February 17, 2020
We are not a sports family but I grew up in a sports-watching family, hockey and football primarily. I have many fond memories of watching games with my Dad, live and on television.
This past fall, when I was working in Calgary for a couple days I picked up on the fact it was going to be Grey Cup that weekend. An event I would otherwise not be aware of. It was hard not to notice all those red banners hanging everywhere, and the fact that my downtown hotel seemed to be headquarters for league executives and other insiders.
(For my American readers Grey Cup is our Super Bowl. Kinda, sorta.)
At the end of my three day stint in Calgary I flew home with the keen desire to watch the game on Sunday night. I had also scheduled candle making for that slot on the calendar, a task I really couldn't fit anywhere else. I would be spending the evening in the kitchen, melting and pouring wax. But it's not a job that takes one's full attention, especially if you've done it before. I could multi-task.
I signed up for a one day subscription to stream the game from TSN and set up my laptop on the little bistro table in the kitchen. Laurent and I crowded around it, both of us cooking and eating supper, trying to keep kale out of the beeswax, and keep on top of the game.
I got right into it. I am one of "those" sports watchers, loud and easily excited. I did my best to remember CFL game play, and I explained, poorly, the basic rules to Laurent. And of course we cheered for the Winnipeg Bombers, the underdogs that won.
You can take the girl out of the west, but you can't take the west out of the girl.
Watching the Grey Cup together, eating supper and hanging out in a kitchen filled with the smell of beeswax (is anything lovelier?) is when I first saw those Superstore ads - "Shop Like a Mother".
The ads are funny. Though seeing them every 2 minutes during the game did get annoying. But hey, it worked! Here I am writing about a grocery store ad campaign. (This is a first.) You can even watch the ads here. You may want to, to get some context.
What does it mean to Shop Like A Mother?
Well, first we need to acknowledge the etymology of the phrase "like a mother". Whenever possible I try to keep my writing PG and appropriate for most readers. Doesn't always happen and this is one of the those time. (Close your eyes now if you can't read swear words.) "Like a mother" is short for "like a motherfucker".
This is a clever marketing strategy by Superstore. They've elevated mundane shopping to a slang-worthy activity. They've given list making, coupon clipping, cart maneuvering, and "points" cards street cred.
Hey, I'll take it.
I know what it means to shop like a mother. I sometimes leave Costco with my groceries piled on one of those orange trollies because I can't fit it all in a regular cart. I've had people point at me. In the parking lot. For real. I just smile and say, "three teenagers".
The ads are catchy for sure but I think they speak to me, particularly at this point in my life, because of my struggles with self-doubt around my role as a mother to teen and young adult children.
Something I've discovered in hearing people's responses to my writing is that not everyone struggles with the self-doubt, anxiety, insecurity and worry that I do.
I get that, intellectually. I follow a few writers whose way of experiencing the world is quite different from my own and I don't always identify with their core emotional struggles. Never mind writers, we all have family members and friends who experience life differently than we do and we learn and grow from our interactions with their perspectives.
I can't say you'll learn and grow from mine. No promises. But you might gain insight to either a similar or different experience from your own.
I have doubted myself along every stage of parenting, but perhaps especially during the teen years. And I have found my doubts harder to ameliorate the older my kids get.
My way of dealing with self-doubt in the early years of mothering was to tune out outside influences. I didn't read a whack of parenting books, they made me feel like something was either wrong with me, or with my kids.
Also, I really questioned the notion that you had to read parenting manuals to begin with. Hadn't our species been raising little humans for millennium? Did we need all this advice? Maybe. But maybe all those outside voices undermined our own sense of knowing about our children, and ourselves. (A topic for another day.)
I did read a couple of helpful parenting books and I did certain things the way I had been raised and did other things differently. And though I had some knowledge in child development from my university education, what I studied was my children, and responded to their needs as best I could.
Who are you? is the probably the question that drove my parenting practice the most.
I was good at caring for their physical needs and nurturing their spirits with a lot of affection. This came naturally to me.
I had all the basic tools I needed going into motherhood, most of them carried over from my own childhood, which was loving and secure. I was well-supported by my partner and was physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy. And even though I was a "young mother" I knew I had what I needed to take care of young children. It wasn't all that complicated, even if it did demand a lot of energy.
