The Mom-Center of the Universe

Other half-a-portrait

Other half-a-portrait

Big Blue Caryn
Half-a-Portrait

Caryn: I’m loving the feedback we’re getting on the Manifesto. And some people have raised some points that I can’t shake. One is the whole tension between not thinking we moms are the center of the universe and the reality that our kids need us to be—and that often we do want to be—of theirs.

Case-in-point: Before Christmas break this year, I stood in the hallway admiring the family portraits the preschoolers had done. While there, I overheard one of the teachers telling another mom that it’s normal for the mom (or primary caregiver) to be huge in the family portrait as she (or he) is usually foremost in the child’s brain.

So, what does competitive Caryn do upon hearing this—especially since my daughter worships her father and spends easily as much time with him as she does with me (because we both work from home and relentlessly try to integrate parenting with everything as much as is crazily possible)? I race over to my daughter’s picture to study everyone’s size.

And much to my endless delight, there I was: a HUGE, smiling, blue-bodied, purple-haired wonder, holding our pet bunny, no less. In the picture, I am easily twice the size of everyone else.

I love it. I hung it on my office wall because it makes me so happy. I’m looking at it right now and smiling.  But I’m not sure it makes me happy for the right reasons. I’m not happy to be forefront because it means I’m the main shaper and modeler of values and beliefs, but because it was more like a “reward” for being an at-home, hands-on mom. For all the late nights, for all the snuggles when I had so much else to do, for all the folding and washing and feeding. For the writing while she sits on my lap and runs a measuring tape across the screen (yes, it’s happening right now). For loving them all so much it’s made me crazy.

So does this make me a hyporcrite: That I don’t believe we should think mothers or motherhood are the centers (can there be more than one center?) of the universe, every now and again I like being the center of my kids’.

Carla: I always say that when a mom walks into the room where her children are, it’s like the sun and moon have come out at the same time. At this moment I am writing with a preschooler snuggled up to my left elbow and she wants nothing more than to be near me. Well, she also wants me to throw her blue rubber snake through the “basketball hoop” she’s made with her hands, but mostly she just wants my attention. She loves her dad, she loves her brother and sister, but I am her Queen. I am the center of her universe. And that’s how it should be.

But I have two other children in the house, one of whom has just returned home from a sleepover with the girls who are becoming the center of her universe. They are good girls and I am grateful that she has friends I trust because their presence and influence in her life are increasingly important to her. She is in the process of creating her own universe, and while I’m in it and still have a lot of say so about who else is in it I am slowly moving out of the center. And that is how it should be, too.

Manifestos are not good places for subtlety, but our statement that we are not the center of the universe might be more true than we want it to be. When our children are young, their lives do center on the adults who care for them. But as Keri said in the manifesto comments, our job is to work ourselves out of a job. As good as it feels to be the sun and the moon in someone’s life, as good as it feels to be needed, do any of us really want to have 30-year-old children who still bring us their laundry and can’t make a decision without us? Sometimes I miss the little girl my daughter used to be, the one who gazed at me with pure affection when I poured cereal into her bowl each morning. But I love the big girl who sits in her place, the one who starts talking about her friends and the day ahead the moment she wakes up. I don’t want my 12-year-old to gaze at me. I want her to gaze outward as we slowly launch her out of our orbit and into the one she will create for herself.

So yes, for a short time in our children’s lives, we are the center of the universe. But it’s not good for them–or for us–for things to stay that way.

Caryn: Well articulated, oh-you-who-have-older-kids-than-I. Which is not to say I haven’t already seen and even enjoyed this slow drift away from center in my kids’ lives.  It’s first steps look like smiles and waves to friends when the bus comes in the morning or when I drop off at preschool. And that is–as you say–as it should be. It is to be celebrated, even.

Of course, today I’m a tad under the weather (okay, really pukey with some sort of bug, if you must know) and am typing this in bed. And my oldest just came into see if I needed another Coke or some tea. So, I’m enjoying being his center for a bit longer too. Sweet, dear boy.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by cnjwarner on January 11, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog for about 2 weeks now and am loving it… kindred spirits in motherhood! I have 2 girls: 6 and 9 yrs. old.

