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I was reading a book last night by Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron, Start Where You Are, a book about ‘”cultivating fearlessness and awakening a compassionate heart.” In it, she talks about being present in the current moment and how central it is to begin content in life. It struck me that this core Buddhist, yogic idea has particular salience for mothers. It is very difficult as a mom to be in this moment, right here and right now with our kids, when one of our primary goals is to help them sculpt identities and carve experiences out of life that will serve them well later.
We are aiming to set them up in life to prosper, whatever that might mean for different families. So we do acutely feel the heaviness of individual moments in light of how they might impact later ones. And, on its own, this is probably good practice. It prompts us to think through a scathing critique sometimes so that we can refashion it to be a constructive one instead, it accepts that fact that sometimes children cling to a single phrase or gesture for years and center it in their self understanding (this part we know because many of us can recite that thing our own parent said, that phrase we have clung to for years that we used as helpful or hurtful in our own lives).
But I think it’s exceptionally difficult for mothers to be right here, right now, where the children are or where we ourselves are without always feeling the magnitude of the future. This difficulty is not surprising given that many of us live in cultures that root the outcomes of individuals in the activity of the mother. Mothers are ascribed near-total culpability in how their children turn out. Even when we know for a fact that we are hardly the only influence in a child’s life, and at various stages not even the primary one, we still feel the enormity of the task.
But in many ways, we would greatly benefit in allowing a day to just be what it is, and release ourselves from the sometimes crushing burden of asking what does this moment portend. Besides, ‘this moment’ changes in the blink of an eye. When I think of parenting my kids I always hear the song “Love Rollercoaster” in the background (done first by the Ohio Players in the seventies and then more recently by Red Hot Chili Peppers). It has my mothering theme song for years. The ride is unpredictable and suddenly shifting, high highs and low lows in a very short timespan. I can neither predict nor control where we will be next. Fighting and ill-will one day, crawling up in my bed to lay a head on my shoulder the next, aloof and apathetic the day after that (“rollercoaster…of love…rollercoaster…ooh hoo hoo hoo).
I work hard to avoid the trap of seeing any given moment as a snapshot of the whole relationship. This is difficult of course when it’s a really dreadful moment (omg I can’t believe this is where we’ve come to in the relationship) or when it’s a really awesome moment (omg I’m so glad that we’re finally here in the relationship). A moment is, quite often enough, exactly that, but a tiny part of the larger whole. It doesn’t have to mean so stinking much all the time. We can teach ourselves to become unattached to life’s moments, letting them come and go, feeling the joy and pain of them, without being hyper-invested in purging the negative ones from our lives or in clinging frantically to the positive ones, without accepting that we alone will determine how the kids turn out, without needing fun, joy, and laughter everyday to prove to ourselves that we’re doing OK as mothers.
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