Before Jessica Cutler Gross had kids, she smoked and drank and ate bagels for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When her friend told her she was getting flak for buying pre-ground flax seeds instead of grinding her own, she chuckled. Who grinds their own flax?
Jessica Cutler Gross grinds her own flax.The mom version of Jessica Cutler Gross, that is. Now she chuckles at herself, on Yoga Journal’s enlightened motherhood blog. Becoming an unexpected flax-seed grinder may seem like a fairly uncontroversial transformation. Jessica seems to be embracing the change with open arms. (I can relate; I’m making my own almond milk as we speak).
But sometimes even the tiniest, seemingly meaningless changes in behavior can have deep, not-so-pleasant reverberations when it comes to identity. When you’re anticipating the giant leap of becoming a mother, it’s easy to hang your hat on symbols that represent “the kind of mom you want to be” (vs. the kind of mom you hope never to become). The symbols can be about parenting: “I’ll never let be one of those parents who lets a two year old use a pacifier.” “I’ll never be one of those parents who sleeps with her kid” “I’ll never be one of those parents whose kid ruins other people’s meal at a restaurant” Or about how you’ll manage and balance the rest of your life after your baby’s born. “I’ll never walk around in yoga pants all day”, “I’ll never stop working out/going out with friends/going to foreign films”. Etc.
The thing is—and people don’t always talk about this when you’re pregnant, for reasons I’ll discuss in a bit—those moms probably thought they’d never be one of those parents either…until they had kids.
So what happens when you walk past a mirror and see the mom you were trying to avoid turning into?
You turn around and keep walking.
Unless, of course, the mirror image actually awakens you to some real shortcoming in your parenting that you think may be negatively affecting your family. But a lot of the time, those pre-parenthood ideas about parenting are not worth hanging on to once you’re in the thick of it. Why? For one thing, they’re basically made up. Before you have kids, you really don’t know what having kids will be like for you. You don’t know what kind of kids you’ll have, or how you’ll handle the ups and downs of the parenting landscape. Which, by the way, changes ALL THE TIME. So setting ideas in stone at any point is a potentially problematic concept.
Of course you will have some ideas about how you’d like to parent. Some of them are really important, essential things that reflect your values. And if the ideas are meaningful to you, stick to them. But you may find that the things you thought were important beforehand don’t feel the same way after the baby is born. Or that the ideas you had before you became a parent just don’t work once you actually become a parent. Or stop working at some point. In my opinion, it makes a lot more sense to go with what works in the here and now than feel wedded to an idea you formed when you were pregnant, or even beforehand.
This might be one of those things it’s impossible to “get” until you get there. Ceridwen and I have talked about this a lot—why it’s fine, and even good, for pregnant women (and their partners) to have unrealistic fantasies about parenthood. The ideas you have about parenthood beforehand serve an important purpose, whether or not they end up reflecting the way you parent. Maybe they’re the pregnant person’s way of bolstering her confidence, or just getting mentally from point a to point p(arent). It can be so comforting to feel like you’ve got a plan—and like you can avoid whatever parenting pitfalls you find particularly disturbing. When I hear a pregnant person make proclamations about parenting, I try to keep my mouth shut. Who knows, maybe they really will stick to those convictions. Or maybe they’ll seem completely absurd once they’re down in the trenches.
All those “I’ll nevers” I listed above? Those are things I said to myself, or to others, when I was pregnant and observing (read: judging) other parents behavior. Guess how many of them got thrown out the window?
photo: Carsten Tolkmit/Flickr