Most of us step into parenthood with a long list of things we won’t do the same way our parents did. If our parents limited TV or sweets, we vow that our kids will learn to set their own limits. If our parents fed us a steady diet of Coke and Fritos, we promise that our kids will only drink water and eat organic fruits and vegetables.
I started my time as a mother with all sorts of ideas of how my mother had gotten it all wrong. She spent large chunks of my childhood debilitated by chronic pain, PMS, depression, hoarding, and a myriad of other illnesses. She wasn’t consistent with household routines, rules, or her contributions to our home and the world at large. But as I’ve lived almost nine years steeped in the ceaseless demands on my time and energy that motherhood brings, my view of my mother has softened. I’ve always loved my mom, but I’ll admit that I judged her very harshly before I truly understood all that she did right:
My mom always let me know that she loved me no matter what. If having a loving presence in life is essential to developing confidence and self-esteem, my mom gave me a great start. When I had a tough day at school or a boy on the bus teased me for the “holes in my butt,” she reminded me that who I was had nothing to do with the clothes I wore or whether I could think of a clever retort in the face of a bully.
She believed I could do anything. When I doubted my ability to try out for a play, audition for the choir, travel abroad, or move to the other side of the country from my family and friends, my mom reminded me that I was tenacious and had done everything I had set out to do throughout my life. From watching me learn to walk to seeing me switch careers at 35, my mom believed in me.
When I was a brat, she pulled me closer instead of pushing me away. I became a vegetarian in middle school, so I knew a lot about nutrition at an early age. My parents took a class on healthy eating when I was 13, and I responded to every insight they had with a snotty, “I told you so.” I know my mom was frustrated, but she calmly reminded me that everyone learns new things when they are ready to learn, and it had nothing to do with them not listening to me.
She sought help for her maladies. My mom has never given up on searching for ways to feel better. From having three knee surgeries by 70 years of age to going to therapy regularly and trying alternative medicine, she keeps striving to be her best self.
My mom mothered differently than she was mothered. When she was growing up, my mom often felt unappreciated and undervalued by her mother who thought my mother’s art and creative genius were fine for fun but useless other than that. My grandmother, an amazing and giving woman to the rest of the world, never seemed to be able to give my mother the validation and unconditional love my mother craved and deserved, but, my mother didn’t use that as an excuse to deprive me of her love and affection.
She taught me to look for joy wherever I could find it. My mother has spent most of her adult life in pain as a result of a car accident in her thirties, but she has moments of child-like joy that light up the room. She giggles when getting a pedicure, goes giddy over designing Halloween costumes for my daughters, and squeals with joy when she sees a field of daisies by the side of the road. Living with chronic pain myself, emulating my mother’s joie to vivre helps me remember that noticing the little things and creating beauty make the pain more bearable.
Now that I’ve learned to give my mom a break for her “imperfect” parenting, I’m learning to be kinder to myself about mine. My daughters will be better off seeing me as human than as perfect.
Kendra Atkins-Boyce is a mother, doula, and writer living in Oregon. She believes wholeheartedly in the beauty of birth, and in the comfort of family. She is always ready to support those who need her in any way she can, and you can find out more about her services here.