Oct 302008

Of course I had planned to write about something completely different. Again. I should just get used to it. Do you do that too? Do you have a list with ideas for posts on it that goes back more than a year?

Well, Rae wrote something about the tooth fairy which tied in with the fact that one of my son’s teeth has started to come lose. For about a year now he has asked us if there will be a tooth fairy at our house when he’ll lose his teeth. And for a year (or maybe more) I have said, “I don’t know, I’ll have to talk with your father about it.”

You see, when I was a child there was no talk of tooth fairies here in Germany. Losing a tooth, and especially the first tooth was, of course, a milestone but then you had the option of putting it somewhere safe, or throwing it away. Now that Germany seems to become more US-like every day all of a sudden not only do we celebrate Halloween, but there seem to be Santa Clauses and Tooth Fairies around too. I’m confused.

On the subject of Halloween in Germany I have to say: What? Halloween? Dressing up is what carnival is for, also the 31st of October is Reformation Day, and now do I have to buy candy for tomorrow or not? Because the year before last there were about ten trick or treaters. Last year there was none, not a single one, and I ended up eating all the candy myself. Three years ago there were two, by the way, they knocked on our door two days too early and put liquid soap in our mailbox because I didn’t give them candy on account of thinking they were joking. That’s what happens when you adopt foreign customs, you get them all wrong and get confused. End of Halloween rant.

So, with the tooth fairy. I’m completely opposed to giving children money for something like losing a tooth. My husband feels the same obviously, he mumbled something like, “What will children get money for next, pooping?” Which leaves us with a bit of dilemma nonetheless because, according to our son, he will be the only child in kindergarten (or maybe the whole world) who won’t receive a toy for losing a tooth. Bummer. And again, foreign customs equal confusing because as far as I know in the English-speaking world there will be coins for teeth, not toys.

I haven’t spoken with the other parents about this but I expect it to be a bit like the “tradition” of gift bags for children who attend birthday parties. As far as I know this “custom” is about five years old. But in an act of collective memory loss everybody nowadays knows, of course, that if you’re hosting a birthday party for your offspring, every little guest has to receive a nice little bag with little plastic toys and yet more candy. So far I have avoided the “gift bag issue” by doing making crappy non-fitting pirate hats with the children which they could take home with them. Ahem.

I could tell my son to suck it up, or tell him the truth, “Your parents are mean and do everything different than others, get used to it.” but somehow I think he won’t like it. So once again we’re opting for not lying to our son, there is no tooth fairy, no Easter bunny, and no Santa Claus. We also tell him not to talk about this too much because there are people out there who want their children to believe in these stories, and they don’t like it when you tell them different.

In the end I thought about the underlying need he had. His real reason for asking about the tooth fairy isn’t that he wants his childhood to be more magical. (It’s magical enough as it is because he lives a parallel life where he is the queen of Teddyland. Teddyland is the land where it’s always summer, there are fairies and unicorn dances, and nobody has to brush their teeth. All his stuffed animals are alive there. They also have excursions to Candyland quite often. Just so you know.)

The underlying need is the want for toys and money. He is in a phase where he believes that if only he had all the toys and things and sweets he wants he surely would be happy. We try to tell him otherwise, and we try to help him be happy too but it might take a bit of additional convincing. The concept of money is very fascinating to him, he tries to understand it, and why I get to buy books, and magazines, and yarn, and he doesn’t. At least not as much.

So today, on the spur of the moment, I decided that he will start getting pocket money when his tooth falls out. He found that quite nice, then said, “But I’m getting pocket money already.” No, you’re not. When one gets pocket money one gets it every week. Wow! You should have seen him. Much better than the tooth fairy. Money every week!

Jul 182008

I just spent fifteen minutes on my computer, changing the color scheme of my blog. You might not notice all the work I put into it because just when I had it all set, and when I looked at it in its neutral, white, readable, not candy-colored glory I decided to change it back to the same colors it had before.

