I did not expect to have a child. At the age of 41 I find myself totally perplexed with the idea of being a mother; often still feeling like this is not a job I signed up for. I don’t even have the necessary skill set. So I turned to what I did in my life before the Lotus Bud and attempted to use those skills. I read many, many parenting books. Too many. I treated child-rearing like a research project. It would all come together like a neatly arranged dissertation. I was sure this was possible. Jeez I was so wrong about that.
Then out of the blue there is a book published that I found to be extremely useful. It came to me at a time when I was at my wit’s end. Not only was Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe highly insightful, it was also very entertaining.
This wasn’t a book about how to potty train the child, how to solve a child’s sleep problem, nor even what to expect when experiencing toddler chaos. This was not a book about raising children. I see it as a book about how to guide little ones into adulthood. And it fundamentally “requires a parent to shift how she conceives of her relationship to her children and what she expects from them.”
For me it was a interesting shift, not one that leads me away from my child, but rather one that pulls me towards her in a manner that suits me. Let me say that another way. I don’t feel like I needed to find ways to separate myself from Lotus Bud, which Druckerman states many American mamas need to do – major over-generalization of course. I know that I am not an attentive mother (dare I say – negligent?). In our days together, she spends plenty of time on her own, pursuing her interests in our home and yard. What I needed was a way to parent that fit my own notions of parenting, one that is a hybrid of “Indian” parenting (cold, authoritative, non-praising) and “American” parenting (attached, at times all consuming, helicopter). I know, I know; these are all major generalities, but it is the difference between how my mother raised me and how my sister raises her children. This book helped me curb my building resentment towards being thrust into motherhood and helped me think about parenting in way that feels less invasive to who I was before becoming a Mama.
Here are some of the points that stood out to me:
- Allowing freedom within a strict framework of boundaries; saying ‘yes’ more than ‘no’.
- Encouraging autonomy.
- Being clear about who makes the decisions, which requires the use of a very firm ‘no’ and “codified eyes”.
- Strict bedtimes.
- Clear messages about expectations.
All these allow for the parents to delineate their own space. For me it was about being clear about who had the authority and how to maintain that authority with grace, and maybe a smile. This book helped me realize those good things I am doing right now and it affirmed the idea that I may actually be a good parent. Better yet, I realized that I am exactly the kind of parent that my little love needs.
So how’s it working for me? Well there were some changes to our daily habits and some of them surprised me. We are now having dinner together as a family. I used to use her nap time for my own pursuits, now I spend those precious two hours cooking and cleaning. I used to savor the hours after her bedtime with relaxed meal preparation and tasty wine followed up by intimate dinners with the Big D (sometimes dinner didn’t happen until 10pm). Now that we eat together, I find that it brings a sense of finality to our day together. Those hours of naptime feel the final crunch towards the end and the evening hours feel like rewards for a day well spent.
The Lotus Bud and I communicate better, mainly because I’m not always freaking out. I’ve learned the word “betise” – French for “a little naughty act” which really doesn’t have an English equivalent. It’s a word that puts the emphasis on the action and not the child. It gives me relief as in Bud does a little naughty and it’s alright unless she continues doing this annoying thing. Lately she’s been running around exclaiming “betise, betise, betise” and that’s my cue to look around the house for her little naughty act. It’s actually kind of fun now. More importantly, she demonstrates that she knows she’s done something she is not supposed to do. Progress.
The “codified eyes”? Those are owl eyes and every time I do them, she cracks up. When she giggles uncontrollably at my big, round eyes it sort of defeats the purpose. But the important thing is that she stops doing the thing I don’t want her to do. It’s also a way to communicate in front other people without embarrassing her by criticizing her behavior, or embarrassing myself. Grace.
Of course the French have many, many resources that American families just don’t have. These resources allow them to live completely different lifestyles, more relaxed and in ways, they are more able to focus on those family values that get talked about a lot here in the States. Child care for example is subsidized by the government and the employers. French mothers are supported and encouraged to work outside the home. They are able to find balance.
You might read this and know that you do these things already. At times I need things spelled out for me in a way that doesn’t require this all-encompassing press of parenting. When I was in graduate school, some of my professors who were also parents informed me that writing a dissertation could more challenging than having children. Indeed my experience with natural childbirth was actually quite easier than getting to my doctorate defense. I thought at that time I could do this whole motherhood thing. Now I’m not so sure. I resist the urge every day to run away. I learned later that completing a doctorate was less about intellectual ability than it was about persistence.
In terms of mothering, I see this is a lesson I need to learn again. I also believe now that things may turn out all right.