Friday, February 21, 2014

Confessions of a Not-So-Nurturing Mom

I don't know if you realized by the title of my blog or by my picture right there in the corner or by a message from the great beyond, but I am a) a woman and b) a mother. (I'm lots of other things too...a Weird Al superfan and a zombie lover/hater, for instance...but this post deals with those first two things.)

For some people in my culture (read: religious community and to a lesser extent, society at large), there is no difference between the word woman and the word mother. All women are seen as mothers or potential mothers, born with a supernatural ability to nurture the young, endowed with this nurturing power by their DNA, or their female spirits, or...their love of shoes and rom-coms and their inability to back up cars? I've never been very clear on where the innate nurture powers come from. But they're there! We have them! Because we are women! And women are incredible! Wheeeeeeeeeee!

I think I might be a man...

Or something...

When God was handing out "womanly" attributes, someone must have tripped me. Every talk I hear about the wonderful, innate nature of women makes me wonder what went wrong with my wiring. When womanhood is conflated with motherhood, I KNOW something's amiss.

Here are a few of my non-nurturing mommy secrets:

- I breastfed all my babies for as long as I could, but it made me anxious every time.
- I detested spoon feeding.
- I am hug and kiss deficient. Once my kids are over the age of two if they want a hug from me, they have to initiate it. (If they want a kiss, they have to use force.)
- When a child gets hurt, my first response is at least a worried, "Are you okay?" but once I know they are, I usually just scold them for whatever they were doing that got them hurt. Then I direct them to the bathroom to clean themselves up.
- When Evelyn came to me a few years ago, worried because our turtle Padme wasn't moving, I poked Padme a couple of times and said, "Oh. She's dead," and then put her in the garbage bin outside. It wasn't until I saw Richard walking up the stairs, tenderly cuddling a sobbing Ev in his arms that I thought, Oh...yeah...I should have done that...moms do that...
- Nurturing is something I watch other moms do and try to mimic. It doesn't come from anywhere inside me. When I'm successful at it, it's because I've planned it, practiced it, willed myself to do it.
- Working outside the home keeps me from going crazy and shooting up shopping malls, and I will never apologize for keeping the community safe.

Photo by Kevin Dooley.

I love being a woman and a mom, but I am NOT a nurturer.

I blame my mother.

As I mentioned in my wisdom tooth saga, my mom was never an ultra-soft, mushy gushy, kiss your boo-boos and make them better type of mom. Someone tripped her in the womanly nurturing line too. When we got hurt, her response was, "Are you bleeding? You'll live."  If we whined about some chore or injustice or perceived unfairness, her answer was usually a concise, "Tough."

Sorry, kid. You'll have to kiss your own boo-boo.

When the annual permission slip for in-school spankings (back when that was a thing) came home in our backpacks, Mom signed it without question, saying, "If you ever do anything in school that makes them want to paddle you, you'll be glad they're the ones doing it."  When my high school one-act play failed to win the regional competition and my younger sister and I mourned our loss in tears, Mom sided with the judge. When my older sister was a bride for a second time and deliriously happy to have found love again, Mom told her to settle down and stop being so excited.

Simmer down, now. Simmer down
I love my mom, but my mom is NOT a nurturer.

She blames Iowa.

In an effort to help her children better understand her complete absence of enthusiasm for "kiss it better" mothering, my mom sent each of her children a copy of Little Heathens, one woman's account of growing up poor in Depression era Iowa.  It might as well have been titled, "Why Willie Braudaway Is the Weirdo That She Is."  (Alternate title: "So Your Mom Doesn't Coddle You? Are You Bleeding? You'll Live. Tough.")

Photo by Phil Roeder

I kid.

What the book really did was help me understand the hardscrabble, pragmatic, Puritan roots that made up the Iowa culture in which she was raised, a culture that viewed childhood as a disease to be cured and overt affection as unnecessary. (In one vignette, the author's grandmother complains about a neighbor's parting declaration of, "I just love you all!" by muttering, "Well, of course we like her too, but does she have to say it?") My mom was a product of that culture, and to a slightly lesser extent, so am I. 

As I've grown and learned and experienced more of life, I've met more women like me, women who have children and love them fiercely but don't feel the innate nurturer feelings they've been told all their lives are a part of their natural make up. I've also met incredibly nurturing men that turn the idea of nurturing as innately female on its head.

When I found this one, I married him.

The more I examine the issue, the more I think the woman = nurturer thing might not actually be true. Maybe we're all just who we are regardless of gender, and maybe there's nothing wrong with acknowledging that.

I spent a lot of my life wondering why I didn't get the mom that kissed boo-boos and sang lullabies and found fulfillment in speaking baby talk to small children. (She approaches babies with a stern, "Hello. How are you today?" Not even kidding.) Spending all that time wondering why she wasn't the mother everyone said mothers are supposed to be kept me from appreciating the mother that she was...a mom who did sing with us, a mom who taught us to work, a mom who tried hard to protect our vocal cords by modeling good vocal cord behavior (this consisted of her never screaming at any sporting events, opting for a long, high, sustained operatic tone. It was gorgeous and massively embarrassing, but her pipes are in great shape.)

Yeah...that's about what it looked like...
Worrying that I'm not the nurturing mom so many assume I should naturally be keeps me from appreciating the mom I actually am...a mom who has presided over weekly "Bad Manners Night" dinners for 9 years running, a mom who blasts Weird Al from the car with the windows down and dances in the driver's seat like an idiot whenever the kids request it, a mom who looks for ways to teach her kids through embarrassment only to find her kids are more than happy to join in the fun.

To be fair, they probably get that from their aunts.

Or their uncle...

Or their mom.

If you're a woman, a mom, and you're not a natural nurturer, it's about time to stop beating yourself up and start appreciating the mom you are. We can't all be baby-talking, lullabye-singing boo-boo kissers. Some of us have other talents to contribute.

I'd say not shooting up shopping malls is a more than valuable contribution to society.


Shannon Brown said...

Oh my goodness this is me!!!! I was also raised by a Mother from Iowa as well!!!! Finally I don't feel so alone!!!!! Thank you!!!! If I was the mushy type I would probably cry!!!
Oh by the way I am also a close friend of your sister!!