Most of the time I think I’m a pretty good mom.
And then I’m forced to encounter that thorny topic that seems to bewilder our generation of touchy-feely, hyper analytical, hyper talk-y parents: Boundaries.
Such encounters usually begin with direct critique from my eldest adult child who is particularly adept at making such statements as, “Just because I don’t text right back doesn’t mean I’m not eventually going to.” And: “Mom, I don’t like it when you talk to us in essays.”
His latest pronouncement: “I don’t need to know all the details of your life as you get used to living alone.’
“I guess I thought hearing about my process might help you model your own journey when you get to be my age,” says I, the self-proclaimed consummate communicator and armchair psychologist.
“But I don’t need all that role modeling any more,” he says.
“I guess I thought when you ask how I’m doing, you want to know what I’m doing to be OK.”
“Nope. All you have to say is ‘I’m good’.”
After such encounters, I first tell my son, “Thank you. I’m so glad you can be honest with me.”
I next tell him I need to think, at which point I go to my room and curl up in the fetal position, from whence I can move to defense, offense, and “ouch, that hurt,” without anybody looking.
I tell myself that my children’s parents are a political science professor and a journalist/armchair psychologist. Can we help it that we’ve never been short on thoughts, words and analysis? I tell myself that we like our children, they’re the best people we know. I tell myself in our family, we are all or nothing at all.
So maybe I should try nothing for a while?
“How about I just don’t talk to you guys for a month unless you need me,” I poke my head out of my room and suggest to my son with all due sincerity and just the tiniest hint of martyrdom.
“Come on, Mom, you know that’s not going to work.”
“How about I write a self-important poem to each of the three of you entitled, ‘I Set You Free’ “
He rolls his eyes while my one friend later looks at me askance. “Did your Mom set you free?” She asks.
That’s the thing. My mother, rest her soul, would never have thought to set me free. Instead, she could have written a treatise on how to stay co-dependent with your daughter forever.
Which gives me two excuses: I am both role- model-less in this, and obsessed with getting it right, neither of which is a good starting place for healthy relating.
But then there comes a moment for the pretty good mom, who has worked hard reinventing the wheel of good parenting despite limitations, who refuses to risk the good relationships she has created, who, when the defenses are exhausted and the fetal position unfurled, remembers the only things that really work in these prickly cases.
Humility. Understanding. And Google.
Even if my mother was Dr. Benjamin Spock’s wife or Mother Teresa, I still wouldn’t have learned from her how to set healthy boundaries in the year 2019. Back then, the line of demarcation was more rigid, with parents on one side of the room and kids on the other. Parents held closer to the chest and didn’t “meddle.” A study recently conducted at the University of Texas, Austin, meanwhile, found that 96% of 250 children 18 years and older spoke with, texted or saw their parents in person over the course of a week. Some willingly communicate with their parents two and three times a day.
“We are parents of the psychotherapeutic age. We are the generation that talks more about our feelings — and our children’s feelings — than perhaps any generation of parents in the history of humankind,” writes psychologist Richard Weissbourd, author of “The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development.”
Today’s parents not only share more about their own lives but dig in more about their children’s. Which means they have to be emotionally intelligent enough to know when less is more. This is made more complicated by variances between children. Some want to know about the cute guy you found on the singles site. Others want no part of it. Some want to know about the problems of your life and how you’re facing them. Others feel threatened by them.
Like anything else in parenting, it appears to come down to nuance.
I call it muck.
If it feels mucky to tell a particular child I sometimes don’t know which end is up, it probably is.
I have to be willing to test for the muck. I have to be ready to say when I feel it clinging to my feet, “Oops, sorry, that was too much.” I have to hold as my mantra: “Please never fail to tell me if this is too much information,” and then realize that sometimes they won’t know right away either. I have to be willing to listen and respond when they have something to offer about this. I have to be especially willing to take two steps forward and one step back, to live in the imperfection of the pretty good mom.
I try to remember always the words of soul-seeker and author Jeff Brown: “We are not striving to become perfect. We are striving to be real, to show up for our lives in every respect, flaws and all.”
It’s a dance. But my kids hold me to the line. We get in there and communicate, that’s for sure.
And yes, I’m a pretty good mom, which I can confidently say until the next co-dependent go-round.
Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at [email protected], or join her column’s Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.