In a way that’s very typical of the things I’m doing these days. I agonize about the color scheme, I imagine people being put off by it, resorting to reading it in a feed reader because all the pastels are hurting their eyes, or deciding they don’t like the blog at all because of all these colors, and pictures, and on top of that flash ads. Hrmph. And knitting content, or not enough knitting content, and silly fictional stories, and not enough posts about my son, and being a parent, and whatever.

So for now I declare that I won’t bother with the theme, and color scheme of my blog any further until I either a) have the urge to make a new header picture, or b) about 50 people tell me that they hate it and that it takes forever to load. Which it does. Thanks to the tasty flash animation. Sorry.

I’m feeling a bit down, nothing unusual, it has been raining, and raining, and raining, I have a cold that’s getting better very slowly, my son is cranky and has a cold too, and my period came about every three weeks for the last two months which is a) too much information, I know, and b) highly unusual. I went to see my doctor because of this, and she told me very kindly that this isn’t unusual at my age. I’m taking some herbal medicine and vitamins and hope for the best.

My son is a bit unhappy and therefore quite cranky. His best friend will start elementary school in September and he is already very sad about it. Which he then expresses by telling that he doesn’t want to play with his friend anyway. And for every day that they play happily at kindergarten there’s another one where they are telling each other that they are not each other’s friends anymore. Consequently my son has been either very clingy with me or acting up. Usually he’s clingy when we have to part, or when I can’t spend time with him, and then he shuns me when there would be time for us to be together. Fun!

All that together with the traditional “fight about getting up”, “fight about getting dressed”, “fight about eating breakfast”, and “fight to get out the door on time”, in the morning, and the equally traditional “fight about eating dinner”, “fight about getting into pajamas”, “fight about brushing teeth”, “fight about how long to read before bed”, “fight about when mother can leave child’s bedroom”, “fight about how long mother has to stay in the adjacent room”, and “fight about whether child has to stay in bed”, and “fight about whether child has to sleep at all”, and, finally, “fight about how often child can get up after sleeping time before mother totally loses it”.

I know, I’m the adult, I should be able to stay calm, and patient, and nice through all of this but, well, it’s not easy. If he hadn’t been sick this week I’d told him to just stay up as long as he wants to, I don’t care. Somehow he has to understand that sleep is not some cruelty that I force upon him but something very much in his own interest.

I started this blog post just before lunch, and now I’m while I’m waiting for my last student who obviously doesn’t come life looks a bit brighter. My dear husband is vacuuming in the background, for which I’m very, very grateful. (He just asked why I’m the one blogging, and he’s the one doing housework. It could be the other way around. Seems I’m a mean chauvinist pig. (I dusted! And did the grocery shopping! And I’ll upgrade his blog on the weekend!)

I have a nice little blog post that I wrote into my notebook more than a week ago while waiting for the train at midnight. I thought that would be the next one to post but then I’d have to type it into the computer. It’s not that I’m completely disorganized. The notebook has been sitting next to the computer for that past week.

I’m still doing more thinking about all the things I should be doing right now and will have to do until the end of the year than actual doing the things I should do. I can tell you that’s really exhausting. I don’t know if I’ll ever learn it. Doing the things one after the other really needs much less energy. I have been making progress, some things have moved and are looking better but I’m still at the point where every heap of stuff that gets done reveals another heap underneath.

This weekend at least we’ll be home, no parties, no visits, well, almost no visits, no vacuuming or dusting or grocery shopping, I bet I can do everything on my list and start a few new projects.

What do you think?

Jul 042008

A few days ago when my son, my husband, and I were having breakfast, the conversation turned to fainting, and from there to corsets. (What, you’re not talking about things like that at breakfast? Oh, you’re not talking at breakfast. Well, that’s the only meal we always eat together.) Let me explain: my son had been feeling a bit dizzy lately because it was very hot and humid, he has been growing fast, and so he started to ask me about feeling dizzy and fainting. My husband said that women used to faint all the time, and I said that was because of corsets. After my son had listened to my automatic lecture about the importance of drinking enough water he asked, “What’s a corset?” We tried to explain. He was puzzled, why would somebody want to wear something like that? Well, it all comes down to coolness, I said. “It’s like when you’d rather get heatstroke than wear the sun-hat you don’t like because your “cool” baseball cap is in the wash.” He wasn’t really convinced. (He wore his hat that day, though. After we had “talked it cool” by comparing it to a cowboy hat and such.)

