Today the leader of my wonderful mothers group spoke about authenticity and embracing yourself as a mother.
I thought I would be writing a flowery, introspective post figuring out "Who am I, What am I all about as a mother?" but then life slapped me with an immediate opportunity to be Authentic.
As it turns out, my authentic self is a Mama Grizzly with BIG SHARP TEETH ready to protect my cub from slings and arrows at all costs - including my dignity. There is another word for what I am that starts with the letter 'b' and rhymes with witch, but this is a family-friendly blog. Anyway, I'm that.
Out of respect for my family I don't want to openly identify which extended family member we had for dinner at our home this evening; suffice to say, it is one that I have had problems with in the past but who I keep trying very hard to get along with.
I'm not good with conflict, I don't like it. At the end of the day I want everyone to hold hands and sing songs together; I don't enjoy having tension with anyone in my life - it keeps me awake at night. I just want to love and be loved.
However, my idealistic little bubble vision of how life *should* work (compared with how life *does* work) gets popped all too frequently... and this particular relative tends to be the one that pops the bubble.
Family is family and I can't cut family out of my life; nor would I want to. My children need all of their relatives ~ it takes a village to raise a child and I have three children which means that I need three villages. I can't afford to lose anyone who might genuinely love and care for these kids and want to be good to them.
All this to say that I spent six hours today from 12 to 6 getting ready to have folks over for dinner; while ferrying kids, grocery shopping and trying to stay on top of 9 loads of laundry. By 5:30pm I looked like someone had cooked me in a steam bath and the house was still not ready, but I persevered and somehow (thanks to the grace of God and Toy Story 3) I was able to jump through the shower, get the pasta boiling and finish sweeping the front room before our company arrived.
My husband doesn't always understand why I feel compelled to clean our house thoroughly before we have company over. Typically he might say something like, "What's the big deal, hon? They don't care what our house looks like."
He's probably right, but as long as we're being authentic - this is the authentic me. I like to have a clean house for company, that is how I was raised, and it isn't a big deal to me. I'd rather get stressed in advance about having things neat and tidy than feel stressed all the way through dinner because the house looks awful and there are no clean hand towels in the bathroom. I'm a stresser by nature, so I like to manage how and under what circumstances I stress out.
So there we were... guests arrived, husband finally home from work, wine on the table, kids playing.
Anyone keeping up with this blog though knows that my kids have been experiencing a relatively hard time together lately and that we've been struggling as parents with their bully/victim dynamic. This morning brought another choice head-punching experience which left the little brother with a bloody elbow and his skull knocked on the curb of the sidewalk. NOT GOOD.
So, when I say "kids playing", those are loaded words.
What it means is that my husband and I were trying to hold a conversation with our company while our three children (who inhaled their dinners) went outside to race matchbox cars. At first their racing was cute, with the toddler giggling gleefully and raising her little arms every time her car shot down the track, "Yay!!!! MeMe Win!!!!"
It didn't take long though for the steady succession of tears to start. A parade into and out of the house of little boys tattling on each other, crying to their mommy about what "He did."
In retrospect I am realizing that I should probably have given up on eating dinner and simply gone to sit outside with them as they raced their cars. I was caught up in trying to be a good host though and wanting to set my best foot forward to mend fences with our guest, and I wasn't paying attention closely enough to the dynamic between our sons.
It was embarrassing though, to me, to hear the judgments coming from across the table about our children's behavior.
"Those boys need to stop their whining... Stop your crying, we don't want to see you in here crying to your mother."
The essential message being directed toward them (and me) was that they needed to "Man up" and stop fussing like little children attached to their mother's apron strings. The thinly veiled implication I felt, perhaps too sensitively, was that I was too indulgent of their tantrums, and that I should basically let them go outside and fight it out physically.
I smiled politely through most of this advice, doled out liberally and with a healthy dose of white wine.
