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The mom you are is the mom your children need.

by Meagan Francis on March 11, 2011

I haven’t done everything perfectly, but as it turns out, my kids are doing just fine with the “real me.”

 

My first baby, Jacob, came out eager to please. He was a happy, easy baby and a well-behaved toddler. I got a taste of what it’s like to experience “mom success”, that feeling you get when people generally approve of you and your child, when you can get through an outing without breaking down in tears, when your confidence is boosted, rather than deflated, with each passing day.

Then came Isaac. He was one of “those” kids. You know the scene where the kid is running willy-nilly around a store and the mom is sweating and red-faced and trying to keep from breaking down in public? That was me for years. Isaac simply couldn’t and wouldn’t be controlled. He rarely responded to punishments. He reacted to Jacob’s typical big-brother teasing with red-faced rage and sometimes, violence. He responded to anger with indifference. In a few moments of desperation I spanked him, and he laughed at me. (Talk about humiliation.)

In those days, I had doubts about whether I was the right kind of mom for Isaac, indeed, whether I was any kind of good mom at all. Obviously I had just lucked out with Jacob and couldn’t take credit for his easy-going nature. Maybe Isaac needed somebody more firm and authoritarian, to squelch those rebellious tendencies. Or maybe he needed somebody more nurturing and endlessly patient, to give him the acceptance he needed. Instead, he got me: usually patient, but liable to blow up under extreme pressure. Affectionate, but with a sarcastic streak. Occasionally too lenient. Occasionally too harsh, but always willing to apologize if I crossed a line. Trying hard, but imperfect, and apparently not very effective when matched against a strong-willed toddler.

The mom Isaac got may not have been the “perfect” mom for his temperament. But now eleven years old, you’d never know Isaac was the same kid. By the time he was four or so, he started calming down. Now he’s quiet and respectful, even shy. He’s affectionate with his siblings and loving to his baby sister. He gets along with Jacob…most of the time. He listens to me, though the sparkle in his eye often gives away his true, devious feelings. He’s learned to use his intellect, rather than his body, as an outlet for his contrarian and rebellious nature. Instead of throwing toys, he now throws around big words. He bests us with his logic, a battle I don’t mind losing once in a while. Obviously, I didn’t do everything right with Isaac, and yet here he is, a well-adjusted, successful and kind young man.

Isaac comes to mind when I see other moms I know struggling over the behavior or nature of their two or three or four-year-old child. Moms are understandably eager to finding a parenting style that will mold our kids into the kind of kids who fit in. We understandably want to be perceived as capable and competent. We understandably want to be in control of our homes. And we think that if we could just change X, Y, or Z about ourselves, our kids would suddenly get in line and would realize that the world is a better place when they just behave themselves.

But is that really the way it works?

Don’t get me wrong–I know most parents have room to improve. It’s helpful to find new strategies to put in the parenting toolbox. I’m certainly not suggesting that parents take an “Eh, whatever, this is just the way I am!” approach to parenthood. But I think we have to be true to ourselves in all this, too. You have to have faith in the kind of mother you are at heart. Because I think that’s the mother you need to be.

Sometimes new moms will ask me if I think it’s important for a baby to be on a schedule. To that I always ask “How important is a schedule to you?” To me, that’s the real question. I’m naturally laid-back. A schedule would make me crazy, and I don’t think babies need them. But that doesn’t mean some moms may not need them. I allow my kids to have freedoms that would make other people cringe. Then again, I hold tight to certain standards that other parents don’t put as high a value on. That doesn’t mean I’m right and they’re wrong. It simply means that we have different needs and priorities.

I know I am constantly trying to improve as a mom, but I try hard to do it within the framework of my personality. I no longer even look at books or websites that seem completely at odds with what I believe in my heart to be true about myself and my children. If I have major philosophical differences with another parent or expert, it doesn’t mean that I don’t respect them, but I’m not going to frustrate myself (or confuse my kids) by trying to make their philosophy fit in my life. After all, improving as a parent isn’t about adopting somebody else’s approach . It’s about tweaking your approach while still respecting your own instinctive style.

Your child(ren) will change many times while growing up. And if you have more than one, they’ll all change in drastically different ways. You’ll find that the things that seem so fraught when they’re young are completely forgotten later. There will be times your strategies will work and you’ll have that peaceful trip to Target you were hoping for. But plenty of times it’ll go horribly wrong, no matter how good a parent you are, no matter how deep your toolbox. You have to be true to yourself, because at the end of one of those bad, bad days, what else have you got? And really, what else have your kids got?