Still, he couldn’t get over the fact that women would wear something as uncomfortable as that, something that makes you almost unable to breathe. My next thought was, “Today’s women would never do that!” But then I thought of high heels. Shoes that make your feet hurt, and your back, and your knees, and your hips, and you can’t even walk in them. And then – I thought of cosmetic surgery. And made the mistake of talking about that as well. Have you ever tried to explain to your kindergardener why some women want to put plastic bags into their body? Because they think it looks pretty?

Of course, I couldn’t really explain it to him because I don’t understand it myself. I do understand not feeling pretty, I understand not being content with the way I look (though I wish I couldn’t). But pay a fortune to have surgery that isn’t really necessary? And where do you stop, then? When you look like a Barbie doll? When you have grown so old that your heart doesn’t take it anymore?

Cosmetic surgery is on the rise, and I sense a paradigm shift that makes it more “normal”. Younger and younger women are thinking about it, and having it, even at an age where their bodies aren’t yet finished.

I’m really worried about a lifestyle where we are defined by our looks. Where we try to look like the ideal 18-year-old until we die.

I’m also very worried that something like cosmetic surgery seems to be much more available these days. Until not that long ago, in Germany, cosmetic surgery was only for people who really needed it. People with horrible scars and such. Nowadays it’s something that you just pay for. Don’t like your nose? Snip.

I’d love to be able to tell my son that people have evolved since the days of the corset but it seems they haven’t.

(And, please, don’t forget to send your links for the Just Post roundtable. My e-mail address is creativemother AT web DOT de.)

Apr 252008

I just bought a new book.

I know, how unusual, and I even read it, and read it with much pleasure. It’s called “the creative family” by Amanda Blake Soule and with that title of course I had to have it. Also I love Amanda’s blog, I find it very soothing and positive and inspirational and it’s the same with the book. So before you read anything else you have to keep in mind that I really love the book, am about to read it for the second time in a row and just went out to get embroidery supplies to embroider some of my son’s drawing onto cloth even though I never liked embroidery before. I will make quite a few of her projects and am looking forward to do some “family drawing time” in the future. There was only one thing in the whole book that didn’t sit right with me and that started with the following paragraph from the introduction:

Given the creative nature of children, it is no coincidence that so many of us are led to seek a more creative life in their presence. Either an old creative passion or pursuit that has been forgotten is internally churned up, or we suddenly feel a need for something else in our lives when we’ve never considered ourselves creative before. Being around even the youngest children – and the purity of their rich creative energy – brings out our need for that same innovative spirit. They inspire us not only to nurture and embrace all of who they are, but to nurture and embrace our own creative selves as well.

(from “The Creative Family”, p. 2)

I know that my situation before having a child was quite different from hers in that I already was an artist then. I wasn’t exactly lacking imagination or creative spirit, only energy and sometimes time to make music, or write, or craft. Then I got pregnant and tired all the time and tried to record vocals for my husband’s CD while being out of breath, tried to help him mix the CD while being extremely sensitive to loud noises (and music), then had a baby, and was even more tired all the time while trying to parent, teach, and still make music on the side while helping my husband with his next CD, recording vocals during naptime, and once with a baby on my hip (oh no, on his hip, but in the same room, and it even kept quiet). So, while I always encourage people to be creative and while I have even written a series of posts about how to be creative when you don’t have the time, resources, or space for it there are several things about having children that don’t foster creativity for me.

Before I dive into list-making though I have to tell you that I really love my son and really think that he makes my life richer. He is a very creative and imaginative person. He’s fun to be with. So this is not about him, it’s about the daily things that come with having children.

