A Normal Mother

I was talking to a friend the other day who has a marriage that is, to put it mildly, difficult. There are a lot of issues going on in the relationship, not the least of which is that his wife has been physically ill for some time. It's not the kind of illness that puts you in the hospital for long periods of time (although she has been hospitalized recently), but just a combination of problems that make her feel basically crappy all the time. The result, he said, is that he feels strongly that his daughter, now 5, has never had a "normal" mother. So, I've been thinking a lot about that conversation, and what it means to be a "normal" mother, and provide a "normal" childhood for my son. Are there certain aspects of a relationship with a mother that one should be able to point to and say, "There. That's normal. Every kid should get at least that"? Does the same thing apply to childhood? My childhood was filled with memories of playing games with my siblings, riding my bike, taking long, long drives in the car from California to Utah every year, and reading the Chronicles of Narnia with my mother, perched on her enormous king-sized bed with my 2 sisters. Are these things normal? I'd like to think they are. But since talking to this friend, I find myself doublechecking the things that I do as a mother, and the experiences I'm providing for my son. Yesterday I let him run barefoot to the pool. I found myself asking, "Would a normal mother do this?" I let him run around naked at home after swimming to help dry him off before I put dry clothes on him. I got a little short with him when he started whining at me. I let him eat popcorn on the carpet while watching a video. Do other mothers do this? I guess that's really the question I should be asking: How many other mothers are doing what I'm doing? If there is a large enough number of mothers screwing up the way I'm screwing up, well, then, it must be normal!


Anonymous Susan M said...

I really enjoy your blog.

There's no such thing as normal.

7/20/2005 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Keryn said...

If I start thinking like that, I'll go crazy. I have a tendency to analyze every little thing I do with my kids (is it okay that my 20 month old eats applesauce three meals a day? Is it okay that I let him run around outside with only a onesie on?), that if I added "Is it normal?" I'd probably overload.

Plus, I cherish the fact that I was raised by a distinctly un-normal mother. Any woman who teaches her children to pretend die when she shouts a number while playing music ("One" = drop dead quick, "Four" = a terrible, horrible, lingering death scene) is not normal. But oh-so-fun.

I think your son will look back on the things you did with him with a lot of love and gratitude. Whether they are "normal" or not.

7/20/2005 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Melissa said...

I think "normal" is whatever works for you and your family.

My normal is not your normal, and that's the way it should be.

It'd be nice if we'd all stop comparing ourselves to others. It makes life more difficult than it needs to be.

7/20/2005 02:11:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa M. said...

I sort of giggled when I read this post, and the comments too.

I would like to say I wish my son would run to the pool with no shoes on, and I would sell my soul to the devil if I could get him to eat, anything.

Personally, I agree there really isn't a normal. However... if you play and read with your children, make sure they get fed, laugh a little and cry a little with them... I am sure you are doing just fine !

7/20/2005 08:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a wide range of normal, and it sounds like your child will think of most of his normal as fun.

I have been aware of some situations, though, in which a parent (in the two cases I am thinking of, it was the mother, but it doesn't have to be) made normal not so positive.

1--Mom obsessed about her weight. Her whole life, even when pregnant. It was a destructive obsession for her and caused her to be unhealthy (she still is). Her girls grew up thinking this was normal and her adult daughters have inherited a very unhealthy body image and unhealthy eating habits. That was their normal.

2--Manic depressive mother who got help very late in life set an unhealthy normal for her daughter. While her daughter may well have inherited mental health issues, she also has never internalized that her mother's actions and habits were not normal. The daughter seems to have no concept of thinking from another's perspective, loving herself, or asking for attention in a less destructive way than threatening suicide.

7/20/2005 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Kids are pretty resilient, and can adapt to a lot of different kinds of "normal." What I think is hardest for them is inconsistency or unpredictability. If you let Jacob eat popcorn on the rug today, but then tomorrow punished him harshly for doing the same thing, that wouldn't let him count on anything as normal. Having a mom who's sick a lot is probably something kids can work around and get used to, especially if they have a loving and consistent dad around, and as long as mom's sickness doesn't regularly get in the way of her expressing love for her children (as it would in the cases of mental illness anonymous cited).