Overall, I felt good about my ability and competencies. And there was never a question that caring for three kids born in 3.5 years of each other was full-time work. My work had intrinsic meaning and was also valued by my husband, extended family, and community. I was fulfilling my dream to be a mother and I felt supported in doing that.
It wasn't easy. It was physically demanding and I was sleep-deprived for years. And I certainly doubted myself, but I never doubted that I was the best person for the job, or that I should be doing something different with my time and energy. My kids needed hour-by-hour care and attention and I wanted to be the one providing that care.
I was proud of my decision to be primary caregiver for our children, and I was proud of my work. Never once did I think their needs would be better served in a public institutional setting. Our home and their connection to me, and then also their father, was everything they needed as little ones. I was certain of it.
As kids grow of course they need more people than just primary caregivers but I was still confident that their academic, social, spiritual, and physical needs were best met in a loving home environment, with the support of a community, hence the homeschooling.
Winter 2009, mid-thirties, Maine
Fast forward to middle school years and then high school. So much happened in our family life during these years. So much happened in me, in our marriage, and of course, in our kids.
Remember this post I wrote about being a mama milkweed guarding my chrysalides?
I often describe myself as a mama bear. Maybe I should say I'm a mama milkweed.
I nourish my children. I shelter them. I protect them during these vulnerable years of metamorphosis. I am the broad milkweed leaf, the strong stem. I provide a safe place for them to hold fast as they undo and remake themselves behind a hard-shelled chrysalis.
The monarch butterfly's life cycle varies according to weather and regional conditions. The creature exists in egg form for 5 to 10 days, the larva or caterpillar stage lasts 10 to 14 days, and the pupa/chrysalis another 10 to 14 days. That's a lot of variability for an animal with a lifespan measured in weeks, not years.
The job of a parent is to provide the right conditions for growth, but also to guard and protect the inherently variable (and vulnerable) timeline of development.
More explicitly, kids develop on their own timeline - physically, emotionally, spiritually, cognitively - and it's our job as parents to provide the protection and support needed for that process, perhaps most especially during the teen years.
Life is fragile at all stages but the chrysalis is helpless during the two-week-long pupal stage. It cannot move or defend itself. Its camouflage and finding a safe location are of prime importance in remaining undetected, undisturbed.
As parents, we're sheltering chrysalides. Like the milkweed plant, parents can provide the conditions that make their children feel safe to hold onto them during their most vulnerable time.
Winter 2020, mid-forties, Montreal
The vulnerability of the teen years coinciding with my own early mid-life crisis really rocked my confidence. I may be that milkweed leaf but there are plenty of times where that leaf is bearing the brunt of bad weather or the plant doesn't have enough moisture or too much moisture or not enough nutrients. It's hard being that milkweed plant.
Unlike when my kids were little and I felt sure I was the best person for the job, as we hit the teen years I lost that confidence. Isn't there someone else more qualified to raise these kids?!
Homeschooling understandably amplified this. As we guided each of our kids through their schooling and social lives, according to the principles of a freedom education, I absolutely doubted my abilities. It's hard not to during the teen years, homeschooling or not.
Sometimes I would lose sight of the truth that no one loves my children as much as I do. And that this love is a powerful guiding force in parenting and homeschooling.
I know this will change as our kids find partners and create their own families. But during their growing years no one cares about my kids' development and well-being as much as Damien and I do. No one. Not the government, not the schools, not their peers, not the parenting experts who write the books. We care the most and are willing to sacrifice the most for their well-being. We are their parents. We are the people best equipped to make informed decisions about their care. We bear that responsibility.
Until they bear that responsibility, that tricky hand-off that occurs during the teen into young adult years.
We're in those hand-off years right now and it's scary sometimes. I question our past choices, what we did and didn't do.
I am proud of the work I've done in raising my kids. They are good people. But there is no way to know if it was the best path or if we made the right decisions at every turn. I'm pretty sure we didn't. But how is it even possible to make all the right choices for five people, at all times? I don't know that we always made the right choice but I can't identify where we made "wrong" decisions either.
At every step we've made the best decision we could with what we knew at the time. It's only hindsight that shows you where you could have chosen a different path. But if you did choose that path you have no idea how that would turn out either! There is no alternate path. There's only the one you're on.
(And yes I keep writing this message because it's the one I need to hear.)
Our path now is that we're all leaving the nest. In truth, none of us are "leaving" the nest. Everyone needs a place to live and our Montreal apartment is that place. But the kids and I are negotiating new phases in our personal lives and a new phase of family life as they finish high school and figure out post-secondary education options from which to launch a career. While I am essentially doing the same thing - finishing my first career raising them and figuring out my own post-homeschooling education options from which to launch a career.