  1. I’m tired. When I’m tired my body wants me to sleep, or eat and rest, not to spend energy making art.
  2. I have much less time than when I didn’t have a child even though I teach less. I have to spend a lot of time caring for my son or attending to household chores that didn’t exist before. For example ever since I returned from the hospital after his birth our laundry has been triple the amount than before.
  3. I’m being interrupted constantly. It’s much harder to find time to hear myself think.
  4. After talking with him for more than ten minutes I feel as if my brain is dripping out of my ears. Now, don’t get me wrong, he is an intelligent and entertaining human being, it’s only that after being talked at for an hour about robots, or building a submarine in the backyard, or going to the moon with his stuffed bunny in a LEGO rocket I usually need about thirty minutes of quiet time on my own to feel like I have any mental capacity at all.
  5. There is so much more organizational detail to attend to that my mind gets constantly drawn towards things like bringing money to kindergarten for the field trip, organizing baby sitting, searching for his rain pants, remembering that he had his rain pants with him when he went to that birthday party three weeks ago, asking the mother of his friend where his rain pants are, searching again because that other mother said her husband had dropped the pants off at our place, remembering while her husband might be sure that he did that I haven’t set eyes on the pants since my son left for the birthday party, making a note on my to-do-list to buy new rain pants at the second hand store, actual remember the rain pants when I’m near the store, go in, look for pants in his size, not finding any, make another note for another day, finally after three attempts get new rain pants, only to have him lose them at kindergarten the following week, start over. – And that was only one thing. And one child.
  6. Did I mention that I’m tired? Before I had a child when I stayed up late I just slept in the next day and restored my energy. Nowadays if I stay up late I have to pay for it for three days straight.

These things don’t make being creative impossible but it’s much harder. Even on weekends there is never a feeling of “open end”. Creativity has to be pressed into whatever slice of time is available. And for me that is partly the reason that most of my creativity these days comes out in knitting and blog posts, and there are no new songs written by me. That’s not to say that I can’t be creative with my son around but I have to say that I find it hard.

And I have found that there are different degrees of creativity for me. Things like knitting or sewing other people’s patterns, while fun, don’t fulfill my creative urge adequately (and neither would designing my own patterns, I tried). Writing blog posts is okay but writing fiction is better. Practicing guitar and playing other people’s songs is okay, improvising is better, and writing my own songs is best. But writing my own songs or writing fiction is neither “fun” nor relaxing for me. It’s hard and takes a lot of energy. I tried to find a way to make this easier but even when everything flows perfectly afterwards I feel like I have climbed a hill. And also my mind is entirely elsewhere. My son doesn’t like this. Nobody likes it when his mother has this far-away look on her face and doesn’t really pay attention.

The creativity Amanda talks about in her book is mostly the crafting type. And in the book there are mostly projects you can do with your children, which I love. But that’s just it. I can sit next to my son and knit, even while he plays or draws or even knits himself. (I’m so proud of him, he has knitted all of two rows on a scarf for his teddy bear. Of course after that he lost interest again.) Sometimes, very rarely, I’ll even play the guitar a little or sing while he’s with me but I can’t do more than that. Creating art requires your full attention and your child does too. Which is why even Amanda does most of her book writing and serious embroidery and sewing at night after her children have gone to bed.

Please understand that I am not saying anything against her or her book, in fact I strongly recommend buying it, it is lovely and very inspirational. That paragraph I quoted was only the starting point for me to say something that has been on my mind for a long time (and on my husband’s even longer). I find that I am not alone in this. I see a lot of musicians who used to practice for hours every day spending their evenings slumping in front of TV these days because they feel too brain dead after a day with their children. I also see people picking up something new through their children’s activities like the mother who started playing the guitar when her daughter didn’t want to any longer and who is now learning something she always wanted.

