Look but don’t touch. Touch but don’t taste.” Ring a bell? Al Pacino’s character, Milton, in The Devil’s Advocate may be a sneaky, power lusting lawyer, but when I look at him, all I see is my mother. You heard that right. I know I’m not the only mom whose own mother is a Milton — someone who sets the rules in opposition. Do this. Once I do it — what were you thinking?
Once I had kids, it’s been a never-ending surge of do’s and don’ts, advice elegantly enveloped in insults, and the pleasant reminder that starts with “when I was your age…” And I’ve had enough. Actually, I had enough three years ago when Zane and Nina were born, but it doesn’t seem like anyone has yet found the formula for making your mother poof away from your shoulder.
My mother’s got the best stamina I know of because she can just never take a break. Shortly after giving birth and into my early days of breastfeeding, she liked to remind me that she was back to her pre-weight pregnancy just two days after giving birth to my sisters and I — all three of us. I had gained a whopping 25 kilos (or 55 pounds) from my twin pregnancy, and I was so overwhelmed with what to do now that I had given birth to 2 tiny human beings that I could've been a beached whale, and I don't think I would’ve even noticed. But hell, thanks for taking note that I’m nowhere near my pre-pregnancy weight. Then at the same time, when I couldn’t breastfeed, it was apparently because I wasn’t eating properly. Three years later and I'm still struggling to lose those extra 10 pounds, but that’s a story for another time.
When the kids aren’t asleep, she criticizes how little sleep they get. Once they are asleep, all I hear is, “they sleep too much.” And don’t even get me started on my detrimental inability to balance working and spending time with them. The list goes on, whether it’s questioning why they can’t talk yet (they’re literally 5 months old mom), or how other kids are potty trained at such a young age. I tried with potty training many times over the years, and have failed every single time. Apparently she is “disgusted” by my lax behavior vis-a-vis the topic and likes to remind me that my sister was potty trained miraculously at 9 months, so apparently she was crawling to the bathroom on her own. Interesting? Possible? Who knows. My father has no recollection, but sure why not.
To be honest, I had a suspicion that it was going to be like this. After all, I’ve gotten to know her pretty well over the past 40+ years of my life, so I expected nothing less than a constant stream of criticism all in her best efforts to make me be the best and most perfect version of myself. I guess I just expected the criticism to come a little later on in the game, perhaps when they were rebellious teenagers? You want to brush it off with a ‘mom is just being a mom,’ but after so much of the same thing over and over again, it really gets to you, and you start to even doubt your choices. Am I really doing this whole thing wrong? Why do I keep on messing up?
It makes me wonder about the time when my mother was just like me: navigating the ins and outs of raising children, juggling kids, marriage and a career. There’s no way this was a breeze for her, so why does she expect it to be one for me?
They say that this all comes from a place of love and the fear of not making the same mistakes. I do believe that it does, but there’s a myriad of other ways to express love than to critique and shame. I’ve learned that it’s OK to learn to set boundaries with loved ones. You should be confident enough in your parenting choices to say “no” when you need to or just step away at the right moments.
And if all else fails, use your husband as a buffer and make him the designated spokesperson. My husband does that pretty well. Perhaps because he knows the consequences of my mother’s criticism on his own peace of mind. I think he would much rather watch the football game peacefully than have to multitask between watching the game and consoling me or deciphering for me what my mother was implying when she said so and so.
I know it takes a village, and while some of that village could use some work, you can’t help but appreciate it in the end. It wasn’t until after my kids turned one-and-a-half that my mom would take care of them while I’m at work. Having that grandma figure in their lives has been so crucial for them. They love her and she loves them. I’ll also be honest and admit that I have learnt to be less controlling. There is so much social pressure to be the perfect mother, wife and entrepreneur that it actually makes you rigid, fearful and doubtful as opposed to enjoying the moment. I’m working towards accepting that I don’t have all the answers and becoming willing to live my life more spontaneously and be confident that life works itself out in the end.
If motherhood has taught me anything it’s that perfection is an impossible destination, I am flawed, and I accept it.