Motherhood is at least a struggle. It is the one job women are called to perform that has no prerequisites. On the job training is the only real preparation we ever get. Luckily, children are resilient, and most of them prosper. Luckily, women are adaptive and most of them begin to get the hang of the mothering thing before it's too late. The reality of becoming and being a mother isn't captured in the charming rhymes of the Mother's Day card, but something special really does happen inside the soul of a woman when a child is born. I come face to face with that simple truth every day. No matter the circumstances of our lives, motherhood was designed to thrive in all times and in every environment.
The young woman struggling to learn parenting skills to please the Department of Human Services is fighting for another chance to prove she's up to being a parent. Who would have thought that keeping your child with you forever could hinge in knowing how to cut up hot dogs to prevent choking? Or that discipline and a sound spanking aren't the same thing? Or that pulling on little arms could actually cause physical harm? The case worker asks in disbelief: "Did she really think that child is simply a small adult?" And I think, "No, she knows better than that." But the reality is, she probably doesn't know many of the things we think mothers should know because no one taught her how to mother.
The mother whose addiction has consumed her life suddenly sees that life through the eyes of her child and weeps that she had not realized what every mother should know - that little girls want to take dance lessons and little boys yearn to have their Mom be the Pack Leader for Cub Scouts. She mourns the lost summers of baseball league when her little boy actually hit the ball and ran the bases as the crowd of other parents cheered. She often missed the school programs featuring the choir of children's voices, the shriek of the violin and the boom of the bass drum. Sometimes along the road of time she got to school conferences, but not often enough to convince her children she cared that they succeed. She might have just forgotten that part of being a parent because she was self-absorbed. Today she can only grieve for time lost and accept change for what it is - an extended opportunity to fulfill her role as mother.
While the world reserves a special day to honor mothers, it occurs to me that the YWCA is at least one place where the responsibilities of motherhood are practiced daily. From admission to discharge our clients are consumed with who they are and why they are the people they have become. While much of this internal study reflects back to their own childhoods, those with children are urged to look forward to the day when their children, too, will be adults. It becomes an opportunity for self-examination - which of my behaviors is most likely to imprint on my child, and is this the future I want to impart? We challenge our clients to assess how well their performance will stack up. Will my children recall my influence on their lives with pride or with disdain? What does being a parent really mean and can you learn parenting? Most confess that they thought parenting was just a natural process everyone figured out as they march along the road of life. What they have learned or are learning is that parenting like all the other meaningful facets of life sometimes happens when we are ill-prepared, but God has hard wired us to succeed. It is within our power to make that happenstance the center of our universe.
We all envy the mother who truthfully says that she hasn't struggled to be a good parent, the parent she wants to be. Hers is a world very few are charmed to lead in this time of economic uncertainty. But within the struggle, whatever it is - scheduling work and family, paying the bills and providing for the little extras, being able to attend school, church and activities within the context of other responsibilities - there are certain small things that linger forever in the mind of a child. Even into adulthood I remember loving my mother's embrace because she always smelled so good. I remember being read to; I even recall parroting back the books she read to me (I knew them all by heart!). I remember that I was always greeted with a smile as I came home from school, or the library, or from college. She remembered that all my childhood pictures were brightened with a blazing, happy sun. Well into adolescence she took the time to hear my bedtime prayer. And when I was lucky enough to become a parent, she was my best friend. She taught me not to sweat the fact that my 2-year-old wasn't potty trained because it was likely she would learn all about using the toilet appropriately before she entered kindergarten. She taught me it's OK if my child's shoes got scuffed up playing at the park and it didn't really matter if she ripped her shorts either. She taught me that what did matter was spending time with my child - talking, learning, playing and laughing. She was not an expert, but she knew how to give love unconditionally. It was a gift I did not even remember receiving until I lost my mother, but today I know nothing I could have ever wanted mattered more. It is the gift I hope my children will reflect on someday, and it is one I wish to share with my children, my community and our world. A child can grow up in a mansion or a shelter; it is unconditional love that makes a home, sews the seeds of hope and reaps a future bright with possibilities.
Ann Davidson is executive director of the Fort Dodge YWCA.