So, what’s your experience? Are you more creative or less since you’ve had children? (Of course, comments are open for people without children too…

Feb 022008

I’ve been thinking a lot about schools and learning the past days. It all began with the question of whether our son should be starting elementary school early (that would be this fall) or regularly a year later. I had been thinking about this already last year. In all the thinking and talking to kindergarten teachers (“Better wait.”) and the pediatrician (“But of course he has to start school this fall!”) I got totally emotional and nervous. And I wondered why. Because, truth to be told, I don’t think that it really will make much of a difference for our son and both ways would be sound. And, as much as we can tell so far, he probably will do well in elementary school. Either way.

I only realized why I got all worked up about this when I went to look at a nearby Montessori school. I entered the classroom, I saw the teachers, I heard their presentation and thought, “That’s how school is supposed to be!” And I realized how much I had suffered as a child in school because I had to learn so slowly. I didn’t get top grades but basically I just sat there, made an attentive-looking face and thought of something else.

I’d like my son to have the chance to learn as fast or slow as he needs to.

The other thing that has me all worked up is the Bavarian school system. When I studied music education I learned a lot about the various school systems in the different parts of Germany. When my husband and I got married, and when I briefly worked as a music teacher in a Bavarian school, I told my husband that we had to move somewhere else in case we had children so that they didn’t have to go to school here.

All in all it’s a jumbled mess of reformed reforms, of decision made hastily and then altered because it all didn’t work. That’s possibly true of most institutions but the Bavarian school system is especially prone to promote only a few elite students and leave the rest behind.

There are only very few students who still love knowledge and learning after leaving school even if they have been successful there. I can see it right now at kindergarten level when dozens of people tell my son that he should be glad to still be in kindergarten because he won’t be having any time for playing anymore once he’ll start elementary school. (Which is crap by the way, school’s from 8 to 1 and they don’t have much homework the first two or three years.) I see it in a kindergarten teacher telling another parent – while I and our two children were standing nearby – that it’s a shame, the things first graders have to do these days in schools, some of the lessons were too hard even for the kindergarten teacher!

And then, in third grade, it gets worse because then the children are pressured to get good grades otherwise their chances of getting access to a college or university education later in life will be minimal. (Really.) And if they get top grades and get admitted to the Gymnasium the fun only begins. With the recent reform of the system joy of learning and knowledge has a very hard time in school today. “Learning” is again used as a synonym for “cramming as much facts in your head as it can hold until the next test and then forgetting all about it”. Learning is considered to be hard, to be something one only does when forced to, something that isn’t fun for sure. And it’s not as if the students were taught how to learn, it seems as if they just get fact after fact dumped on them, without any strategies of how to deal with that.

I, on the other hand, still believe that learning is fun, that it’s something that occurs naturally, and especially that children are eager to learn as much as they possibly can. Just like Maria Montessori did.

In order to have our son visit a Montessori school we’d have to pay about 350 € every month for school, have him driven to school to the next town, and we’d have to be lucky to get him in since there are much more people interested than they can take. Regular elementary school is free, it’s nearer to our house than kindergarten, and it has to take him by law.

Those of you outside Germany might ask why I don’t homeschool him, seeing that I am that passionate about learning and a teacher on top of that. Well, homeschooling is illegal in Germany. This goes back to the 19th century when children were forced to go to school for the first time ever, even those whose parents depended on their labor, like farmers. I always believed that this is a good thing that it makes society a bit more equal.

But now that it is about my son I’d like him to be a bit less equal, or better yet, that all the children can have access to schools where learning is fun and where both teachers and students are looking forward to go to every day.

I know that there are still a lot of children in the world who would love to go to school and can’t. Children who have to work for money like they were adults, children who’d love to learn anything, and can’t. But still I’d like to live somewhere where learning is driven less by fear and more by enthusiasm.

Nov 302007

There have been quite a few posts about toys lately which is only natural since Christmas is only a few days away and our children will be getting toys for Christmas. In our house the situation is always quite extreme because our son’s birthday is a week before Christmas. And though my husband and I try to keep it small there will be toy overkill. But that’s not what I’ve been wanting to write about in this post.

I have been thinking about plastic toys. I’m not particularly fond of plastic toys as such. On the other hand there are plastic toys that I loved when I was a child myself and that I still consider great toys. I’m speaking of LEGO and playmobil.