    I think it depends how we hold our position as the center of the universe. For me, I see it as a wonderfully sweet time to be savored but also as an opportunity for me to pour all the love, affection, gentle teaching and affirmation I can because I am assuming there will be a day when it will not be as easily received or heard. It’s like a savings account that I keep depositing into… not so that I can withdraw later but so that my girls can withdraw what they need when the teenage years grow long and they’re needing all the sense of self and affirmation they can find.

    And on the other side, I think success will come from how gracefully I can relinquish the center of their universe and be willing to adjust with them as they grow.

    It is a balance of authenticity, grace and intentionality that is a new adventure every day… never perfectly accomplished but always providing a way forward.

    Thanks again for your writing and sharing your journey…

    Reply

  2. Posted by Steve B. on January 12, 2009 at 9:12 am

    Our daughter is 6, almost 6 and a half (which is a very important detail to her, even though her half-birthday falls on February 29 and ain’t happening this year), and she has told us her plans for adulthood many times. They include living with us – in our current house – for the rest of her life, never getting married, and not only working where her mom works, but riding to work with her every day.

    Clearly, we are the center of her universe and it truly warms our hearts to hear that she wants to spend the rest of her life with us. But thank God she won’t. She has evidence that the universe extends beyond her own parents – this is already her third year in the Chicago Public School system – but she still holds fast to plan for the future. However, after starting First Grade at a new school this year and learning that she not only made new friends quickly but also asked them if they know Jesus, I have hope that we as parents are still using our Super Powers for good and not evil.

    Dude

    Reply

  3. Posted by Robyn on January 12, 2009 at 9:51 am

    I am the one she wants when she is sad, sick, or tired. “Mommy!” she calls in the middle of the night. I have no doubt my picture would be the largest in her drawing, were she to make one.

    However, the thing about not being the Center Of The Universe, to me, is to recognized that I am not the ONLY significant person in her life, and that is a good thing. It’s good for her to have other adults in her life that contribute to her growth and development. Her father, grandparents, aunts/uncles/cousins, our great next-door-neigbors, her fabulous daycare provider: all of these people make a difference in her life for the better. I don’t have to be her everything. I don’t have to do it all. I don’t think I’m meant to. These other people are pouring love into her life as well. What a blessing! And what a relief to me to be able to let go of being the Center Of The Universe at all times.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Cindy Schwerdtfeger on January 12, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    I do agree that we are the center of their universe (both mom and dad) and other adults in their lives. We are more their center when they are babies and as they mature, we eventually release them to go out in to the world on their own. Hopefully, we have trained them well about what is the most important, a relationship with Jesus and sharing that with others. This reminds me of a favorite poem, “Children are like balloons”. It talks about us writing a message on their hearts and that they will share that with others and some day we will release that balloon to go out on its own. When we let them go, it is truly a new beginning. We recently released our oldest off to college this past fall. Her whole Senior year we celebrated with her and I really thought I would fall apart when she left but I didn’t we have transitioned into this stage well. Through the years… I learned to celebrate and enjoy the moment that I had with each child…whether they were 3 months, 4 years old, 12 years or now, as they are 17 and 19 years old. I celebrate & enjoy who they are now. As they grow and mature, I needed to remember…this is what we trained them for…to be released…and no longer be the center of my universe…but hopefully having God as their center and living out their lives as God intended for them.

    Reply

  5. Posted by Stacy B. on January 12, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    This is a really good reminder for all parents – work yourself out of a job…and do it in a way that makes your children know how to choose good mentors.

    My mother was a jealous mother. She wanted to be the center of my universe…the problem was that she wasn’t in-tune enough with me to know what I needed. We were like parallel lines (until I provided her with grandchildren…then I became the vessel of the most beloved things in her life). She didn’t like it if I had a mentor (Sunday School teacher, youth leader, teacher, etc.), and this only made me feel isolated and distraught.

    I’ve tried really hard to work mentor-type women into my (now nearly 13 year old) daughter’s life. I am proud of who she is becoming, but I know that I am not “all that” for her. Even though I may be the one on whom she relies for lunch money, she may be more willing to share some fear with her youth leader at church (fortunately, a good friend of mine), her Sunday School teacher (also a good friend of mine), or her baptism mentor (a trusted, wise woman in our church). These people will shape her, and my ability to let her have these influences now will allow her to choose wisely in the future.

