I take an online quiz that promises to tell me what kind of mom I am.
What’s it going to be? Sporty Mom? Church Volunteer Mom? TV-Free Mom? Old Mom? Even though I eschew labels, I still wonder what the quiz will tell me about what kind of mom I “really” am.
I answer the questions quickly and, after my score is tabulated, I learn that my “Mommy Style” is . . . drum roll, please . . . Earthy Mom! Yay! I think I was tagged as “earthy” because I admitted that my family is serious about recycling, that I chose the sling as the best way to carry an infant, and because I preferred “I Got You, Babe” to Madonna’s “Vogue” or Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” as my “Mom Theme Song.” (Just FYI—The Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” wasn’t an option.)
I got zero percent as my Sporty Mom score. My Fashionista Mom score was dismally low. I got a fairly good score for Classic Mom, but far fewer points than I’d expect for Multitasking Mom. (That last score offended me a bit. I grant you that I’m not a fashionista or really very sporty. But a multitasker? I failed on that? Have you seen me at dinnertime? I’m like one of those people who can spin plates. Homework! Phone calls! Permission slips! Butternut squash and coconut milk soup! Neighbor kids ringing the doorbell to sell popcorn and Girl Scout cookies! I can manage it all—and all at once!)
Oh well. I’ll take the Earthy Mom moniker. After all, I’ve been called all sorts of things as a mom.
Weeks after my first child was born, a friend asked me what we’d decided to do regarding circumcision. She also had a newborn son and, like me, was a first-time mother consumed by learning to care properly for her infant. Without violating my son’s privacy, let’s just say that the doctors at my practice were “old school” about the matter. They assured us that it was up to us whether to have our newborn sons circumcised, but, they cautioned, “it’s a lot more painful and it can be really embarrassing when they’re older.” When I told my friend what decision we had made, she was outraged on my son’s behalf.
“The poor lamb. I would like you to know I think that is the most brutal thing I’ve ever heard,” she said. “I never took you for such a barbarian.”
I wasn’t deterred. The deed, so to speak, had been done and I felt content that we’d made an informed choice. If you’d been in the room with me when my ob/gyn told the story of recently circumcising a teenage boy after he’d suffered a series of infections, your toes would have curled. Seriously.
A few months later, the same friend called to ask how my baby was sleeping.
“It’s going great,” I said. “He’s sleeping through the night. Ever since we Ferberized him.”
“You know, Ferberized him. It’s a method that teaches babies to settle themselves and to go to sleep on their own. You let them cry it out, but just incrementally. You know, you put them in the crib, leave the room, and then come in and give them a pat or talk to them at longer and longer intervals until they learn to get to sleep on their own. It took three nights, but now he sleeps like a champ.”
“You let a six-month-old ‘cry it out’?” she asked.
“The longest he cried was about twenty minutes. Which he was doing anyway,” I said. I didn’t tell her how I’d cried, too, sitting on the floor outside of his room. But, after those three nights, he never had sleep issues again.
“I don’t care what you call it, that’s just cruel,” she said.
Cruel, Barbarian Mom.
Again, I was unperturbed by my friend’s dismay. I saw what a happy, well-adjusted baby my son was, and I knew how desperately I needed to sleep at night myself. After he started sleeping through the night, I started to feel like a human being again. About a year later, the same woman called and asked me another parenting question. I don’t recall whether she was inquiring about breastfeeding or a teething issue, but whatever it was, I had the distinct sense that we’d again be on different sides of the fence when I shared my approach with her.
“Do you really want to talk about this?” I asked. “I mean, in the past we’ve approached things, um, rather differently.”
“Look,” she said. “I don’t care if you say you hang your baby from his toes in the attic. I’m losing my mind over here. I get no sleep and I’m drained and I just don’t know what to do. You’ve got to talk to me. Now!”
A year of caring for an infant had rubbed off some of her rough patches. I realized that she had changed. Radically. I was relieved no longer to be Barbarian Mom or Cruel Mom, but rather a friend who was invited to dispense honest advice. Like me, this woman was just doing her best in a culture that puts unfair pressure on mothers to do everything exactly right. And, like me, she learned to relax over the years.
We’ll all do it differently. A Helicopter Mom will measure the temperature when she draws her baby’s bath. A Tiger Mother will follow her convictions about parenting and draw battle lines with her kids. A Hippie Mama will draw unicorns. I say, draw on all the pieces of who God made you to be in your mothering. Your faith, your friends, and your special gifts and insights. Acknowledge your best and worst selves and give love, boundaries, and grace to your children as you raise them. Try to make time to eat together. Play together. Unplug sometimes. These things help us to connect with our children.
I may not know the right answers on many parenting issues, but I am convinced that being connected to our children, accepting and loving them as the unique and worthwhile people they are, covers a multitude of parenting sins. Being connected with them sets our kids up—as much as possible—for a life of healthy connection with others and with the God who created them and who is even more smitten with them than we are.
Jennifer Grant is the author of two books, Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter and MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, from which the above essay is adapted. Find her online at jennifergrant.com or follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferCGrant.
Motherhood concept image by Solovyova Lyudmyla/Shutterstock.