I became a mom at age 40 and a single parent at age 45. I’ve been a person with a career since age 23. Thus my perspective comes from a framework of co-parenting, motherhood and me.
It has been nearly ten years since that life changing moment you never forget. I looked at my newborn son for the first time. The immediate thoughts associated with that moment were powerful as I said to myself “What incredible responsibility.”
The continuum of parenting begins with meeting the basic needs of attachment and care of a newborn, to toddler, to preschooler, to school age, then pre-teen, adolescence, young adulthood and (whew) ongoing throughout adulthood. I still look to my dad to be my dad. He is 75 years old and I am 51. He is my remaining parent thus I am still a daughter. His presence adds to the level of comfort and balance in my life. As experts in the field proclaim, “Parenting lasts a lifetime”.
There are books on what to expect the first months; the first years. Parameters have been set for when teeth should be coming, when to switch to solid foods, when speech should begin, and numerous other developmental milestones.
Parenting classes are now available on a variety of topics, ages and stages. I’m not aware of my mom or dad attending any classes to better figure out what to do with the four of us kids. I do remember that my grandparents played an active and positive role in my childhood.
As a new mom, the best personal advice I was given was, “Just do whatever feels right for you and Ian.” I’ve carried that one message forward until it has become a subconscious balancing stone.
When I envision the measuring of balance, I think of a carpenter’s tool, the level.
When placed on a level surface this instrument has a bubble of liquid in the center. When out of balance, the bubble appears in another window closer to either end – off center. To me, finding balance is locating the center in a continuum of a yardstick-like measure.
I cannot be in balance as a mom or as me if I have not first helped our son find balance in himself. That is what gives me comfort and contributes to my own balance. A measure of success includes a positive parenting relationship between mom and dad. We share a child-centered focus. Our energy is directed to what is collectively best for our son. Time with dad is essential; mom’s knowledge that she can count on dad is essential.
Motherhood is the center of me. From that balance point, I am at my best for my work, household chores, social and leisure time. Each of these life places flex in their percentage of the whole depending on the season, the day or even the time of day. They influence the bubble of my level.
My balancing stones for parenting, motherhood and me include intent, flexibility, responsibility, respect and humor.
I would not say I have a particular parenting style. To me a style is something that comes and goes; something that is in or out of fashion. Motherhood is for life. I consider myself an intentional parent; I do things with intent for particular outcomes.
For example, during a homework time of stress, I intentionally speak to my son in a comforting tone and slow pace. It serves to balance and slow me down as I guide him through the stressor. I center myself on the objective and if I begin to stray, I go back to the balancing point.
I’ve received many “hugs” of balance through the support of friends, family and family-like friends. There have been shared trips, play dates and exchanges of clothes.
We have fun – pillow fights when we need to release aggressions, “crazy dances” when we need to be silly and lighten things up. I tell him stories from my own childhood that relate to his situations. It helps both of us to know mom is not perfect and that grown-ups were once kids.
I tell Ian when I need some time just for me and when I need help with the chores.
This past summer there was no time to take a real vacation; the kind of trip where you pack a suitcase and go on an adventure. Instead, I bought two camp style reclining chairs for our deck. I announced that these were our “vacation chairs”. We made time to sit in those chairs and relax. We read and listened to the sounds of the creek running through our yard. To keep us in balance we redefined vacation.
One of my tools for checking balance includes simultaneously teaching self-awareness. This example has become a near ritual. Before we say good-bye on the mornings of most schools days, I ask Ian “Are you well rested?”, “Are you well fed?”, “Are you loved?” And I tell him to have a great day.
On a recent occasion, Ian was about to seek out a boy-toy he wanted to take with him as he prepared to go to his dad’s house. Knowing what he was what he was after, I called out to him, “You are such a daddy’s boy.” He slowed down his pace, turned back to me and said, “Yes, but I am a momma’s boy too.” “And we both love you very much,” I answered. I can’t think of a better measurement of balance.
I have been told that from that moment of birth, we are continuously preparing our child for independence. To that I would add the success of the journey can be measured by the level of balance.
I have also been told there is no magic wand. I agree and if there were, we would miss too many moments. I know that the next ten years have the potential to pass with the same blink of an eye as the first ten. Soon, I just may be signing up for one of those teenager parenting classes!
Leslie Bek is a mom, owner of Les is More Consulting, former community education consultant for regional Maternal/Child Health and Early Childhood programs.
Excerpted with permission from the Winter 2009-2010 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2009. All rights reserved.