Last year my son received a huge amount of playmobil cars, a helicopter, a doll house, an ark, animals, and whatnot for his birthday and so I consider the playmobil department overflowing. I don’t think that he really needs more of that. Of LEGO he has quite a bit but only in the duplo size which is aimed at preschoolers. So I broke out the LEGO catalogue, and sat down with my son to see what he would like to have.

Okay, that was a lie. These catalogues are what he is usually “reading” every day. I always deemed this a harmless and nice pastime until about two years ago when I had to rip out all the pages containing bionicles because my son was so scared and fascinated by them that he couldn’t stop talking about them. He still thinks that bionicles are totally cool but I told him they are for bigger children only. So he’s looking forward to his eighth birthday because then he will have horrible black creatures throwing plasma balls and riding monstrous spiders.

Since I have been following these catalogues for a few years I have the impression that there are more and more of these bionicle-like LEGO toys. Do I want my then 5-year-old-son to play with hideous alien monsters of which every single one carries at least two weapons? No.

I feel a bit hypocritical writing this because it was me who gave my son a duplo castle with knights and armored horses and a fire-breathing dragon. I didn’t like the ferocious faces of the dragon knights and the amount of weapons that each single knight came with but in the end it turned out well, my son had the knights cooking meals and sleeping in the castle all of them together, caring for sick horses and the dragon. Mostly.

I know that children’s play has to include aggression, that it’s their way of making sense of the world, and that children everywhere incorporate scenes of conflict and war into their play. I only don’t want to give my son a toy that’s only a weapon. – Says she who gave her son a wooden sword last year. I don’t know what it is but somehow unarmed combat and sword-fighting seem more noble to me than pointing a gun. So far I don’t want any toy guns in the house (nor real ones, of course).

So, back to LEGO. There are several sets aimed at the younger children, most of them things like an airport, a police station, a hospital, and firefighters. And then comes a whole range of really cool sets, and “worlds”, all involving fighting. There are aqua raiders who are obviously doing research underwater. And then all their submarines come with guns, and they have to fight ghastly skeletons and sharks. The thing that I loved at first sight was the “mars mission”. Anything with space ships and astronauts has to be good, hasn’t it? Well, to my son and me anyway. So what do we find? Instead of research there are glowing-in-the-dark aliens and fighting over minerals. Aliens are imprisoned, and there is nothing but fighting between them and humans.

In short, almost every set of LEGO is about fighting and shooting. Apart from the sets that are for children age 12 or older that involve building cars and such. And every single thing about LEGO seems to be about vehicles or machines. And here I was, thinking that LEGO was for building houses.

Playmobil isn’t better, you have lots and lots of pirates fighting, roman soldiers fighting, vikings fighting, knights fighting, you get the picture. Of course, like with LEGO, there are real world sets too, houses, and a zoo, police and such. I probably should be very thankful that all those fighting scenes take place in a sort of fairyland. That there are no real soldiers with real weapons.

So I don’t quite know what to do. While I’m typing this my son is sitting on the floor building a tank out of castle parts. I’m not worried much because he usually quits this kind of play after a short time since he has to care for his pregnant stuffed bunny. But stuffed bunnies are not cool. Deformed machine-like people who let destruction rain on the world obviously are.

Girls, by the way, don’t get to play war. They get the double pink princess-unicorn-fairytale-castle. Where the princess gets everything her heart desires (including the handsome and brave prince) because of her beauty. Which poses another problem.

I know this post is totally ambivalent but that’s because I am too. I only wish that there could be toy sets about research and adventures that didn’t involve killing.

So, how do you feel about this? Anyone with bionicles in the house? Am I over-reacting?

Sep 302007

I know I have written about “mommy guilt” before but I want to try to put it together this time. For years I had thought that I wasn’t suffering from it. After the first few months of being a mother where I was feeling guilty for going to work and not participating in any mother-and-baby-groups, or baby swimming or not massaging my son every day, I decided I had enough of that, that he just had to live with his life as it was and that he at least wasn’t growing up being totally dependent on me. And so I proudly announced that there was no mommy guilt for me.