    Because of the honest relationship that we have built, she knows this is the case…and she is able to articulate appreciation. For now, she claims that I am the one she wants to consult with the “bottom line” things, and for that I am grateful. I know the time may come when I am second or third in line for “in the know” types of things. I just want the people in front of me to be the right people – not her peers only.

    Reply

  6. Another dad chiming in, and I want to follow Carla’s train of thought a little farther. Dads struggle too with wanting to be the center of their kids’ universe, and I have to constantly remind myself what Carla wrote and what I’ve been saying since I first took “Parenting with Love and Logic” when our oldest was 18 months: our job is to build independence and responsibility in our kids. They’re SUPPOSED to get out and live on their own.

    I’m finding myself fighting this need to be in the center much more now that my oldest is a freshman in high school than I did when she was a preschooler. Do her friends think I’m funny? Am I one of the cool parents? Can I have her friends as facebook friends, too?

    One of my own parents – gotta be generic here, they might google my name sometime 😉 – one of my own parents met their own needs for relationship and friendship by being in my circles and being respected by my friends. At the time, I didn’t notice it…but it made life really difficult in my early 20’s, trying to figure out how to become independent and my own person when a parent “needed” affirmation from me and my world. I ended up having to completely pull away and cut strings, and still to this day am struggling to figure out what an adult and non-enmeshed relationship looks like.

    Aha! I don’t want to do that to my children. So I’m learning to rein myself in with my daughter’s friends. Find my own relational needs in my own friends. Be involved in my daughter’s life and in her friends’ lives, but as a parent, not as a buddy looking for status in the teenage pecking order.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Dave on January 13, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    WOW! I feel so blessed that Mom and I are both the same size (with due consideration to individual artistic ability of course) in our children’s pictures – generally…. and our children draw ALOT.

    I do not mention this as a kick to anyone who may not be drawn in equal proportion with their spouse, but rather to address the point (which should go without saying) that we Christian parents should do our best to bolster each other in our children’s view so that, in the event God, in His wisdom, might allow anything adverse to happen to one, the children would easily gravitate unreservedly toward the other.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Stephanie on June 1, 2009 at 12:49 am

    I know I am late to this – I have only recently stumbled across this. I have taken objection with one component of the manifesto, however. In particular, the debate on this page seems to center around if/when we are the center of our children’s universes. Please allow me to remind you of what was stated in the original manifesto:

    “Motherhood is not as all-important as we think it is. We are one of the many factors that shape our children. We need to be the best moms we can be while recognizing that we are not the centers of the universe.”

    I must disagree with the statement, “Motherhood is not as all-important as we think it is.” I disagree both as a former teacher and a current SAHM. Motherhood and fatherhood are absolutely all-important and are profoundly influential to children, both when they are young and when they are grown. As a teacher, I could tell you within the first 15 minutes of the first day which children had loving, attached, involved parent(s) and which did not. Yes, parenthood IS *that* important and influential.

    So this left me wondering – why would people try to devalue the significance of mothers in their children’s lives? Perhaps the mothers who choose daycare try to belittle their own importance in their children’s lives because if they really were *that* important, then their decision to place a child in daycare becomes even more difficult to justify. Not to say daycare is a bad thing – just that it is a hard decision to make and becomes even more difficult if we consider our roles as mothers to be of profound significance.

    Another reason mothers may be devaluing themselves could be because they have older children who seem to not “need” their mothers as much anymore. It is quite true that, as children grow, other people and things take on increasing importance as the role of the parent decreases. This is normal and natural. However, there is an underlying issue which goes unaddressed here, which is that *if* the parent(s) did the tremendous work necessary to raise happy, healthy, intelligent, compassionate, independent children – *then* they will become happy, healthy, intelligent, compassionate, independent adults. Without that solid base that *parents* provide, children would not grown up to be so successful. Therefore, parenthood *is* all-important. And while we are not the center of their universe for long, we do set the tone and template for how they will act and react to people and events in their future lives/universes. Parenthood is really that important.

    Reply

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