ANN BAILEY: The best job in the worldToday is my 15th Mother’s Day as a mom. In some ways, it seems like I celebrated my first Mother’s Day just yesterday. It’s hard to believe 14 years have passed since I held Brendan, my first-born in my arms. It’s even more difficult to get my mind around the fact that my middle son, Thomas, is 11 and that my daughter, Ellen, the “baby” of the family is 8.
Today is my 15th Mother’s Day as a mom.
In some ways, it seems like I celebrated my first Mother’s Day just yesterday. It’s hard to believe 14 years have passed since I held Brendan, my first-born in my arms. It’s even more difficult to get my mind around the fact that my middle son, Thomas, is 11 and that my daughter, Ellen, the “baby” of the family is 8.
In another way it seems like a lifetime has passed since May 1997, the first time I could count myself among the moms honored on Mother’s Day. My two sons and daughters have enriched my days immeasurably and it’s difficult to recall what my life was like before they came a part of it.
Over the past 15 years, I’ve learned a lot about being a mom. I’d like to share a few of the things that especially stick out in mind. I hope other moms — and dads — will be able to relate to them.
Here they are:
• It’s much easier to know how to be a perfect parent if you don’t have kids. Before I had children I thought I had the right answer for every challenging situation. Now I know that parenting is an inexact science. I simply try to do my best and say a lot more prayers for divine guidance.
• Short answers are often the best when it comes to dealing with my children, especially when it comes to telling them that they can’t do something. I used to think it was important to explain everything to them so they would understand the reasons for my decision. I soon learned that the explanations rarely satisfied them and would lead to arguments that seemingly never ended.
I’ve found that “Because I said so” is much more effective and results in less frustration for both me and my children.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t discuss things with them. To the contrary, my husband, Brian, and I encourage our children to talk about issues with us, and we spend a lot of time around the supper table and at bedtime talking about their friends, their school activities and how the decisions people make affect theirs and other’s lives.
When it comes to making decisions, though, Brian and I make it clear that we’re in charge and that we don’t need to defend our positions. If we get protest from one of our children about a particular decision, I reiterate that the decision is final and remind them that when I’m at work, I too, must abide by the rules whether or not I think they’re fair.
• I have to look at the big picture when it comes to my children’s eating habits. Some days, it seems like I can’t put enough food on the table and the supper dishes barely are finished before they claim they’re starving. On other days, they’ll eat a couple of bites and say they’re full. If I measured their caloric intake by the day, I’d think they were either going to end up obese or emaciated.
Instead, all three are at ideal weights and are healthy children. Serving nutritious food and letting them judge how much they need appears to work well.
Ditto for not labeling food as “good” or “bad.” There was a time when Brendan was young that I never was going to let a spoonful of ice cream or sugared cereal pass through his lips. I learned, though, especially after he started school, that I can’t control every bite he takes. Again, offering healthy choices and talking with my children about the effects that different foods have on their bodies works better for me than being the resident food cop.
• My kids are individuals in their own right and not miniature copies of me or their dad. That means that when my sons wanted to take hunter safety so they can go hunting with their uncle and cousin, I gave the OK.
I don’t hunt and could never kill an animal, but I don’t believe I should stand in my sons’ way if they choose to engage in a legal outdoor sport. Meanwhile, I also support their desire to learn how to hunt safely.
By the same token, when it comes to my daughter, Ellen, I steer clear of making judgments on her desire to paint her fingernails and toenails, wear dresses and play with dolls. Though I didn’t — and still don’t — like to do “girly-girly” things, I know that she enjoys them.
• I can’t always protect my children from pain, no matter how much I want to and how hard I try. Or course, I knew this, intellectually, but it wasn’t until my daughter, Ellen, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5 that it really hit home. I not only couldn’t prevent her from getting the cancer, I couldn’t shield her from the pain that she would endure, first from the disease, and then, from the chemotherapy treatment.
I also couldn’t control Ellen’s hair from falling out, her fears of dying from the cancer or from missing many school parties, play dates and birthday celebrations because she was either too sick to go or there was too much of a risk of her being exposed to something her compromised immune system wouldn’t be able to fight.
What I could do, though, was to stand by my daughter, show her empathy when things were tough and express confidence that I believed that she could handle, with the help of God and me and Brian, whatever came her way.
One step at a time
Nine months ago Ellen completed chemotherapy treatment for her leukemia. She, overall, is healthy and happy, but continues to deal with a few after-effects of her leukemia. There have been times since August, as there were during the two years Ellen was receiving chemotherapy treatments, when I have felt completely inadequate to help her with the challenges she has faced. During all of these times I have asked God for guidance to help me through unchartered territory.
I suspect that I will be asking God for a lot more of that guidance throughout my three children’s lives. Thomas, my middle son, starts junior high this fall and Brendan will be a freshman in high school. I know they will face ever-increasing choices and I’ll be praying that they make the right ones. Meanwhile, Ellen will continue to grapple with being a cancer survivor.
Sometimes when I think about those and other challenges that lie ahead, I am overwhelmed. But then I remember the moment that matters most is the one I am living in. That thought brings a smile to my face because right now being a mom is the best job in the world.
Happy Mother’s day to all moms, and especially, mine, who has been my mentor and confidante for 52 years.