Luke 2:41-51, I John 4:7-12
The Rev. Tom Herbek
May 13, 2018
It must have been terrifying for Jesus’ parents, and I cannot imagine how awful it must have been that it took them three days to find him. Though both of them searched for him, only Mary is remembered as “treasuring” these things in her heart. The learning curve on how to parent this child must have been very unpredictable for her. She must have asked herself on many occasions, “Am I doing this right?” It is a question that I imagine many mothers are thinking to themselves lots of times. Not being a mom myself, I’d like to let some experts share their thoughts this morning. Jeana Lee Tahnk wrote about it:
Am I doing this right?
As a mom, that is a question I ask myself on a daily basis. Whether it’s disciplining tactics or sleep training or wondering if the organic cheez-puffs are really that much better for my kids, motherhood has been a type of training in progress for me; I learn as I go along. Life as a mom and CEO of a household is challenging, and between caring for two young kids, cultivating a successful career, managing schedules, and running a home, the question always remains … am I doing this right?
My endless struggle to find balance between my work life and my home life is difficult to navigate. That, on top of wondering if I’m parenting in a way that my kids will need therapy for, is what makes questioning if I’m doing it “right” all the more salient. While I immensely value and recognize my contribution to my family as a mom, it is important to me to contribute to myself through my career as well. And seeking this kind of balance has presented its fair share of obstacles along the way.
Once, on a day when my kids were home, I had to participate in an important client conference call. (Important calls and kids at home don’t complement each other that well, as you can imagine.) In the midst of the discussion, I actually had to run, yes run, down the hall away from my toddler daughter so that her high-pitched screeches wouldn’t filter through the phone and be heard by the CEO, president, and VP of marketing on the other end. While I sat breathless behind the bed, literally hiding from her, I rushed through my talking points in a harried whisper so that I could retreat back into my “safe” mode on mute. The memory of that makes me laugh now, but at that moment, fleeing from my child was the choice I had to make.
I’ve learned over the years that this is what motherhood is about. It’s about the moment-to-moment. It’s about making the decisions that I think are right at the time and believing in them. I know I’ll look back and have regrets about certain ways I handled situations, or things I could have said differently, but it is in the collection of these moments that I define myself as a mom, a wife, and a woman.
There are so many joys and challenges that come with being a mom, and despite my constant questioning, I know I’ll never have all the answers. What I do know is that the decisions I make for my children are always with their best interests at heart and that “right” means many different things at many different times. With that in mind, I can have the confidence and believe, yes, I am doing this right.
- This I Believe: On Motherhood
Joan Beck writes that the problem is that the job description is constantly changing:
A job description for the kind of person who would be an ideal mother for a baby might read like this:
Wanted – Easygoing, relaxed, loving type to care for infant. Should enjoy rocking, cuddling, be able to hold baby patiently for 2O-minute feedings every three or four hours without fidgeting. Light sleeper, early riser. Must take all shifts, seven-day week. No vacation unless can arrange to have own mother as temporary substitute.
A year and a half later, the ideal candidate for the job of mothering the same child would match this description:
Wanted – Athlete in top condition to safeguard tireless toddler. Needs quick reflexes, boundless energy, infinite patience. ESP helpful. Knowledge of first aid essential. Must be able to drive, cook, phone, work despite constant distractions. Workday, 15 hours. No coffee or lunch breaks unless child naps. Would consider pediatric nurse with Olympic background.
In another 18 months, the same mother should be able to meet these qualifications:
Position Open – Expert in early childhood education to provide stimulating, loving, creative, individualized learning environment for pre-schooler. Should have experience in art, music, recreation, be able to speak one foreign language. Training in linguistics, psychology and Montessori desirable. Two hours off five days a week when nursery school is in session and child is well.
Job stability improves somewhat when a child is between 6 and 12, and the mothers who cope most easily meet these qualifications:
Good Opportunity – For expert in recreation, camping, Indian arts, all sports. Should be able to referee. Must be willing to be den mother, room mother, block mother. Public relations skills essential. Should be able to deal effectively with teachers, PTA officers, other parents. Knowledge of sex education, new math required. Must have no objections to mud, insect collections, pets, neighbor’s kids.
A mother changes occupations again when her child reaches 13 or 14 and must face up to new requirements:
Job Available – For specialist in adolescent psychology, with experience in large-quantity cooking. Tolerance is chief requirement. Slight hearing loss helpful. Must be unflappable. Should be able to sense when presence is embarrassing to child and disappear.
After 18 years as a working mother, a woman is qualified for only one more job:
Urgently Needed – Financier to provide money, clothes, music, wheels to collegian. No advice necessary. Position may last indefinitely. Ample time left to take income-producing work.
– Joan Beck, A Second Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul
I can’t imagine how tough it must have been for Mary to keep up with the constantly-changing- mother-job-description for her precocious son. But sometimes our children teach us crucial lessons. Patricia Battaglia wrote:
My first child, and at the time my only child, was nearly two and a half when she started speaking in complete sentences. She questioned everything, often in breathless wonder as her understanding emerged.
One cool autumn day we were at a local playground when she noticed the school building behind me and asked about it, I described what a school is and what happens there. She was struck by the concept of a “teacher” and wanted to know more. I explained that a teacher is someone who helps a person learn new things. “Just like I’m a teacher for you,” I concluded.
With a nod of comprehension, my daughter said, “Yeah, and like I’m a teacher for you!’
