With my late mother’s birthday recently passed and Mother’s Day weekend upon us, I have been giving a lot of thought to the kind of mother I want to be for my kids. Like the rest of the world in this unprecedented time, I have been gifted with a lot more time at home, and with that has come a lot more responsibility to home school, cook, clean, entertain and be present. When I was young, my mother stayed at home and I fondly remember tagging along with her to run errands, baking, going for walks and the little bits of wisdom she would share. After she passed, I decided to learn as much about her and her life before me as I possibly could and tracked down our family history and all the living relatives I could to fill in the blanks.
My mother was born into extraordinary circumstances as the daughter of a Dutch businessman and an Indonesian businesswoman during the second world war. When the Japanese occupied Indonesia, the majority of the male members of her family, including her father were sent to hard labor camps that most of them never returned from. What happened to my mother during this period is still a bit of a mystery, but we know that immediately after the war she arrived in Netherlands with a woman who purchased her from her birth mother during the war. I would learn through my research that her father and 3 of his 5 siblings died in these camps. What was left of their families remained as many of the children had been set to the Netherlands for schooling before the war, but my mother disappeared in the hands of another woman. A woman who would later become extremely verbally and physically abusive to her, to the point that she was granted emancipation from what she then learned to be her adoptive family at the age of 14. That same year she became a professional ballerina and spent the following years performing throughout Europe.
The story of course doesn’t end there, but one of the most impactful lessons I learned from my mother was to stay focused on my goals. During this time of containment, we are being granted the opportunity to have the time and space to consider and re-evaluate our goals. I had always had this vision of myself, like many of us do, as this superhero mother that had a great job and worked so my kids would learn the value of hard work, but cooked and cleaned and made healthy vegan cupcakes in animal shapes. I envisioned this perfectly groomed little family, wonderful family vacations, and a loving home where everybody just hugged and laughed. Don’t get me wrong, I love and adore my family, but our life is not a Hallmark show. Being confined to our home has been joyous, fun, adventurous, but it has also been stressful and tiring. Amidst new daily tasks like teaching the kids to drink water, make their beds every morning, brush their teeth and participate in the house chores, we are also battling boredom, missing friends, endless school work and daily sibling wars over crayons and stuffed animals. We even had a fun family adventure rescuing a mother and nine ducklings to nearby duck pond. Yet, Supermom I am not.
With all this time to think and reflect about the kind of life I want to have and the person I want to be, I have learned that I don’t need to be supermom either. I just need to be there, be present and give them my attention. In our usual daily hustle, our time is so tightly scheduled that we rarely have the space to even consider how much time and focus we are giving to our kids. Our daily routine is getting up, rushing the kids to school, rushing to work, being expected to do more work than is remotely normal in a single day, then rushing to pick them up from school to get one or both of them to their after school activities, then rushing home to make dinner, get them in the bath, get them to bed and then collapse on the couch for a brief moment of solitude or togetherness with my partner before we fall asleep and do it all again the next day. If I compare our life before COVID, to what it is today, despite all of the fighting and relegation to time outs, I will take this time with my kids over rushing around ANY DAY.
My mother was lucky to live in a time where it was still financially feasible for one parent to work and the other to stay at home. Sure my mother had her Mary Kay and Tupperware parties, but her job was her family and her pride was keeping up the house and the garden. I am not quite sure I would take that same path entirely because I love working, especially when I am doing what I love (writing), but surely there is a better way to manage all of these things and have our lives be a little more balanced between what we are living now and what like looked like before.
My mother had a very challenging life with many struggles that ended way too soon at the age of 62, but if she was here today she would tell me to stay clear on my goals. During this time, I have had a lot of time to reflect on that and remind myself of what is important to me and the kind of mother I want to be. I was lucky to have a mother that was very attentive and taught me a lot of valuable lessons like the importance of family, the need to create your own path, be independent and to always be open to new things and new possibilities. This has helped me appreciate that staying at home is an opportunity, not an inconvenience – and that sometimes we do need to hit the reset button and get clear on our goals.
My goal for whatever is left of this time that we have at home with our kids is to just roll with it and to use this time to teach them the lessons my mother taught me, but I have been too busy to do. Even though it is harder for me to do my own work and juggle home schooling, I want to reclaim (with my partner) my responsibility as their primary educator because the most important lessons are not learned in math class or language arts. The most important lessons are learned from each other and how we interact, how we forgive, and how we cope with challenging situations. This is a challenging situation, but this is nothing compared to what my mother and those of her generation went through. This is a blessing and a reminder that we have an opportunity to do better.
If my mother were still here today, she would be telling me to relish this time – to do all of things we don’t usually have time for, to learn from it and to use it to get clear on our goals. If my mother were still here today, I can assure you she would tell you to do the same…