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.