I get it now; several of my mom’s baffling behaviors regarding her kids have been explained. I’m not a mom myself, but just being an aunt has really shed light on three key mysteries about her.
Mystery 1: The Case of the Blurry Photo
My mom has a shelf of photos above her kitchen sink that we call “The Shrine.” (Note that some of these photos are blown up so much that it’s just a loved one’s face, blurry in the frame.)
I had chalked this up to poor computer/printer skills. That is, until my nephew came along and I found myself zooming in on photos on my phone to make his face as big as possible, even when it was blurry. I just want to get closer. I don’t care that it’s blurry. It is his adorable face that I love, and bigger is better.
Mystery 2: The Case of the “Objective” Mom
My mom has always said to both my sister and me: “Objectively, you are really wonderful people. You’re the most interesting people I know! And it’s not just because I’m your mom that I think that!”
As much as we appreciate the sentiment, we also roll our eyes.
While I still question my mom’s objectivity where I am concerned, I will happily claim to be a COMPLETELY OBJECTIVE aunt! My nephew really is the cutest and sweetest kid. Oh, and he’s so smart!
Mystery 3: The Case of Doing The Best You Can
The biggest lesson for me as an aunt has been seeing that parents are really doing the very best that they can. It’s easy to say that someone is doing their best, but usually this is a flaccid acknowledgement that the person means well. Getting such an up close view of my sister’s life as a parent, I see how much is going on in a parent’s life on top of being a parent. As a kid, we think we are the center of our parent’s universe. While in many ways we might be, parents are also adults doing their own things too. Parents are doing the best they can balancing caring for their kids, their own needs, work, and everything else.
Caring for my nephew, especially times that I’ve babysat overnight, I really get it, down to the bone. The first time I did an overnight, the morning was so hectic making sure he was fed, with a dry diaper, and still alive (not having accidentally pulled a bookshelf on top of him while I went to the bathroom, for example), that I forgot to eat breakfast. By the time my sister and brother-in-law returned, I was a very hungry, tired, and grumpy mess. It felt impossible to imagine doing anything else I needed to do in the rest of my life, while also keeping my nephew alive.
With this up-close glimpse, it’s easier for me to really understand that my parents did the very best that they could. I think about how much was really going on in my parents’ lives when I was a child. My parents both worked full time, both had to tend to their own parents and families, and maintained friendships and hobbies (sometimes). My mom was fighting to be one of just a few women in the Wall Street Journal newsroom.
My parents were also trying to outgrow their own family patterns while doing the best they could in their new roles as parents. After picking apart my childhood and family dynamics for a few years in therapy, I can, of course, see ways that my parents didn’t measure up to some perfect ideal. But that’s not the point. All kids need to grow up and figure themselves out, outgrowing our family patterns. This is normal and healthy, a gift of being raised by loving and imperfect parents.
As documented in Case 2 (above), my mom is and was incredibly effusive in her verbal displays of enthusiasm for her daughters. She wanted to make she that she was effusive in ways that her mom wasn’t. My mom always made sure that we felt loved, appreciated, supported. She made sure that we knew our value as people, as women, and as her daughters.
She still is a fantastic, loving and effusive mom. We were recently on a meditation retreat together, where we received many comments about how we reminded people of their moms or their daughters. They envied that we were there together. We felt lucky to share the experience, and to continue our loving and close relationship as adults.
While I’ve always loved and appreciated my mom, I now feel an extra layer of understanding. I just see it now a bit more from her perspective, and have so much more room in my heart for how hard it is to be a parent.