Blogs about motherhood tend to attract me, as motherhood is – well, it’s the thing that makes me tick. It’s the aspect of my life that I have mulled over (and over and over), more than anything else. Reading this post on ‘Defining Motherhood’ echoed some thoughts that I have had over the years.
The author of this post was trying to answer a question about how to resist criticism from a parent about your own parenting choices. Is there research that could convince my Mum that I am right? the questioner asked. I love Defining Motherhood’s answer, that research is to convince yourself that you are right, but is unlikely to convince anybody else of that.
When I became a mother, I had no idea how to go about being one, but I assumed that (as with pretty much everything I knew) I could look it up in a book. And look it up I did. I read book after book after book, and looking back I can see that I was in fact trying to convince myself that I was doing it right. I was lucky in that my parents were not overly critical, but as a single parent I found that criticism was in no short supply. Feeling defensive, I would often rage about people who thought they could tell me how to parent but hadn’t read a single book on the subject, when I was practically an encyclopaedia of knowledge (if only my daughter had read the damn books too, and behaved like one of the children on those pages instead of being so obstinately her).
The next point that Defining Motherhood made was that childcare advice is subject to fashions which come and go through the years; another reason why parents of mothers are unlikely to be impressed by the latest research. They have seen it all before.
There are many many different ways to bring up children, probably as many as there are children. I believe that children actually shape you as much as you shape them, but maybe that’s got more to do with my parenting than children in general. All I know is that I experimented upon my hapless child with all the theories from all of the books – eventually settling on the ones that worked. The more regimented methods failed, while the ones that focused on communication were the most effective. The book ‘How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk’ while not new, formed the basis of my parenting techniques for some years. I remember my amazement on first using the simplest of counselling techniques – she was claiming to have stomach ache, but I knew that there was a lesson at school that day that she didn’t like.
‘My stomach hurts,’ she said and instead of my usual reaction which would be to focus on whether or not she was going to school, I used ‘reflection’
‘Oh no, your stomach hurts,’
‘And I’ve got a headache.’
‘You’ve got a headache.’
‘I don’t feel well.’
‘You don’t feel well.’
To my amazement, she then meandered off to get dressed for school, satisfied that her point had been taken (or deciding that school would be more interesting than staying at home with a robotic mother who had lost the art of conversation).
The last point that Defining Motherhood makes is that in trying to avoid repeating the mistakes of your own mother you must try not to swing too far the other way. I have always been conscious of that because that in itself was the mistake my parents made – they over-reacted to everything their own parents did. I felt as if the fact that their parents did things a certain way would be reason enough for them to do the opposite.
I decided that my decisions would be my own, independent decisions, based on scientific methods of looking at all the available evidence (books, straw polls of what friends did) – but in the end, my daughter decided how she would be parented by simply being her own, unique self. We did it our way, then found a book that told us we’d been doing it right – and that, is the only way to do motherhood.