This was NOT me being authentic though, because the authentic me does not take kindly to other people telling me that my children have issues. Believe me, I KNOW THAT MY CHILDREN HAVE ISSUES. I don't need a guest at my dinner table to point it out for me, even if that guest is a family member.
However when my younger son came into the house with tears streaming down and told me that his brother had just hit him again, I did not appreciate our guest yelling at him: "Get the hell out of here and go play outside. Stop whining to your mother. We don't want to listen to this."
I didn't think, didn't intend to - it just came out. The fierce, protective mama bear in me snarled very VERY loudly.
"You DO NOT speak to him like that. You MAY NOT talk to him that way! This is MY home."
My grammar wasn't even correct... the words came tumbling forth before I even knew that I was going to say them. I found myself simultaneously furious that an adult relative invited for dinner in my home would speak so rudely and crassly to my three year old child; yet also incredibly humiliated at my own lapse in good manners.
My husband tried to smooth over the moment by saying something generally placating, something like "I don't think you meant what you said the way that she heard it," to our relative. Later he came into the kitchen where I was putting together dessert to give me a kiss, which I think was his way of showing solidarity or at least saying that he wasn't angry with me for losing my cool.
We managed to get through the rest of the evening without any further sparks flying and once the company had left to go home, he and I sat down briefly to talk over what had happened.
"I'm just so embarrassed," I told him, "Because that is not how I was raised to act in polite company. I am angry at (our guest)'s behavior and humiliated by my own."
"I don't think you have anything to be embarrassed about," he said. "I think that was the only moment tonight when you were being your authentic self. That is exactly how you would have talked to me if I had said something negative to one of our kids. You should be your true self around (the relative) all of the time, I think they would really respect that."
"Yes, but the 'true' self you are talking about is the one that I like *least* about myself - not the one that I like *best* about myself. I'm not proud of myself in moments when I speak disrespectfully to anyone... least of all, family."
"Well you were honest," he replied. "And that is a good thing."
Now that he's gone to bed and I'm left alone in our living room typing and thinking about everything that transpired in my day from the wonderful discussion of authenticity at my mothers group this morning... through hours of frenetic cleaning and cooking... all the way to the snappy comment that I made at the dinner table that my husband feels was "authentic".
These are the questions I am reflecting on, although I have no answers:
- What does it mean that I don't feel comfortable being direct with everyone in my life about who I am and what I believe about parenting... especially if I know or suspect that our philosophies of parenting are in direct conflict?
- Is my husband right that I should 'let it all hang out' even it if it means being caustic or rude?
- Shouldn't I be trying to grow out of the authentic qualities that come naturally to me, if they are unattractive qualities?
- At what point as a mother do I tell everyone else with an opinion about how I should be raising my kids to shove off? (Especially if I myself am wondering what I am doing wrong with my kids!)
- Was our guest right? Am I too indulgent as a mother? Am I responsible for all of the conflict between my sons? Am I responsible for everything that goes wrong in our home?
It's a tough nut for me to crack though, because I don't always like who I am as a mother and I don't like the rudeness that comes naturally to me as a person. I've always had a sharp tongue and an intolerance for meanness or ineptitude, something my mother has commented on since I was a teenager - and this is something I really don't like about myself. My impatience is not a virtue.
There is also a difference between a sharp tongue and a quick wit... I'm not great with humor but I'm rich with sarcasm at times - and that is also something I really don't value in myself. Irony was a valuable tool as a 7th grade teacher... it doesn't lend itself well to mothering small children. I have to watch myself like a hawk not to say all of the things to my children that I think about through the course of a given day.
So I'm signing off for the night without a clear understanding of how I feel about authenticity or my own behavior when I'm acting "authentically" as my husband sees it.
Was I a hero tonight for standing up for my son to someone who told him to "Get the hell out" of our house?
Was I completely lame and self-righteous for telling off a guest that I'd invited to my home?
I just don't know. Possibly both?
The one thing I'm sure of right now is that I'm authentically exhausted and 100% ready to give up for the day and try again tomorrow. I'm guessing there will be more to come on this topic down the road.