My kids are going to be who they are today, tomorrow, and ten years from now. I can’t change them, but I can encourage him to be the best versions of themselves. And I can only really do that if I’m trying to be the best version of who I really am.

I can’t guarantee results: nobody can. But if I’m being the real me, and letting my kids be the real them, it’ll come through loud and clear. And to me, thats the proof in the pudding: not a quiet home or well-behaved toddlers, or preschoolers with consistently good table manners or school kids who always speak respectfully, or teenagers who never lash out or young adults who never make mistakes, but a family in which everybody is encouraged to be the best possible version of him or herself. Even Mom.

Scratch that. Especially Mom.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

elizabeth @claritychaos March 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm

Meagan, I needed to read this today! My first and second sound a lot like your first and second, but mine are only 7.5 and 4.5 right now. I’ve been feeling like I’m without a toolbox to deal with this middle child of mine, but this makes me feel a little bit better and hopefully I can work to find strategies without berating myself for not being a good enough mother for this little fireball of a child I have (and adore). Thanks for this.

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Amie March 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Yes! We are who we are supposed to be for ourselves and our children. @elizabeth I feel the same way sometimes feeling like I am up a creek without a paddle and a swiss army knife. But then I realize I am the only one having an issue. My family is loved, healthy, well taken care of. I need to relax and release. Thanks for the post, Meagan.

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se7en March 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Oh what a great post!!! You know we are so the right mothers for our kids, we just don’t believe it!!! I am hopeless at receiving compliments… and never listen to them at all and I have been doing my kids a dis-service. We were on holiday a couple of weeks back and lazing around with my kids in the middle of nowhere… and they were chatting about how they had the best mom and the greatest mom and they really meant it!!! My regular reaction is to just ignore them or to say oh well so and so’s mom does this and that… you know the great comparative study in the sky… Well you know I thought about it and I am their best mom and really the only one they want!!! I think most moms are told this we just never ever listen to it!!! So even when we think we are complete failures they really think we are pretty great and that has to count for something!!!

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heather March 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm

So well said. I throughly enjoyed this post. I have, many times, had to remind myself that our family is not put together by accident. I am what my kids need and my kids are what I need, even when it may not feel that way. We can learn from each other and help one another to grow and mature into better versions of ourselves.

I have this quote in our home: “Put your hand in mine and let us help one another to see things better.” ~Claude Monet It often reminds me that a huge part of parenting is to live life alongside my children. Correcting, teaching and directing them, but also learning from them and and sharing myself with them and my enjoying who they are.

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Lucy March 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm

Just like Elizabeth, I really needed to read that. I have had such a bad rut lately that I have begun to question not just my parenting but myself. Like you said, improving is important and being aware of your own deficiencies, but trying to fit yourself into a mold that is not who you are as a person or parent will only frustrate everyone to tears.

Super high-five for this article because lord knows so many moms need to know it’s OK. You’re OK, you’re a competent parent, your kids are who they are and it is important to stay true to who yourself, as well.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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Susan March 11, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Thanks for this post…great writing and great encouragement. I’m looking forward to reading your book.

Susan

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Leah March 11, 2011 at 8:53 pm

I adore this post. It’s funny, I keep semi-joking about how the more kids I have the less judgmental I get. But I was never THAT judgmental in the first place, so it’s more just that I am getting even more annoyed by judgmental people. (Please, let me say judgmental one more time, it’s not annoying at all!)

(Secret admission: sometimes I do pass a little judgment on people who think they have it all figured out when they only have one under 18 month old kid. I don’t SAY anything, but I have less tolerance for opinionated people. ;-))

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Carrie March 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Ohhh….I so do that “secret admission”!

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Dara March 22, 2011 at 6:53 pm

I just had to comment and admit that I do that “secret admission” too! To my best friends I say, “just you wait…you’ll see what I’m talking about”. Most of the time they give me that look, “my kid won’t be like that!” Maybe they’re right…but do I ever smile when I see their now older kid do exactly what was annoying/exasperating me at the time.

Thanks so much for this post…I needed to remind myself about this TODAY!

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Paula@Simply Sandwich March 11, 2011 at 9:19 pm

Spot on again! I think we all look at our parenting styles and question it at times. So refreshing to know I am not alone in this journey. Thanks so very much for your encouraging words.

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Wolfmother March 12, 2011 at 7:50 am

I needed to read this today! Lately I’ve been feeling ‘not good enough’ when overwhelmed with the responsibility of motherhood but I realise that I need to forgive myself and give myself some credit for all the hard work I’ve put into becoming a conscious parent. I think we all have our off days and learn some not-so-pleasant things about ourselves when stressed out but we can learn and grow from that too. Thank you!