We all need jobs. Now and for our futures. We all need a direction. We all need or want further education. We're all in various stages of making those things reality.
Letting go of guiding my children's lives and leaning into my own future is hella' uncomfortable. Not because I want to guide their lives anymore. I don't, at all. I am so. very. done. with all the responsibility of raising and especially homeschooling my kids.
The discomfort comes from holding myself strong against the waves of self-doubt and regret about the unchangeable past, and the anxiety and worry about the unknown future. I need to be strong for them, and strong for me.
If this has not been your reality or experience - the discomfort, the doubt, regret, and worry - lucky you. I don't want your advice on how to see things differently, I'm simply processing my own experience. (If you have a "me too" story, especially one with a "this is how I navigated it" follow-up, I'd love to connect!)
I look back on my self-confidence of the early years of parenting with wistful longing. I was tired and I was cranky because of that fatigue, but I was confident in my choices. I was confident about being a stay-at-home mom, choosing to live off one income, home birthing and homeschooling. I was all that.
Oh man am I ever envious of my former self, and all her bluster.
What I'd give to feel that confidence now. As it happens I'm still tired, emotionally and mentally, not physically (like when they were little). And I'm a little cranky. But I don't have the confidence of my twenties to carry me through all that. I don't have a sense of "I've got this. I am the best person for this job. Look out world here I come raising my babies according to my own values and convictions."
Unfortunately the drain of confidence coincides with a time in my life where I have to "get out there" and "make things happen" in work and vocation. I need some chutzpah. I need some bluster. I need some "look out world here I come".
This isn't a mid-life crisis. I had one of those already. That was a time where the foundation really rocked.
This is not the foundation rocking, this is me being kicked out of the nest but not feeling confident enough in my abilities to fly. And simultaneously feeling constrained by the outcomes of past choices and other mid-life realities. The sky is not the limit and not all things are possible.
But it's absolutely time to go.
The discomfort of financial strain is pushing me out. But so is my honest and keen desire to do something new, something different (and something financially compensated) with my energy, skills, and experience. Maybe as I further identify that thing, move into it, gain and practice skill there I will gain confidence. God, I hope so.
How am I supposed get out there, into the world outside the comfort of my family connections and support, feeling so shaky and vulnerable? How on earth do people do this? Everyone else seems more confident and put together.
Maybe you've noticed that mothers do hard, and sometimes disgusting stuff, all the time. Everything from changing poopy diapers, to tending sick children, to late-night chauffeuring, to holding space for our childen's pain, loss, and disappointment. We know how to bear-with.
Certainly I can bear-with myself during this transition. I can bear-with my discomfort. Bear-with the applications and rejections. Bear-with the angst and self-doubt, bear-with the uncertainty and lack of confidence, until I re-establish my confidence.
Mothers love and give and serve without wondering how it will come back to them. They trust it will. And though it doesn't always come back in the same form given, love returns love. Always.
Maybe I can trust in this situation also. Trust that what I know and what I've done and the skills I have will bring good returns.
Mothers advocate for their kids.
Certainly I can advocate for myself. Stand proud of my own skills and experience, the same way I stand proud of my children's.
Mothers get shit done.
I get shit done. I always have.
Mothers are resourceful.
I already have a twenty year career under my belt of being resourceful. Making do, finding better options, researching, teaching myself many skills, making connections and building community.
Mothers love always and unconditionally.
Can I love myself through this transition? The same way I'm loving my kids through their own launch?
I easily take for granted that I've built something over twenty years that many people long for in their lives. I have attained the goal I set for myself many years ago. I've been the heart-center of a loving and supportive family. I've crafted a home environment where each of us come back to refill, replenish, and rest. An environment, defined by relationships, where others are welcomed, exactly as they are.
I've made a family and created a safe space for people (my people) to be themselves, to be independent-minded while relationally interdependent. I have the relationship with my family that I placed as the priority through the years, the "thing" I wanted most to build.
I've raised three amazing humans. With gifts, skills, talents, and experiences. I'm proud that they are resilient and resourceful because not everything has been, or is, handed to them. They have to fight for it. And sometimes they have to overcome significant obstacles to reach the next goal.
Certainly, I can do the same.
Like a mother.
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