My mom is a cross between Martha Stewart and Florence Henderson. She made everything we ever ate and almost everything we wore from scratch. Our home was always impeccably clean. She was a Girl Scout leader and taught girls from the worst part of Cleveland how to sew and cook and took them camping on several occasions. She is always pleasant and makes everyone feel welcome in her beautiful home. She was patient with me and gave me room to be myself and make mistakes and yes, she whipped me with a belt when I was horribly disobedient, which was often. Strangely enough, I have no memory of my mother ever beating me, which astounds her. Even back then, I knew that everything she did was motivated by her love for me.
Because of her, I learned to figure things out, take care of myself, and that certain choices have swift and painful consequences. She taught me everything I needed to have a happy and fulfilling life as an independent, law-abiding adult. She taught me to live a life of integrity; to do the right thing because it was the right thing to do, not just when I “felt” like doing it. By last century’s standards, she was an amazingly awesome mom.
My daughters are teenagers now and I have done my best to raise them in the same ways. However, between the 70’s and 90’s/00’s, parenting paradigms shifted radically.
I loved sewing little dresses for my daughter when she was a toddler. But she refused to wear them because she preferred the clothes that Grandma (his mom) mailed to us from the Sears clearance rack. She looked like she was ready to march in a gay pride rally.
I made all our meals from scratch. My mother once asked my (then) husband what his favorite food was. He replied, “Anything that comes in a bag saying what it is.” He taught the girls a devotion to drive-thru “food”. They would whine at nearly every meal, “Why can’t we just get pizza?”
Now at this point, I’m sure that there are some hyper-sensitive people out there thinking that I continually beat the $#!% out of my kids with a belt at every opportunity and that this article is adequate evidence that I should be reported to social services, so let me clarify here: I spanked my kids a handful of times over the years. I never lost control of my anger, I usually gave them advance warning that a spanking would be the consequence if they didn’t stop the destructive behavior and I never left a mark (leaving a mark that lasts more than 10 minutes is the legal definition of child abuse). Every time I did it, it was INCREDIBLY effective in stopping the outrageously out of control behavior my child was exhibiting I will stand by my belief that not every child responds to “time outs”; one of my girls did, but the other is far more willful. Most of the time, simply knowing that I WOULD give them a spanking was enough to bring them back into line with a warning. I believe that if you spank your kid every day (maybe even every week), you aren’t using it effectively. I stand by that belief and don’t want to have a debate about how horribly wrong it is to ever strike a child. Yes, I realize that corporal punishment will make a child unhappy. Which brings me to my point:
The priority in parenting no longer seems to be teaching our offspring to be strong, hard working, honest and independent. Nearly everywhere I look, I see evidence that the core value is now that we raise children that are perpetually happy.
Now don’t get me wrong, I want my kids to be happy. But when you look at your life, can you find any person (besides perhaps your mother), institution, or work environment that exists to keep you happy? Where in the real world does that happen? It wasn’t my spouse’s JOB to make me happy. It’s never my boss’s goal to make every day at work fun and games. How many parts of your day-to-day life do you only have to deal with if/when you feel like it? For those of us that don’t have maids, does anyone follow you around, cleaning up your messes?
My children have told me continually over the years that I don’t love them; sometimes point-blank. After all, by the new standard, any time I require them to do anything unpleasant, they are terribly unhappy. I have failed them.
So here is the paradox: if I placate, coddle and never let my kids feel the consequences of their actions, by MY definition, I am a not a good mother. I have failed to prepare them for the world in which they will live for 70% (or more) of their lives. I will have ROBBED them of the opportunity for a truly happy life and instead, set them up for a life of tremendous and continual disappointment.
On the other hand, by teaching them that COMMITMENTS have a higher priority than FEELINGS, to take care of themselves (at an age-appropriate level), clean up the messes they make (literal and metaphorical), and an honest work ethic, by the prevailing attitude I see around me, I am a terrible, unloving, and at times abusive mother.
So which is it? What IS the definition of a “good mother”? Should I strive to be my daughter’s “pal” and confidante? Letting them stay out all night and buying beer for parties would definitely make them happy, after all. Many other parents in my area do it frequently. I could rescue my kids from every sad situation and wage wars against the teachers that “hate them”. Then, maybe my daughters would approve of me. That’s the goal, right?
Naw. I’m too stubborn and despite what they believe, I really love them far too much to screw them up like that. Whether they ever realize it or not, I’m doing the best I can to prepare them for the real world, where they will do laundry, pay bills and work for a boss they can’t stand, either. I would hate for them to suffer from the shock of disillusionment.
I put the mother’s curse on them both: “One day, you’re gonna grow up and have a kid just like you.”
I hope they are so fortunate.
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