who's the mommy around here anyway?

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Art of Perfection

I meant to take a week off, but that's turned into a long time away. Maybe it's the change in weather or the decreasing sunlight but I've been unable to concentrate on anything meaningful. My mom asked me to write something for her. I've been procrastinating, but here it finally is.

Mom thinks of herself as a perfectionist. She calls it her sickness and tells me that it permeates every aspect of her life. It was ever present in her child rearing technique. She tells me perfectionism reared its ugly head when she'd clean her house till it shone rather than spend time enjoying her children. She'd make sure her children were polished and put together, and God help us if we got dirty. I remember being the only kid on the block not being allowed to play in the dirt, because if I came home with a speck of mud on me, I'd be in big, big, serious, couldn't-sit-down-for-a-day-after-my-rear-end-met-the-hair-brush-kind-of-trouble. Mom keeps apologizing for this and it's one of her biggest regrets, but my interpretation of her parenting is much different, and doesn't revolve around her need for perfection, at least I don't think it does.

Mom thinks she was a "bad" mother. To her, I think it's an all or nothing deal. Either she was a perfect mother or she was a bad mother, but the truth is she was neither perfect nor bad. I keep telling her that she did the best she could with the tools she had. She was only 20 when I was born, a veritable baby herself, and a new mom to boot. I think of myself at 20 and there was no way I could have handled that kind of responsibility.

The thing that disturbed me most about mom's parenting was her unpredictability. She was a screamer when she became angry and lost her temper often, though probably not as often as I remember. I remember that being around her was sometimes like walking on eggshells. I was never sure of what would set her off and bring out the frazzled and screaming woman who could scare me half to death. This kind of uncertainty is awful for a child and I'm afraid that I brought this to my parenting when my kids were younger. I also think that this is a result of things that go on in our brains that we're not in control of, and for which there is now wonderful medication. If you think you're having a problem with mood or anger control, you're probably right. Don't let it go, seek help, you never know who you're hurting.

On the positive side of things, mom taught me invaluable lessons about the person I wanted to be and the things I wanted to hold dear. She did this directly and indirectly both by example and by speaking to me about the values she held. I remember when I was about 10 and we lived in a neighborhood in Queens, in the second story of a courtyard garden apartment. I was hanging out with a group of girls from my area and we played in a playground behind the courtyard. The ringleader of our group, a nasty and pretty little girl named Debbie, had decided that we should ostracize another little girl, for whatever reason, and being the mindless sheep I was, I went along with it and was cruel to this little girl. My mother observed our group behavior one day and approached me in our home. She wasn't angry or loud. She was patient and kind and loving as she explained to me how hurtful this kind of behavior was to the outcast little girl, and how she expected better of me. I remember thinking about it and being ashamed of myself. Mom was right, what we'd been doing was cruel, and really, there was no reason for it. She was a perfectly nice girl. I went back to the group and told them that we were no longer going to behave this way, and fortunately another girl backed me up. Debbie, the ringleader of nastiness, told us we could do without her, she refused to play with the object of her rejection, but now Debbie herself became the rejected. I moved away shortly thereafter, but I always wondered how that worked out for them. Mom had forced me to examine my behavior and values and to think for myself. In retrospect, I look back to that incident and see it as the place in time where I began to question the world around me and the choices I made. I tried, from that point forward, to make choices for good, choices for kindness. Thanks, mom.

I remember these things also. Although we were poor, I never felt poor. I felt loved and cherished and secure. If my mom and dad fought, I never remember it because they didn't fight in front of me. They always presented a united front to me and my brother. Very wise of them. I wish my husband and I were capable of such wisdom in raising our own children, but sadly we were not.

And I've told this to mom just recently, because I've only recently figured out that when mom would wake up at night when I was a young child to find me sitting on the floor on my dad's side of their bed, it wasn't because I was favoring my dad, as mom had always thought, it was because I was scared of the big bad things that go bump in the night, and I knew that my big strong daddy would be able to protect me. Even so, even though I may have been daddy's little girl, I'm also my mother's daughter. She's the person I am most like and closest to. And, Mom, neither one of us is close to perfect, nor do we need to be. I love you Mom.


  • Parenting is the toughest job. And no one is a perfect mom or dad. I think it is great that you can recognize your mom's strengths and weaknesses then love the whole. We are more than the sum of our parts and it is what we do less gracefully that makes our gifts all the more apparent.

    Nicely written post!

    By Blogger Sheepish Annie, at 5:04 PM  

  • thank you for stopping by my page and leaving me a trail to come here. this is a very well written post, molly. not having children of my own, i have only my friends and blog buddies to draw on for wisdom on the 'art of raising children'. that is what it is to me...an art. take care and come by again.

    By Anonymous poet, at 5:25 PM  

  • This was wonderful, Molly. Parenting has been the toughest job for me thus far in my life. Its a learning experience and sometimes we make mistakes. But I think we learn from those mistakes and and turn them into strongholds in our lives.

    Glad your back, missed ya! :)

    By Anonymous Heather, at 5:44 PM  

  • I have no experience in parenting so this is one subject I can not comment on but I can speak of my experience. I do know I had great parents but they were not perfect but no one is and they prepared me as best they could.