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Rachael March 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Moms are understandably eager to finding a parenting style that will mold our kids into the kind of kids who fit in.

Some moms, maybe, but not me. Never having “fit in” myself, I’m not particularly interested in molding my child or having him fit in. (I solved the problem of not fitting in by moving to NYC, where fitting in just isn’t an issue.) I guess I look at mothering as a dance in which I’m discovering what he needs, what I need, how best to respond to each of our needs. I trip a lot. But perfection is just an idea, anyway. Meanwhile, I’m dancing.

Thanks for this post.

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Carrie March 12, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I so so so needed this post! One of mine sounds just like your second….she brings me to tears and my knees at 4 years old. Your words were perfect for me. Thanks!

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Amy @ Frugal Mama March 12, 2011 at 6:04 pm

This is so reassuring, Meagan. Thank God for you!

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Olivia March 14, 2011 at 6:27 am

I know this is anecdotal, but what is it with the first child being easy(er) than the second one? That seems to be the pattern in so many families I know, including my own. I was the easy baby/toddler while my younger sister was a lot like your Isaac. Makes me nervous to have a 2nd baby since my first has been relatively easy so far.

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Jen in MN March 14, 2011 at 7:46 am

Olivia, I must say I’m nervously wondering the same thing. I only have one child (daughter, 22 months old) and we are contemplating trying for another this summer. I too was a more difficult baby/child than my older brother. What is the DEAL with this?? I can only think of ONE example, off-hand, of where the 1st baby was easy and the 2nd was harder. Yikes!

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Jen in MN March 14, 2011 at 7:48 am

CORRECTION to my comment above – obviously I meant “where the 1st baby was HARD and the 2nd baby EASIER.” oops!! Didn’t see an option to edit.

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Rebecca March 14, 2011 at 9:15 am

I also needed to read this today. Yesterday my husband and I virtually ruined our Sunday getting into an extended argument about parenting because some interactions with people at church — who happen to have a totally different personality than I do — triggered the old doubt cycle in my mind (“are we really being good parents?”). Now that I have some distance, I can see I was being fairly ridiculous.

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Amber March 14, 2011 at 11:03 pm

I love this.

In the beginning, it was a struggle for me to parent my firstborn. I felt inept, as she constantly cried. Other people would look at her, baffled, and ask me why she cried. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t really know now. She just lived out loud.

But watching her grow into an independent, strong-willed, but actually quite delightful 6-year-old has calmed my fears. It wasn’t easy, but I did it, and I really believe I was the mother that Hannah needed. I’m the only mother she has, no matter what, so I suppose that I had to be. But still, really, these things have a way of working out.

Now I’m just hoping that the difficult infancy and toddlerhood will somehow mean an easy adolescence. ;)

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Megan K. March 15, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Thank you for this post, Meagan. I have to say that most of the time I feel like I am the poster mom for “Epic Mom Failure,” but your insight has made me feel better. I am constantly trying and praying to be a better mom – the best mom for my children (actually what I pray for, in those words!!!). Reading this is an answer to a prayer, so thank you! :)

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Ellen S. March 21, 2011 at 6:17 am

I have an Isaac and Jacob situation too…only mine are girls. I think it’s a little joke that God plays on us — give them good one first and then sock ‘em with the challenging one. After all, if we had the challenging one first, you’d might have never had a second, right? Just tripped onto you blog today and have really enjoyed taking a look around…it makes me feel, well…HAPPY!

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Wendy May 13, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Meagan,

I stumbled upon your delightful posts and they just made me smile. Your insight is reassuring and it’s clear that even though you say you say “who you are is what they need” it is clear that you are introspective — the proof is this thoughtful post.

I too, try to be the type of mom I wish I had. More good natured and roll-with-the-punches — friend, supporter, guide, disciplinarian, etc. knowing fully well that nurture is only part of the complicated equation.

Unfortunately, there are many moms (and dads) who are raising kids who are developing issues with attachment, responsibility, and respect because their parents are not introspective. I believe we should all try to “do our best” and sometimes that means looking in the mirror and saying — hey, how can I be better?

Mother’s Day was a perfect time for my reflection…

http://typetalk.typepad.com/echolalia/2013/05/last-night-i-was-talking-with-a-few-of-my-girls-about-being-a-mom-some-of-us-had-good-relationships-with-our-moms-and-oth.html

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