Motherhood looks different for me these days, now that I have 3 children instead of one – and now that one of those 3 kids is an interesting breed of child called a “tweenager.” My days used to be characterized by preoccupation with breastfeeding, physical exhaustion, and the constant tension between the time I wanted to spend holding my babies and the time I HAD to spend finishing my patient charts. Now, I spend a lot of time concerned about my 12 year old’s choices, how much screen time she is getting and whether I’m striking the right balance between disciplinarian and trusted friend. Well, maybe I should not be concerned about the latter. After all, I was taught by everyone with an opinion about parenting that we aren’t supposed to be our kids’ friends. At least not until they turn 18.
I’ve got enough experience as a working mom now to know that work-life balance isn’t a real thing (see https://dr-mommydelivers.com/2018/02/20/the-balancing-act/). Instead, more important than striving for the unattainable goal of perfect equilibrium, is to be present wherever I am – to show up fully at work AND at home. I learned that my family, my patients and learners I teach deserve that much.
While I have the lesson of not striving for work-life balance down pat, this new phase of parenting is revealing a few things about myself that I didn’t know – or at least that I don’t care to admit. It’s been like going into the dressing room to try on a new outfit. At first, you make a judgment about how good you look straight-on. Then you check out your backside from a different angle and decide that your first impression of the outfit wasn’t the full story.
For example, I thought I was a good communicator – with my colleagues, patients and friends. This is because I spend much of my days explaining to patients complex concepts about diagnosis and treatment of sometimes not-so-straightforward conditions. They leave the interactions with understanding, or so it seems. The same goes for my learners. I mean, I’ve won a few teaching awards for goodness sake! On the other hand, having certain conversations with my tween leaves me feeling like a blubbering idiot. When she looks at me widely with those brown eyes – and her bushy eyebrows, that she inherited from her Dad, raise and furrow – I know that I’ve lost her. The confusing conversations, that occur far too often in my opinion, cover a broad range of topics. From trivial things like why it’s important to wear a coat in 30-degree weather even if it ruins the look of her outfit or why it’s important to wear lotion, always. She also looks bewildered at me when we discuss more substantial topics like why I think she should wear her natural hair to school every now and then to celebrate her blackness or why I don’t quite think she’s ready to have social media accounts.
In addition to thinking that I communicate well, I also thought I was patient. In any event, my tween shows me on a routine basis that I have about as much patience as my toddler’s attention span. It is for this reason you do NOT want to be in the room with us when I’m helping my tween with her math homework. Physically, I can feel the stir of impatience in my stomach when she got a previous problem correct using the same concept that she’s struggling to apply in the current problem. “Maaa—uuuu-mmmm-uuuhh!” She exclaims in exasperation as she responds to my comment, “But we just went over this…”
Finally, I also used to think I didn’t worry. Now, I find myself thinking very far out in the future about scenarios in her life that haven’t yet happened (and by the way, are statistically unlikely to happen). My sister, a working mother of 3 boys, and I discuss this all the time. And I’ll tell you that I preach what I don’t always practice. “If she doesn’t choose better friends,” I think, “she’ll end up…” You fill in the blank with what you think and I guarantee I’ve thought it as well.
The last thing I’m learning in this new phase of parenting is that my child is not me. It seems like a simple concept, but one that I have to remind myself of constantly. She doesn’t do things or think or react the way I do because we aren’t the same despite her sharing half my DNA. Because of this simple fact, I can’t control her.
I was just on a plane heading back home from a conference. I had an aisle seat and sitting catty corner and behind me was a mother and her 14 month old toddler. Through small talk, I learned that she was a mother of 4 headed on a vacation. She sent her husband and 3 kids ahead to drive to their destination, but she didn’t think the toddler would do well on the long drive. Hence, she was flying with the youngest. I said that flying with kids was so stressful. She said, “Oh, flying with one is better than 4. I think this will be ok”. The toddler proceeded to scream bloody murder to the top of her lungs the whole 2.5 hour flight. People were staring at the mother- some with looks of sympathy, some with looks of annoyance and some looks were just dirty. I could see the mom devolve from confident to defeated. There was literally nothing she could do – despite shushing and hoping that her daughter would yield.
That mother’s plight is like all of ours I think. We are just shushing, rocking and hoping that our kids do the right thing- and that we don’t get too many dirty looks along the way.
Tera Frederick Howard is a wife, mother, physician and author. Follow her on IG @drmommydelivers and at http://www.dr-mommydelivers.com