Posted by: geekycrochetmom | July 23, 2012

Motherhood and that oh-so-elusive balance

Mothers are a good bunch of people. In fact, I think they are the best kind. Sometimes, though, they do things that puzzle me, things that leave me thinking – what was that all about? (Just to make myself clear, let it be known that I am NOT talking about my own mother here).

I have a friend, a good one. She has a very generous heart. She’s so supportive of her daughter, a classmate of my kid, who is smart and mostly quiet. Now, let me spare you some of the specifics lest I give her identity away. Let’s just say that grades and marks mean the world to this mother. In fact, her husband once told me, casually and in passing, about how sorry he feels for their daughter sometimes. Come exam week, the mother reviews her for days until bedtime. In the morning, they go over the lessons at breakfast. And then she throws review questions at the girl during their long drive to school. And I am talking about a 7-year-old here.

Yesterday, she called me and was sounding quite distressed. She was telling me about the girls’ math seatwork on addition (as usual, I was like, “what seatwork?”) and how her daughter got everything wrong. Every single one of them. This was a girl who’s been doing advanced math worksheets in her after-school math tutorials for years. The mom was so furious she called the teacher to apologize and say how embarrassed she was about her daughter’s dismal performance. (Turns out the poor girl just got a bit confused and, when asked to do the seatwork again, answered it perfectly).

What bothered me was when the mother told me how she spanked the daughter and refused to talk to her for two days. Two days. For a seatwork that wasn’t even graded.

I have always been a bit worried about this friend of mine. I admire her dedication and how how much time and effort she puts into these things. Every now and then I would drop tiny hints, saying things like, “Friend, relax” or “Let it go, it’s okay” and stuff like that. I fear that if this went on, the daughter would feel so burnt out she’d have no energy left for college.

Now, I am no saint myself. It seems to me that all I ever do is yell at my kids. I have three kids ages 8, 7, and 6. And when time for schoolwork rolls around in the afternoon, I have to tell you, I sometimes catch myself taking a deep breath, bracing for the worst, and saying – here we go again. I use tactics that no mother can be proud of – guilty trips, shame, and sometimes, threat. (“Why haven’t you practiced your violin?” “How many times do I have to tell you – kumon first before Geronimo Stilton!” and my favorite “Fine. Don’t study. I’m going to go ahead and sleep/crochet/watch TV. You’re on your own now!”, after which the kids will say half-heartedly, “Alright, Mom”. That last one always works. For now… but not for long, I realize).

Once in a while I am able to bite my tongue but most days, after a long day at work I just blow my head off. I am working on it, though. I have dusted off my old book “Power of a Positive Mom” by Karol Ladd and have been lugging it around for days, meaning to find the time to sit and reread it, especially the parts about patience.

Exam weeks are the worst. I feel guilty because I realize all the full-time mothers (my friend included) of my daughter’s class have been working on and printing out reviewers for days… reviewers that have been carefully designed to bring out the best in their kids. They aim for the top. They go for gold. They make mock tests that go like this “ Fill in the blanks: Saint ________________ was born in ____________ at ______________ and went on to study in __________________”. Yup. I kid you not.

I, on the other hand, settle for hastily scribbled mock tests and reviewers that are mostly crammed the night before the exam and then I catch myself saying, “Okay, I think we’re done here. You’re tired. I’m tired. Good luck tomorrow, anak (child)”.

In fact, I have repeatedly told myself – the grades do not matter. What’s important is that my kids do their best and they learn from their lessons. Then the girl comes up to me crying, saying she didn’t get an honors class card unlike the majority of her classmates. And once in a while, she comes home with tests with only 1 or 2 mistakes, and I say to myself, “This makes me so happy. Of course scores matter! Who was I kidding?”

I write this down with my second mug of coffee for the day (decaf this time), not to pass judgment nor to criticize. I write this down to say how incredibly hard it is to become a mother sometimes. How difficult it is to strike that elusive balance between — accepting our children for who they are, flaws and all — AND giving them support they need to bring out the best in them. So precarious, that balance I tell you. My husband tends to lean towards the “bring out the best in them” end. But he’s away on business trips most of the time and I’m left to contend with homework and stuff so, yeah, that was an easy choice for him to make. I, on the contrary and very much ironically (being a kind of control freak myself) have learned to become more lenient. I try to remember what my mom said about having to accept my kids for who they are and to stop comparing them with my much younger self. I try to accept their limitations and focus on their gifts, which are many.

But that was before I laid my hands on “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom “ by Amy Chua . And I certainly don’t feel as “accepting”, not when I am surrounded by these full-time mothers at school who ask things like, “So, what was your daughter’s score in ____? And in ____, how many mistakes did she make?”, this goes on and on… I SO HATE PARENTS’ MEETINGS SOMETIMES! It makes me feel guilty for being such a lazy-head, using “acceptance” as a pathetic excuse for not working hard enough to help my kids. So I end up pushing and yelling anyway.

Oh, but I try to strike that balance. I try SO HARD every single day. Just so you know. Now excuse me while I try to make some reviewers for the girl’s exams before leaving for an important meeting. Ah. Motherhood.

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