Only I did still feel guilty from time to time. Because I’m not the mother I want to be, because other mothers do different things with their children, and because – to be frank often I try to sneak away and do something on my own. Like computer things. And when you’re a mother that’s Wrong.

I read about mothers feeling guilty all the time on blogs even if the mothers I meet in real life rarely talk about it. But even if they don’t talk about it you can feel it. Every time when two or more mothers meet you can sense it. And it isn’t triggered by competimoms only, every single, innocent remark can, and probably will, trigger someone’s guilt. “Look, we made cupcakes and decorated the room.” someone says, and the likes of me think about how they never bake anything, and that their method of decoration is to give their children paper and scissors and afterwards saying, “That’s really nice, of course you can tape it to the fence.” On the other hand I then say, “Oh, my son isn’t going to music class, but he likes to bang on the drums and piano, and walk around with the guitar pretending he is a rock star.” and immediately all the other mothers feel guilty for not creating such a stimulating creative environment for their children, while I feel guilty that my son who is the son of two musicians grows up without any musical training. The list can go on and on. Someone says, “Oh, we go to the playground every day.” and I feel rotten because I never go to the playground and my poor son has no peers to play with, and then I say, “Oh, we just open the door and let him out in the garden.” and the other mother feels rotten because her son has to grow up in a tiny apartment without his own sandbox and swing.

In the end we all feel rotten, those of us who bake cupcakes, those of us who grow their own food, those of us who let their children watch TV, those of us who don’t, those of us who work, those of us who stay at home, every single one. Every mother who cares about her children (and I’d say there are only very few who don’t and they probably don’t blog about it) feel guilty and like she isn’t doing enough or doing things wrong.

I recently read a post by Chris Jordan on this: “The Modern Mother“. She quotes her mother-in-law who said being a mother was easier fifty years ago. It might have been but I recall the stories my mother and my mother-in-law tell and they always had the feeling that they were not good enough as a mother somehow, plus they were feeling rotten because they wanted to work outside the home, and they couldn’t.

So, I don’t think that going back fifty years is the solution (and neither does Chris Jordan, by the way). I just think that when every single mother in the Western Hemisphere (or maybe only most of them) feel guilty about the way they are treating their children, this is not a personal phenomenon, this is social. And it is always a good thing to remember that societies are made by human beings and that the rules therefore can be changed by human beings too.

I have been reading the sentence, “I better start saving for my child’s therapy bill because I …” (yelled at her, lost my temper, have let my child down in any way) so often. And every single time I’d like to write a comment and say, “Cool down. If that’s the worst that ever happens to your child it is very fortunate indeed.” All this implicates that mothers should be somehow superhuman. Patience personified. Never making mistakes. Never treating their children unfair. We all have this image in our heads of the loving mother surrounded by her children, nurturing always. At the end of the day she sits in the midst of her children who all are smiling with perfectly brushed teeth wearing their hand-sewn pajamas, and reads them stories before tucking them in their beds. Do you realize that this is propaganda that is more than a hundred years old? Propaganda that got resurrected in the 1950s and that’s still sitting in our heads? Only now we have to be hot, sexy, intelligent, self-reliable and making money too.

In 2005 I read “The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined All Women” by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels and it opened my eyes. We all have this image of the ideal mother in our heads, and it is blasted at us from all media too. Imagine a celebrity saying that she is overwhelmed by new motherhood! Somewhere inside of us we secretly still think that becoming a mother is the most fulfilling and joyful thing we can ever achieve. And in a way it might be but then we don’t always feel fulfilled and joyful all day long. Blogs are giving us the opportunity to see real mothers in real life who also talk about the less joyful aspects of it all. Still we think that nothing we can ever do will be enough. Still we think that we are the key to our children’s happiness. That we alone hold their fates in our hands.

