to make them mean, and a bully, and a braggart — and they sure as hell might; sometimes they’re idiots, right? — you say something. Because that’s our job.
And this has been my job (well, part of my job!) for the past year. I’ve enjoyed it and learned from it, and hope you have to. Thank you for your comments — I read and think about all of them. Keep ‘em coming! And let me know if there’s a Mean-Mom subject you think I should write about in 2011. Happy New Year!