by Jennifer on April 10, 2008

We’ve been a little busy around here, working on this new look. The credit goes to Cynthia at NW Designs who took the little smushed-up pile of ideas I handed her and turned them into exactly what I had hoped for. We’re still tidying up and tweaking a few things, buying a few throw pillows, that sort of thing, but it should be finished soon. If you’re considering a re-design of your blog, I absolutely recommend Cynthia. She’s been so pleasant to work with and she’s made the process so easy with her patience, graciousness, and good humor.

My only regret is that it didn’t occur to me, as it did to the lovely and forward-thinking Mrs. G, to include a picture of a shirtless Johnny Depp somewhere in the design. I have a lot to learn from her.

Also, I’m a bit behind on my reading, but I promise to catch up with everyone tomorrow (today).


I’ve noticed something interesting (and maybe predictable) that happens just after my life has intersected with my mother, at least in recent years. For a few days after, I find myself digging deeper in my interactions with my children, and I try harder to be patient and unruffled (most days, I wouldn’t come close to winning a prize for that). I eat more meals with them, and take more time for the slow, easy moments.

But here’s the thing, it’s a false promise I make to them on those days, and I know it, even as I sit longer with them reading a book or listening to one of their stories. In those moments, it feels like a lie, even as it feels like hope and redemption. It’s not fair to let them think that every day from now forward will feel like that, when I know it’s not likely. I know that this bare and generous devotion that I show them won’t last. After a few days, we return to the normal cadence of our days, and I struggle each day to be a good enough mother, and fail often enough at that, too.

The thing I know I’m trying to prove to them–and, god knows, to myself–is that they will have something better to look back on than my siblings and I do. But how can I prove that in just a few days? The idea of that is impossible and flawed. I can bring some of that effort forward into our regular days, but that kind of full-on attention might just exhaust all of us, even if I were capable of delivering it. And the fact is, when my children decide what they think of my parenting, they will stake their judgment on the cumulative, rather than the anecdotal.

Do you want to know the truth? Deep inside me, like a fossil encased in bedrock, lies the belief that I am not a good mother, and how could I be, without having grown up with a good example of what that means? Do I dig up that belief and and look at it, and turn it this way and that in the light? No, at least not often. There’s too much to do every day. But it’s there, and it’s hard to know some days if there’s anything deeper than that, if there’s anything stronger, holding up everything else. I can’t be the only mother who feels like this, I tell myself, and it helps. Still, I feel it shifting now, and making itself known.

Yesterday, I found myself a bit hyped up and coasting on adrenaline after the two new emails from my mother. They were both barren of any sort of apology, which (oddly) is a bit of a relief, because I would have had no idea what to do with words like that from her. Imagine, if they had been heavy with regret, and weighted with hope. In that circumstance, I would have had a confusing and perilous decision to make about how to proceed, knowing full well the risk of disappointment.

As it stands, there is nothing to be done, nothing to be said. No reason to linger, or even to look over one shoulder, backward. I’ve found over the years, that it’s easy to stumble, doing that. Better to look forward.

It’s as though my mother has taken on the nature of a little town built near a rail line, along a route that I am bound to take from time to time to get where I need to go. Though it’s old and looks a bit run down, it has historical significance and can look pleasant and inviting from time to time, in the right light . There’s a billboard or two, announcing the one or two things the town has to offer.

But I know all there is to know about that town. I’ve visited a few times before.

And there’s really nothing there to see.

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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Ducky April 10, 2008 at 3:04 am


Don’t let the voices tell you otherwise.

Madge April 10, 2008 at 3:39 am

you are a good mother. but i know what you mean. just think — what had you gone through by the time you were their age? see how much you have given them and protected them from?

Ducky April 10, 2008 at 3:54 am

There are way worse things than say, forgetting to pick up the kids after school. IT WAS ONE DAY!

Curious that I’ve just been reading a book about a paleontologist. He says this:

We knew from the accounts of the 1966 expedition that bones were very rare at Las Tetas. But one of the greatest pleasures in paleonotology is to be the first to return to a spot in more than a decade or two and to find that the work of wind and those rare Baja rains has scraped off some of the fossil-bearing surface. We did remarkably well even on our first afternoon.

They are happy, healthy, charming children. They are growing up in a safe home. You’ve made all of that happen.

We had a front-row seat to The Bad Parenting Show, complete with sidekick and other family characters. If nothing else, we learned how not to parent. But you’ve done a lot more than that.