Well, it’s time to stop this. Our children are their own persons. They determine their own fates as much as the people around them. We should always be grateful that we live in places where we have the energy and time to worry about whether it’s good for our children to have swimming lessons or too much cake. All the children of the people who read this have enough to eat, a roof over their heads, clothes to keep them warm and mothers and/or fathers who love them and care for them. Mommy guilt is a luxury problem that harms us and our children.

I have a little task for you: every time you catch yourself thinking, “I’m a bad mother.” or “My child will need therapy because of me.” or something similar, replace it with, “I love my child and trust him (or her) to turn out okay” or “Being myself is all I have to do.”.

Okay, I don’t seem to be good at making new slogans against mommy guilt. I’m afraid you have to help me out here. What will you be replacing your old mommy guilt phrases with?

Aug 152007

So I promised to wrap up the comments you all made to my post about “Children and Responsibility”. All of us agreed that it is a good thing for children to learn how to be responsible, and to take part in the daily chores. Since most of our children are rather small the tasks they can do tend to be things like picking up and sorting.

One of the most helpful comments to me was the one Anne wrote. Sadly there are no posts in her blog. I hope there will be. She also addressed several ways of asking a child to do something. I like her emphasis on teaching the actual skills versus the chore aspect of this. Obviously meno’s daughter has the most things to do which isn’t surprising since said daughter is about 16. Sober put it best when she wrote:

All the things that Anne said – not actually being responsible for a task, but learning alongside, taking turns doing things that he can do and watching you do the things that require the precision of an adult.

In addition to your comments I have done a little thinking on my own and pulled out a copy of “Kinder fördern im Alltag.” (Petra Kunze, Catharina Salamander)“. So, a preschooler like my son should be able to do the following:

  • pick up his toys
  • dress and undress himself
  • set the table (in our house somebody else will have to get the dishes because he can’t reach them)
  • fetch things from the fridge
  • help to peel and cut vegetables
  • rake leafs, help with yard work like watering (my son has his own little rake and watering can), pull weeds, put seeds into the ground, pot plants
  • pour juice, milk, or cereal
  • sort laundry
  • put dirty laundry in the hamper
  • put fresh laundry away
  • load and unload the dishwasher
  • help with grocery shopping, fetch things that are on low shelves, take a little shopping cart and push it through the store (my son also often gets to decide which cheese we’re buying, which fruit or vegetables
  • put the groceries away when home
  • put his own things back where they belong
  • clean up spills

So there are a lot of things that even a preschooler can do. My next question of course is, “How do I motivate him to do any of this?” I’m a little reluctant to make any of this things his “duty”. This is not how our family works. While there are things that one or the other of us does more frequently (I do most of the shopping and errands while my husband cares for recycling, for example.), mostly everybody does everything as needed. Sometimes on of us cooks, sometimes the other, sometimes both or all three. Sadly our son isn’t interested to join us. He’d rather sit and draw a picture or look at a book. (Yes, he truly is his mother’s son.)

As a friend pointed out to me, “After a while it just isn’t fun anymore.” Well, I didn’t know housework was supposed to be fun, I just know that it has to be done regardless of how you like to do it. And I definitely know that spreading it around and doing it together helps in making it more fun.

I have noticed that my son is especially reluctant to help if he thinks he won’t be able to accomplish the task. So sometimes all it takes is to show him that he can do it. He’s very eager to try things like make his own sandwiches. And when I get him to help he is always very pleased with himself. Like today I put everything that was needed to set the table out and he did the rest himself. After a lot of whining, “Why do I always have to do so much?”, and us pointing out that there are people actually doing more than him, he was perfectly happy to have set the table on his own.

Housework isn’t such a big deal but it’s the first and easiest way our children can contribute something to family life. And everybody has to learn how to care for himself or others.

Thank you for all your helpful suggestions. After reading your comments I kept thinking of more and more ways to involve my son. He doesn’t appreciate it now but he sure will in the future. As Hel wrote:

I hated doing chores as a child but now I am able to create a pleasant living space free of old crusty pieces of bread and unwashed cups.

On the subject of responsibility and hovering parents I might have to write another post soon.