Finding the Mami Perspective
Editor’s note: This essay is one of a 3-part series of parenting essays in this week’s Tiki Tiki.
By Monica Olivera Hazelton
The other day, una amiga shared this New York Magazine article with a group of us mamás.
Immediately, I found myself nodding in agreement and lamenting over the suffering I go through as a mother to two children. Whining about how tired I get of telling them to behave, keep it down, no arguing, pick up toys, stop chasing, stop running, stop being bossy, don’t eat that, don’t play with that, share please, stop talking ugly, quit tattling, don’t hit, quit yelling, settle it down….you get the idea.
But then, I remembered an important lesson that I am still struggling to learn.
Perspective is everything.
My job as a parent is not to be a slave to their every little whim. Not to be the jail guard making sure that they are toeing the line of conformity and boredom, sucking all the fun of being a kid out of their young lives. And it is not to be their best friend, either. They’ll have plenty of friends.
What they need is una mamá. I am here as a guide, teacher, champion, and defender. I am the first and most important role model in their lives, and it is by my example that they will learn to be an adult. Who is it they go to first for comfort or affection? Who do they go to for encouragement or clarification? Who do they want to impress? It should be me.
This is a huge responsibility. But it doesn’t have to be a burden. I think that as moms, we sometimes forget our role. We get distracted by the idea of what perfect children should be like and we expect ours to be just like our friends’ kids…or better.
Too often I get sidetracked from what is best for mi familia by the expectations of others. Without realizing it, I let the opinions and pressure of family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and many others, smother my own ideas of what is right for my children.
¿Qué dices? My best friend’s 6-year-old daughter is already reading on a 2nd grade level and is training for the Olympics while preparing for the national spelling bee? Yikes! What’s that you say? Tía Concha’s grandson is on the swim team, speaks four languages, is taking violin lessons, and is starring in a theater production of Man of la Mancha? Gack!
My kids? How are they? What are they doing? (I repeat, thinking back to the above list of grievances.) Here’s how I need to respond: They’re perfect. Doing what they are supposed to be doing right now at this very moment: being kids. For example, my daughter finally learned to ride her bike on her own today. I am so proud and so is she. And my son is writing his name! He is SO happy! And he should be.
Both of them need a mom who is there to celebrate these small steps, not criticizing and belittling them. Every child needs this.
A few years ago, during a heated debate over something I don’t remember now, my then 3-year-old daughter looked at me and said, “But I just want to do it my way. Why is that wrong?”
¿Sabes qué? It’s not. Rather than chewing her out for not doing something the way all the other kids are, I should be helping her to forge her own path and discover who she is.
And with that simple statement, she reminded me again that she is just a child who is totally dependent on me for everything. I have to stop and think: How often do I lose sight of my role as a parent? Too often.
Do I get tired? Absolutely. Do I need a break from the kids every now and then? Do they need a break from me? Sí. Is it okay to want to spend some time to myself? To want a clean house? To have someone cook ME dinner? Yes, yes, and yes!
There are times when I look around and see toys littering the living room floor and I feel the tension building in my shoulders and my temperature starts to rise. Or when I walk into the dining room only to find a brand new batch of homemade purple play-dough squished into the light-colored carpet and the Gritona that I never imagined myself to be rears her ugly head and bursts forth from my lips.
But right now, sitting here, it occurs to me that 20 or 15 (maybe even 5!) years from now, I will be wondering what the heck I was upset about. I’ll be longing for these days and thinking who cares if my house is a disaster. I’ll have the rest of my life to have a clean, organized home after they are grown and gone and the house is quiet and still.
Ahh. There it is.
Monica Olivera Hazelton, a Mexican-American who lives in North Carolina, writes the blogs Mami Maestra and The Latin Baby Book Club. She is also owner of Latin Baby, an online boutique catering to Latino families.