A moment of stunned silence on my part followed, as I realized all the ways I had grown by becoming a mother. I knew there was more in store, that I still had much to learn from my little teacher. All I could say was “Yes, you are.”
I believe that in her own way, my daughter had a clear understanding of our relationship. I cannot say she was wise beyond her years. She held the wisdom of innocence and wonder that was very appropriate to her age.
When I was young, my autistic sister taught me that an innate wisdom exists all the time in every child. My own daughter reminded me that this wisdom can still catch me unawares and take my breath away.
–This I Believe: On Motherhood
One of the things that Mary certainly had to learn was to let this precocious son of hers go, to let him do what he was called to do. Many mothers have had to learn to let their children go, and to watch them make choices that were not the safest or what their mother wanted. Mary Lacy Porter describes life with her oldest daughter:
I believe in the transformative power of letting go. I believe that relinquishing expectations about how life is “supposed” to unfold has opened my heart to a more authentic me and a world of infinite possibilities.
My oldest daughter has been a particularly effective teacher of this fundamental truth, although at times her methods have been particularly harsh. The joy of parenting a bright, creative, and energetic child devolved into a nightmare. During her adolescence, I struggled to deal with her combative behavior, substance abuse, run-ins with the law, dropping out of school, and two heartbreaking suicide attempts. Although I brought to bear every imaginable resource in an effort to support, guide, and protect her, I came to realize that the journey she had chosen was hers and hers alone.
Of course I wanted, as all parents do, for my child to be healthy and happy. But I also admit that I wanted her to conform to certain norms simply because it would be more comfortable for me. I would have preferred not to experience the awkward change of subject when I entered a room where parents were discussing their child’s college plans, or to endure the curiosity of neighbors wondering why police cars were once again in front of our home. Eventually, however, I came to see my challenge as embracing the uncertainty of what my daughter’s process to wholeness was going to look like. To help her grow, I had to let go of where I thought she should be and how I thought she should get there. Choosing to focus on who I knew her to be underneath all that debris helped me let go of the notion that I should (or could) dictate how her life would unfold.
After a number of turbulent years, my daughter has reconnected with her soulful nature and has rediscovered her playful spirit. She thanks me for never giving up on her. She says there is no one else who she would want to be her mom. I now experience the unequaled joy of having a daughter whom I genuinely admire and whose friendship I treasure.
Letting go of trying to govern my daughter’s journey has become the catalyst for me to reexamine my own life’s path. I realized that my self-imposed expectations about what I should be doing to maintain the lifestyle I ought to have, stood between me and a more authentic life. I recently moved to a less expensive house and left my job as an attorney at a big corporate law firm. It had become too painful to go to work every day and feel so disconnected from my true self. I find myself in unfamiliar, uncomfortable territory, having let go of safety and certainty for the promise of the unknown. Right now, the anxiety of abandoning a career that has defined me for over twenty years threatens to overwhelm me. But I have come to believe that pursuing an enriching life requires a willingness to abandon solid ground, trusting that the wisdom of the heart, if given the chance, will show the way. This is the gift I gave my daughter. This is the gift I am learning to give myself.
- This I Believe: On Motherhood
The ways we communicate with those we love may differ as we grow older, but hopefully we can still find some common ground, something that allows us to appreciate our parents and our children. And sometimes, our parents enable us to express ourselves in our own, unique way. Carolyn Williamson describes her mother:
My mother has a unique way of embarrassing her children. Whenever she gets excited about something, she jumps up and down, hopping from one foot to another, waving her arms in the air and shrieking in excitement. We call this the “silly dance.” As her daughter, I find this completely mortifying. Anytime she goes into the silly dance, my siblings and I will inch slowly away, smile awkwardly, and explain to people, “No, she’s not my mother.”
Even though my mother embarrassed me to no end when I was a child, and even though she still does the silly dance when something goes her way, I now enjoy it.
The silly dance is who she is, and it shows that she’s happy. If she didn’t do her dance and just obeyed our wishes of “not in public, Mom,” she would be compromising who she is.
My mother dances to her own beat, and many times that beat follows the works of Rogers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and the Gershwins. Road trips in my family were always a fun time when we sang songs from Oklahoma or West Side Story— the musicals that she grew up with.
I owe a lot of my love for the theater to my mother. I now sing show tunes in the shower and in the car. I even sing in public like my mother does, and my friends are always doing that same awkward smile and whispering under their breath, “Carolyn, public.”
So in many ways I’m becoming my mother, which for any daughter is a fear of great proportions, but I’m not going to stop singing show tunes just because people feel embarrassed by it— that’s not who I am. Although I can’t dance very well, when my favorite song comes on the convenience store speaker system, I boogie down the aisles mouthing the words. I have no doubt I will mortify my own children with my rendition of the “silly dance.” So what? That’s who I am.
I believe everyone should dance to the beat of her own drum, even if the guy next to you gives you a weird look. If that happens, I pick up a shampoo bottle in aisle seven, use it as a microphone, and continue my jam. I believe in the things that set us apart. I believe in mortifying our children so they will mortify theirs. I believe in being myself, no matter how many awkward smiles I get. I believe in never compromising who I am.
-This I Believe: On Motherhood
The job description for being the child of our parents changes over time, just as the job description for being a mother changes over time. Hopefully, we are always learning from each other. And hopefully, our mothers will find something to treasure about our lives. And hopefully, we will give our mothers reasons to do their own happy dance in their own way, at least occasionally.
Happy Mother’s Day!