You’re not screwing it up. You’re not going to screw it up.

molly April 10, 2008 at 5:31 am

Your comparison of your mother to a town on railway is wonderful.
From everything you have written here, it seems to me that you are a GREAT mother and have nothing to fear. I do know what you mean though. I have similar thoughts sometimes, though my mother was wonderful just not as engaged as I would have liked. And I also try to really be the best I can be for a few days but then things slowly slide back to normal.
I think that our best is probably more than good enough.

Brenda April 10, 2008 at 5:35 am

Ducky said what I was going to say, but of course I’ll have to elaborate. “If nothing else, we learned how not to parent.” (Sorry, I don’t know the least thing about blogging and don’t know how to put in italics.)

Not that I’m the model of anything, but I think I do OK in most areas. (But I’m least confident about parenting.) But much of my life, who I am, how I respond to things, what I do, how I relate to others (including my children) was built from NEGATIVE role models. I didn’t have the “front row seat to the Bad Parenting Show” as you did, but I WAS in the standing room section for that show, and for most other aspects of my life, I have been quite aware of how people are when they do things that don’t make sense and I don’t like. I’m sure this makes me some kind of strange creature (needing therapy), but that’s who I am, and for the most part, it’s not a bad thing. I always noticed what was less than wonderful, and I always did whatever I could to NOT be that way.

Your kids? They’re fine. They’re happy. Maybe they know they’re not ever going to eat all of their own Halloween (or Valentine’s or Easter) candy, but that’s one small thing, and it’s not damaging them. It’s teaching them to SHARE!!! =)

Everyone is insecure about something. Your lack of good parenting role models might be your reason, but that’s not a real reason to believe that you are not a good parent. My reason is that a group of family (not my parents) was always displeased with everything I did–good or bad. A lifetime of that is hard to overcome. And even though my parents weren’t like that, a quote from “Pretty Woman,” “It’s easier to believe the bad stuff.” I’m sure you’ve got plenty of that going on in your own head. (Not a valid reason, either.)

But it isn’t true. We’re not bad. You’re a terrific mother. Believe ME!

Bottom line is that it’s what you do and how you love that makes you a good mother. The rest doesn’t matter.

(And if every day you were with your children like the few days after an epidsode with your own mother, they wouldn’t appreciate those days as much. Life can’t be special EVERY day, or it will cease to be special at all.)

Jenn @ Juggling Life April 10, 2008 at 6:08 am

First off, the remodel is amazing.

I believe that people that come from really dysfunctional backgrounds usually do one of two things: recreate what they grew up with or create something wonderful. Wonderful doesn’t mean perfect.

Communicate with your mom as long as YOU are getting something GOOD out of it. When that stops you owe it to yourself and your family to get out before she negatively effects the family you have created.

Lisa April 10, 2008 at 6:38 am

You are a great mother–we are all trying. It is very hard when someone like THAT is in your life. We all have our moments–it lets our children see we are human–the normal cadence shows them life kwim?
Thanks for sharing!

Kelley April 10, 2008 at 7:25 am

I suspect that voice you hear is like the one that tells me that I am a failure at nearly everything I do. Don’t forget those other voices though that tell you that you’re freaking fabulous and God’s gift to this Earth (or am I the only one that hears that?). I hear the voice that tells me that I’m a failure… Some days it even keeps me honest… But I listen to the other guys too. 🙂

the mama bird diaries April 10, 2008 at 7:41 am

I use to think that too… about being a good wife and a good mother. How could I be good at these things when I didn’t exactly have great role modeling?

But you know what… when we have to struggle to overcome our childhoods, we know what NOT to do b/c the mistakes are so glaring.

And kids don’t want to be doted on 24/7 day after day. It’s wonderful to slow down one day and then speed up another. It’s a natural flow.

Ok so can you now repeat all this back to me? 🙂

PS your site looks fabulous girl!

Melissa April 10, 2008 at 8:13 am

I hear you on the self-doubt, but frankly, I think bad mothering can make us better mothers because we know what NOT to do! Ex: I always tell my kids why I’m mad at them. My mom NEVER told me, it was this whole passive-aggressive game with her–“You know what you did–go think about it now and wait for your father to come home…” I’m more of the “I’m mad at you for leaving crap all over the floor for me to trip over. I still love ya–but pick it up then go to your room for a time out!”