    I know they had a very strong personality on their hands in me. Thank you for sharing a great post and reminding me of just how greatful I am to have the parents I had.

    Welcome back. I missed you during your time away.

    By Blogger Ms. Vickie, at 6:11 PM  

  • Welcome back to the blogosphere, Molly! I've missed you, but I kept checking your page and am glad you let me know that you are back. I did a post on perfectionism last month. Tell your mom that it is okay to be whatever it is God has made you to be. I, too, scrubbed, polished and changed the kid's clothes endlessly. I think it is a mechanism to prove to the world that very young moms are really great at housekeeping and mothering. My children were my life and they still are. We just came home from celebrating our oldest grandson's 25th birthday. His mom kissed me goodbye in the parking lot of Texas Roadhouse and told me she loved me. The clean clothes and shiny windows didn't hurt our relationship --- that was just one small part of our lives and I still am a perfectionist, but only as it pertains to my responsibilities. My family can keep their homes any way they want and I'll still think they are wonderful.

    By Blogger Kacey, at 6:55 PM  

  • Hi Annie - I like your use of the word graceful. I believe we need to live our lives with some measure of grace. Thanks for your comment.

    Poet - Thanks for stopping by, your poetry touches me.

    Heather - Glad to be back, missed you too.

    Ms. Vickie - I'll bet you were a handful. Hope you're doing well.

    By Blogger molly, at 6:58 PM  

  • Well written my child. I take such pride in you as a mother, I love the openness you have with the girls and I'm so happy I made them such a great Mom.
    I guess with all my nastyness, my child turned out to be a beautiful caring person.
    Your going into Nursing was very heartwarming for us as you have the ability to make everyone around you feel your love and caring.
    I'm so happy you have such a great inner beauty.
    Your tolerance is wonderful for me to see.
    Love you Cheryl

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:01 PM  

  • Molly, good to read from you. a great post and a very nice tribute to your mother. i am sure she is a wonderful mom and she did the best she knew how to raise her kids. really good read full of emotions, it made me tear up remembering my own mother and apprciate her still being around!

    By Blogger Summer, at 7:26 AM  

  • This is a lovely post, Molly! I like how you've articulated the space between perfection and failure - that's pretty much where all of us are even though we continue to strive for one extreme and fear the other.

    I'm glad your mom loved it...

    By Blogger medieval woman, at 7:26 AM  

  • I think Sheepish Annie said it best. I certainly can't add anything myself there, since I'm a dad. My grandmother was someone who wanted the house "hospital clean." In fact, she still keeps her home cleaner than mine and she's 94. But one time my father arrived for a visit when he was a grown man. My grandmother asked him to shake out a rug when he came in. So he did, then he promptly left. That was the last time she asked him to do something like that.

    Was that anonymous your mother here? She sounds like such a sweet gal. No way should anyone use "nasty" to describe her.

    By Blogger Big Dave T, at 7:02 PM  

  • There is no book on parenting.
    We di what we can under the circumstanses and I bet your mother was a good mother.
    They all have their techiniques.
    Mine was always asking god to take her away when we messed up LOL
    Maticulasly clean, still is and the furnature she bought 40 years ago looks like the day they bought it.
    But looking at what I persoanlly put my parents through and the fact that they still speak to me says alot.
    We do our best and thats all we can do.
    Now I am waiting for mine to put me through the ringer.
    Have a nice day

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:07 AM  

  • Molly, thanks for stopping by my blog and for your show of support.

    This post touched my heart, because I too consider myself a perfectionist, with a touch of obsessive-compulsive thrown in. I think I did okay raising my daughter, but I sometime wish she weren't quite so strong-willed.

    But then, the alternative would be for her to be weak-willed, and I sure wouldn't want that...

    Thanks again for visiting!

    By Blogger Love, Rita, at 4:21 AM  

  • Hi Molly,
    We all have our parenting struggles, every single one of us. It sounds like your children are lucky to have you as their Mom.

    I saw your comment at Rita's place about visiting my site, so I thought I would return the favor. Thanks for stopping by!

    All the best,
    Andrew ("To Love, Honor and Dismay")

    By Blogger Andrew, at 12:29 PM  

  • Mom - you don't and never have given yourself enough credit. Look below and take Big Dave's advice and go a bit easier on yourself.

    Kacey - you sound like you and my mom would get along famously, I told her to visit your site. Thanks for the warm, kind words. I'll read back and check out the post you mention.

    Summer - thanks for stopping by, I'm glad you have wonderful memories of your own mother.

    Medieval Woman - I like what you said, about living between two extremes, striving for one and fearing the other. How very perceptive you are.

    Big Dave - Thanks for giving my mom the positive feedback, she's pretty tough on herself.

    Walker - They will put you through the ringer, have no doubt about it. Thanks for sharing.

    Rita - Thanks for stopping by. I've raised two strong willed girls myself, and I agree, better strong than weak.

    Andrew - Your site is always on my list of places to visit. I appreciate your no-nonsense and gracious way of delivering solutions to problems.

    By Blogger molly, at 5:50 PM  

  • By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:56 PM  

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