7/21/2005 09:38:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I actually do take into account what is "normal" when making decisions about how to raise my child.
There are dangers and risks everywhere in the world. I sometimes wish I could keep my children in a bubble and protect them from everything. However, I want them to experience life and be a part of society, so I go ahead and do what is normal.
Car accidents can kill my children or cause major damage. But it is normal in our society to go places in a car. So I put them in their normal car seats and I head off to the store, to the park, to school, etc. I accept the risk because it is normal.
I have a seven year old who goes to school all day long. For a SAHM, it is a big change from completely controlling your child's environment, to giving that control to the school for 7.5 hours per day. But I do it because it is normal.
My kids want to go swimming, go on playdates, etc. I accept the risk because it is normal.
I want to go on dates with my husband, I need to go to appts occasionaly, so I give my kids to a babysitter despite the danger.....because it is normal.
Now, other parents do allow their kids to do things that my kids aren't allowed to do (run around unsupervised outside, go to R rated movies, etc.) but I think that there are parents like me who think it is normal to protect your children from these more dangerous types of things.
I would really like to say no sleepovers ever, just to protect my kids. But my kids miss out on many parties and many playdates because of this. My husband isn't so sure it is a risk. He thinks we can choose which families are ok for our kids to spend the night with. I don't think you can really know if your child will be safe. I want my children to get to do normal things, though. Why do sleepovers have to be normal!!! We probably only have a year or less left to make this decision.
In some ways, I did not have a normal childhood (lived in other countries, moved a lot) and it had its advantages, however, I missed out on some normal things. Since I think we won't be moving, I am excited about giving my children a more "normal" childhood, and want to give them the advantages of being raised in one place. So I am intentionally trying to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives of living in one place. My children will have roots! A feeling of community! I will know parents of their friends (I am making an effort to do this).
Yes, normal is a value to me. I sometimes do something simply because it is normal. But it isn't the most important priority.

7/21/2005 11:47:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I shoud have said said "But my kids WILL miss out on many parties and many playdates because of this." They are young enough that it hasn't come up yet.

7/21/2005 11:49:00 AM  
Anonymous harpingheather said...


Sleepovers were my favorite part of growing up; I even managed to turn the night before my wedding into a sleepover with my bridesmaids because I find sleepovers so fun and special. Your husband has a good point about being sure you trust the family first. Why does the idea of sleepovers make you so uncomfortable?

7/21/2005 01:16:00 PM  
Blogger The Wiz said...

I'm with you on the no sleep-over thing. Absolutely not. I don't care if it's normal or not, and if they'll miss out on some parties. My kids are not doing sleepovers. They get grumpy, tired, sick, and plus, it's in the middle of the night when the oiuja boards and creepy things seem fun.

I am willing to do "stay-laters," and pick my kids up at around 11:00 p.m., if it's a family I trust.

7/21/2005 02:18:00 PM  
Blogger Andrea Wright said...

I totally agree with the Wiz on sleepovers. My kids are little enough it hasn't become a really big issue yet, so who knows how well we'll stick to this -- but right now, I feel very strongly against them.

I used to work at a law firm and one of the attorneys I worked with dealt with abuse situations. One day we asked him with all he's seen, what has he done to protect his kids from abuse and himself from allegations. The first thing he said was ABSOLUTELY NO sleepovers - don't let your kids go to one and don't let kids have them at your house. That really stayed with me.

There are some families I would trust, but how do you allow your kids to sleep over with one kid in the neighborhood, but not another. I hate trying to negotiate those things, so I think we'll be doing late nights and call it good.

7/21/2005 04:28:00 PM  
Blogger annegb said...

Heather, I have spent my life neurotically trying to be a "normal" mother, to not be like my mother, and Keryn is right, you can drive yourself crazy.

The most effective mothers I know are the ones who just relaxed and did their thing. They all do it differently, but the common denominater is less of that terrible anxiety that can plague us as we try to be normal, ie, perfect?

And what everybody else said, thanks, you guys.

7/21/2005 11:15:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

Its mostly abuse that I worry about at a sleepover. I don't think you can ever really trust another family. So I wouldn't put anyone except my parents on my completely safe list.
Also, in this day and age, children are exposed to so much sex that I think experimentation is a danger.
My friends never watched porn while flipping channels in front of me until I was 17. I could easily go to the other room, and when it became clear it wasn't ending quickly, I simply left in my own car.
It would not surprise me if a second grader faced that same thing today. 8 year olds have less life experience to deal with a shocking situation which for me, was no big deal and I handled it without a lot of stress.
Andrea, thanks for the ammunition. Hearing some more concrete "evidence" helps. I know someone who was molested at a sleepover....I think, I don't press for details but from what little she has said, it was that type of situation.
Everyone should know that when a child is molested it is extremely difficult to tell their parents. They are young, they freeze up in the situation, they think it is their fault, they are tricked by the molester into doing something on their own that is wrong so when the abuse happens they feel they can't come forward, etc. Would any child actually pick up the phone and say "come get me, I've just been molested" Probably not. Children don't understand how the world works. You can tell them a million times how to handle a situation, but when they are actually in it, they are scared and confused and don't have the maturity to handle things.
Anyway, when I told my husband I had felt for some time that sleepovers weren't a good idea, he asked if I thought the spirit was telling me not to. If that was the case, he of course supports that.
I said I wasn't sure. All I know is that I have a growing unease about it as it approaches the time when rules must be made about it.

7/22/2005 03:41:00 AM  
Blogger mindy said...

I think a "normal" mother loves her children, and that most of her actions towards her children motivated by actual love. That said, there are loads of ways that this love shows itself. Some mothers are get down on the floor and play sorts, while others are take the kids to activities sorts. there are lots of other "sorts" too.

7/25/2005 12:20:00 PM  

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