Your site? Looks TERRIFIC!!!

suburbancorrespondent April 10, 2008 at 9:11 am

Hmmm…I approach the problem of not having a “good-mothering” example (whatever the heck that is) a different way. On my worst days, my kids are still having a better “mothering experience” (whatever that is) than I did. Plain and simple. No paragon of perfection for me to measure up to, no worries that their memories of childhood won’t be as good as mine…

Let’s face it. You are there, in your children’s lives…isn’t that enough?

suburbancorrespondent April 10, 2008 at 9:12 am

Addendum: And I don’t want to sound as if I am blaming my mother for anything. Being a mother myself makes me realize that she was just a human being, making her human mistakes and her choices; and she has suffered from those far more than I did.

we_be_toys April 10, 2008 at 9:31 am

Oh honey, you are not a bad mother! the fact that you worry about it is proof. No one is ever a perfect parent, and we’re going to screw up. they’re going to proclaim at some point in adolescence “I hate you”, but you know what? You’re absolutely right about the cumulative being the final impression. The fact that you have made conscious decisions NOT to emulate your own childhood and do spend quality time with your kids already means that whatever die is cast, you’ve been playing with a different set of dice than your own parents. I know I am, and I don’t have nearly the issues that you do. Have faith in yourself and your love for your kids – I do!

Love the look of your new site! I am very jealous.

flutter April 10, 2008 at 11:43 am

Your experiences don’t make you who you are. How you handle them does.

You are not your mother.

Coco April 10, 2008 at 11:51 am

As it stands, there is nothing to be done, nothing to be said. No reason to linger, or even to look over one shoulder, backward. I’ve found over the years, that it’s easy to stumble, doing that. Better to look forward.

It’s as though my mother has taken on the nature of a little town built near a rail line, along a route that I am bound to take from time to time to get where I need to go. Though it’s old and looks a bit run down, it has historical significance and can look pleasant and inviting from time to time, in the right light . There’s a billboard or two, announcing the one or two things the town has to offer.

But I know all there is to know about that town. I’ve visited a few times before.

And there’s really nothing there to see.

This is simply a stunning analogy. Haunting, kind of lonely, but also a recognition of the strength in yourself to pass that empty place by.

Also, the very fact that you question, you strive, you wonder about your mothering speaks volumes for the fact that you’re doing it right, if you ask me.

Hatchet April 10, 2008 at 2:05 pm

Site update looks fab!

Also, your final line made me think: “Nothing to see here. Move along.” and that’s basically it. There’s nothing there for you.

Alternatively, look at it as time/money: do you have the “extra” time and/or money to deal with your mother or would you rather spend that time doing something else? Or with other people?

The bad mother thing? I think we all get that. I also think that if you are consciously mothering (which you appear to be doing from my tiny glimpse of your life), then you are not a bad mother. Our parents have done a good job of teaching us what not to do, but we have to be conscious of that lesson to have learned from it. You get to create, for your children, the good mother that you should have had. Go with that.

There’s no pattern, you know. We’re all winging it.

Angela April 10, 2008 at 2:22 pm

Jen–I’m so glad I read this today. Every word resonated with me, and you’ve written this beautifully. You are not a bad mother. Sometimes, I think that people who come from bad parenting automatically assume that they will be bad parents, because that is their only frame of reference….and also because we were often told that “good parents” didn’t really exist. They were the stuff of fantasy and lies. But that isn’t true….and you’re proof of that.

Crazycath April 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

Jennifer you are a very wise woman. You are very well balanced (I have said that before – believe it!) and you are a good mother, purely because you care and are examining how you parent. The very fact that we question ourselves (yes I do too) is testament that is matters. And because it matters, we try our best. We do not always get it right, but at least we try.

I bet you communicate well with your children. I do with mine – I have a relationship with my children I could never hope to have with my mother because my mother cannot communicate well on an emotional level. I have learned that this is not her fault and it is a completely different situation to yours, but my point is, I have not (I’m told by the teenager) “failed” on this level, despite never having experienced it with my own parents. So, we change things based on our negative experiences and do better. My children will do better than me where they felt I let them down.

You are only human. You love your children anyone can see. So do they. And they love you. Don’t let this woman make you doubt yourself again. Don’t give her that power.

Anyway, there’s another award at my place for you! So get your butt over…

Landon April 10, 2008 at 4:40 pm

I think on some level, all mothers with the ability to reflect on themselves wonder whether they are good enough, loving enough, whatever-enough. Even the women who had wonderful childhoods wonder whether they are as good as their own mothers. It’s the curse of being self-aware. IThe two women who raised you seem to have been absent the say self-awareness was handed out.

Your kids laugh. A lot.
You laugh. A lot.
I think that is a fairly significant sign that you are doing a wonderful job. You’re right, they aren’t going to remember every moment that you try to make meaningful, but they’ll remember all sorts of moments that were meaningful without you even realizing it.

They might even remember the day mommy forgot aobut early-release at school, but each time they remember it and tell the story, I bet you will all laugh. A lot.

andi April 10, 2008 at 6:31 pm

I had no idea what to write and then I saw Flutter’s comment. I wish I’d said that. You sound like a good mother to me.

