Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Confessions of a Not-So-Natural Mom

Things have been better, so much better, but when things get better I tend to relax a little, and it isn't long before things start to fall apart again and I am rudely reminded that this job of mothering does not come naturally, at least not to me.

Back when I was longing to become a mother I felt like mothering was what I was made for, like I could not possibly be the "me" I should be without becoming a mother. I still think there's some truth to that, but for some reason this deep, innate desire to be a mother made me believe that once I was a mother, the mothering would come naturally. I would just be good at it. I'd be a natural, just like my mom was, or at least it seemed (still seems!) to me!

As it turns out, nothing about my motherhood has been natural. Babies did not come naturally. Then we went a completely different route and adopted a 4 and 9 year old, starting the parenting process as complete rookies with kids who were already half grown and half raised. And let me tell you, there is nothing natural about that.

I thought becoming a mother would bring out all of my nurturing, creative, and loving tendencies, but instead it mostly conjured up selfishness, anger and a capacity for violence that I didn't even know I was capable of. Even if you are able to restrain yourself, just having the impulse to spank a child out of anger or slap them across the face (even if they did just spit at you) is enough to make you hate yourself.

Ugly, ugly impulses. Human reactions, sure. But from a mother?
I thought I was going to be good at this.

From the very beginning, I found myself having to try SO hard to be kind and loving, patient and selfless. The amount of natural affection I have for my kids is nowhere near what I thought it would be, although it is slowly growing. It's easier with Michael, our now 6 year old, because he returns affection, has from the very beginning. But dear Joe, 11 years old, affection is not his strong suit. I realize not many 11 year old boys are particularly affectionate to their parents. In fact, it seems to me that most of them are just downright awful. It is not an ideal time to work through attachment issues, but they say that 12 is basically too late, so in that sense we should consider ourselves lucky.

With tons of reading and research behind me, I know the right things to do. I know that I can't just react to bad behavior, I have to think about where it is stemming from, and help the child work through it. I have to be kind and loving even when they are being awful. I have to not take it personally. I have to be intentional about giving hugs and affection and quality time so they don't have to ask for it through negative behavior. I have to be attentive to their needs, meeting them before they have a chance to ask, in order to build trust.

All of this is really hard work, and it does not come naturally, at all.

But it's not hopeless. I just need a whole lot of Jesus, and a whole lot of intentionality. I have to work really hard at it, every moment of every day. When I get lazy, or selfish, or start to wallow in self pity, I have to recognize it and get back on track. This is not about me. The work is not over yet. We've come a long way, but there is still much work to be done.

And I have to say, when I am intentional, when I'm on top of my game, when I remember to pray for patience and help and understanding, and I put in the hard work of loving my kids with everything I've got...I can pretty much rock this whole motherhood thing.

So, if there are any other not-so-natural moms out there, don't give up! You don't have to be a natural to be a good mom. Some of us just have to work a little harder at it. Some of us have to pray for help in all the areas we lack, read books and blogs and Scripture, and go to yoga, and practice deep breathing, and remind ourselves over and over again that it's worth it, even on the days when it doesn't seem worth it at all.

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