My mom was telling me about a mutual acquaintance when she said, "You know, I don't think she will have any more kids." (She has one now). Surprised at her presumption, I asked her why.
"She isn't really the mother type," she answered.
Hmmm. I thought that was odd. But then I thought about it some more. I thought about some of the people I knew. I thought about my own challenges in parenthood. The more I thought about it the more it made sense. Not everyone who has kids is naturally inclined in the motherhood department. The characteristics we often correlate with mothering don't magically appear the moment you give birth.
I think being a parent is my favorite part about being an adult. It by far tops all other experiences I have had. But I think people can still feel this way and still love their child beyond words and still not be naturally-inclined parents. Raising kids takes an endless supply of energy and empathy and guidance and selfessness. It's constantly putting your children's needs ahead of your own (rare exception: date night, then all bets are off). Also, it's just as much about knowing when to stand aside and give your child some opportunities to grow on his own.
Not all people are instinctively good at putting other people first. And not all people are intuitive and nurturing by nature. I think we can all learn these skills but I do believe that some people are just born with a greater amount of these characteristics than others.
Today, it seems, we are so quick to label every stated difference between men and women as sexism. Is it sexist if I say that the best mommy qualities are nurturing, patience, and selflessness? I don't think we automatically list these as desirable fathering qualities. Or do we? I don't want to speak for all of society. Regardless, in my mind, these are important components of a mother's role.
This week, I was working in my "home office" when I heard my children giggling in the next room. I heard my mom playing with them, explaining things to them, and laughing with them. Jacob started to be difficult and, at a point where I would have totally lost my mommy marbles, my mom continued to speak to him in a soft and loving and patient tone. The next minute they were all laughing again and my mom continued to be her naturally cheerful self.
I stopped writing my motion mid-sentence and felt so very grateful for my mom. I recalled the same cheerful "mommy voice," the same understanding demeanor, and the same depths of patience from my own childhood memories. Right then, it suddenly struck me. I think I'm a good mom. I know I'm doing right by my kids. But, my own mom is just such an amazing, nurturing, patient, selfless, and loving soul. She is, without a doubt, a better mother than I am.
She always put us first. Always. I can't recall a single time that she did not put us first. This doesn't mean she always gave us what we wanted. Or caved to our demands. She was tough on us when she had to be but she was always the most cheerful person in the room. She was always the first person to get on the floor and play with us kids. She would not just supervise or watch as many parents would do. She would join in our game, on our own level.
Obviously, she isn't perfect (although she comes pretty close). When we were naughty growing up, instead of losing her cool, she would smile, close her eyes and pray outloud, "Dear Jesus, please help my children to be loving and good listeners and help them to learn to obey." We absolutely hated that. It was the worst punishment ever. We would have prefered to be thrown in our room or spanked than to have to listen to our mom pray to Jesus about our lack of character.
I have only heard my mom utter the "f" word one time in my entire life (so unlike me who has sprinkled my kid's childhood with unapolagetic f-bombs). I was 14 years old and I was rendered totally distraught by her use of the word. It was so unlike her that I was completely dumbfounded and speechless. My mom also has her sources of sadness. But she doesn't let these sources defeat her or anyone else for that matter. She has found a deep inner joy and it radiates through everything she does.
She is tough shoes to fill. While I have strength in other qualities, and while I share her nurturing and empathic qualities, I will never be as selfless or patient as she is. I will never have her unshakable cheerfulness. She is the most naturally-inclined mother I have ever met. She is simply amazing. And, while I can't be like her or even be measured on the same scale, I am equal parts ecstatic and extremely fortunate that my children have her as a grandmother. There is no doubt that she fills in where my mothering is incomplete or where my attention and time are stretched to the limits.
When I walk into her house on the weekdays that I work from her basement, I feel completely safe and serene. There is so much love and cheerfulness in her house that it engulfs both me and my children in a large invisible blanket. It's as if the entire house is hugging us from the inside. As if the walls are radiating joy. At the source of the love, we feel content and cared for. I can only hope that this is how my own children feel in our home.