It’s amazing that you are able to write something so beautiful out of such an ugly situation. I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time.

(Oh, and the new site design looks lovely.)

Kellan April 10, 2008 at 6:32 pm

And there’s really nothing there to see …

I love the new look – it looks great!!!!

I hope you have had a good week – see you later – Kellan

Jen M April 10, 2008 at 7:07 pm

Perfect mothers do not exist – except to say that a perfect mom is the one who tries her best and loves her children and admits it when she makes a mistake and teaches her children to be human.

So you sound perfect to me.

HRH April 10, 2008 at 7:09 pm

You get two chances at a good mom. Your first chance is past, but your second is in progress. If any mom doesn’t identify with your thoughts (and fears) they aren’t being honest with themselves. I think you are being a little harsh on yourselves. You have to remember that your children didn’t experience what you did so they don’t need anything “made up” to them. They have it good because of YOU.

HRH April 10, 2008 at 7:10 pm

PS–love the new look! And sorry for the typos!

Carolyn April 10, 2008 at 11:53 pm

Sigh. I have no advice or comment to add. Obviously you know I have a few issues of my own on the road to becoming the “perfect mom”.

I love your blog because you always say everything I want to say, only your writing is more eloquent, your analogies are more evocative and your succinctness is far more inspirational than my meandering rambles. I am green with envy at your ability to say everything I want to say in far fewer, more perfectly chosen words. This post is no exception. The only consolation I can give myself is to know that I can only be me. I just have to keep on trucking in my own way and in my own style. Thanks for the inspiration to be better.

Suzanne April 11, 2008 at 7:54 am

You are not your mother, and you will never visit upon your children the sadness and hurt that you experienced in your relationship with her….because you are not her, and you have learned how not to be that way.

Other than being an interested reader/now subscriber to your blog, I don’t know you, however, I can safely say that your love for your children shines through your posts.

As to whether you can resolve your relationship with your mother….if it serves to provide growth and healing for you personally, it may be worth pursuing. If, however, it only prolongs the hurts of the past, then it may be like that town you just need to put in your rear view mirror.

Sending you a big hug,

Manic Mommy April 11, 2008 at 8:46 am

When blathering to my brother after an encounter with my dad, I ranted “Why does he always push my buttons?!” My brother’s comment; “Because he installed them.”

Don’t let anyone, even yourself, tell you you’re not a good mother. I think the fact that we worry about it so much tells us something.

San April 11, 2008 at 8:46 am

Jennifer, first, the new look is badass. I say that because I heartily agree with you, badass is fun to say. And say again.

Second, even though my own mom was an at-home mom who pretty much poured her energies into us, when my own kids were growing up, I would often be filled with doubts about my own quality as a mother. I believe anyone with any sensitivity at all is riddled with doubts and anxiety about her own mothering. It’s as if it’s part of the job description.

And if I may do a little armchair theorizing, I’ve come to believe that those who are always feeling that they’re falling short somehow are those who are trying and who are, above all, honest with themselves. I call that badass, and in the very best of ways.

Sandy (Momisodes) April 11, 2008 at 9:00 am

You are so wise and wrote this post beautifully. You are such a good mom. I think many of us share this self -doubt. I agree with San, the fact that you’re consciously assessing your own abilities as a mom means you’re trying. And that is what matters in the long run.

Chrystal April 11, 2008 at 11:31 am

I’m sure that you are a wonderful mother. Don’t let self doubt cloud your thougts. We all parent in our own ways and they all have their good and bad points. You seem like a wonderful person and being aware of your mothers faults can only make you strive to be a better mom to your own children.

LZ Blogger April 11, 2008 at 2:16 pm

I know exactly what you mean… REALLY! I always wanted to be the kind of dad that I wished I would have been able to have as I grew up. Unfortunately, I was raised by a single mom who had her hands full just trying to cope with life and her own issues. Being a single mom in those days, was really tough. Both of them have been gone for many years now, but I think in spite of my troubles growing up without much parental love or guidance, I made sure that our kids always got what I wanted and needed from a parent… LOVE & ENCOURAGEMENT. I never really help it against my parents (OUTWARDLY), because I just think they didn’t know any better. It may be that way for your mom too, I don’t really know. ~ jb///

JCK April 12, 2008 at 10:22 pm

The new loook is FABULOUS, and love the signature!

This really hit close to home for me, because i find myself doing the same thing. Perhaps it is after a conference with my son’s preschool teacher where I am suddenly his advocate and then for the rest of the day I am conscious of every moment with him and WORK at creating an atmosphere of joy and closeness. And it isn’t that the joy and closeness aren’t there at other times, but this is more calculated – more urgent, perhaps.

Great post. Made me think!

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