The Mom Model

I didn’t set out in life to model specific behaviors for my four daughters. In the beginning I felt like I knew nothing about being a mom, and I had so many raging insecurities I couldn’t fathom that I might be a model for anyone. I was just following my instincts, doing what I thought I should be doing, what the world (and my parents watching from heaven) expected of me.

When my first daughter was born I was working full-time and loving my career. I had no inkling that the draw of motherhood would be so powerful. By the time she was a year old, I was miserable at work. I quit my job. I naively thought I could be a mom for a few years and then go back to my career. After all, everyone kept telling me I could “have it all.”

A second daughter came along and with her came all the attributes of a second-born child. She was strong willed and determined to race through life, causing her older sister to run to catch up. It was four years later before my body was ready and another daughter came into my life. It was then that I learned the probability of my not ever having a son. I was so in love with my daughters, I didn’t care. My fourth daughter came along and brought all those bittersweet joys of “the lasts.” The last time I will help a daughter learn to walk, talk, ride a bike.

From an early age I learned to survive, independently. When I married I had dreams of my husband being a perfect husband and dad, helping with everything. His refusal to change diapers was the first clue that those had merely been dreams, not reality. But I was a survivor, so independently I did it all. People marveled at my organization, my patience, my determination. And they saw love. That unconditional love of a mother and her child, times four.

We didn’t have a perfect life by any means. But there wasn’t a day my daughters didn’t feel my love for them. Even in the darkness of their father’s anger and the stress and friction that became the focus of our lives for so many years. My daughters watched me do it all, often without support.

And so it is that through the act of surviving and following my instincts, I modeled being a mom. Looking back now I wish someone had told me to show my weakness, to show my uncertainty, to show my insecurities. I hid those things too well and I made it all look too easy and too perfect.

My oldest daughter is now twenty-nine and she is struggling for control in all aspects of her life. Kate’s husband suffered a serious injury to one of his legs right before Christmas and he has not been able to walk since. He will have surgery this coming week to repair his leg and then four to six months of recuperation and physical therapy. The good news is he will walk again and I remind myself of that regularly. The bad news is that Kate has had to shoulder everything. They heat their home with a wood stove, so she’s hauled all the wood every day. She works full-time out of the house and has a forty-five minute commute each way. She has a four-year-old daughter and an eighteen-month-old son. Kate is cooking, cleaning, shopping, parenting, working—doing it all—alone. And the loss of her husband’s income has been devastating. Sure her husband is there to advise her, but he is struggling through the frustration and depression that come with a critical illness.

I’ve reached out to Kate several times, offering help. At first my offers were generic. “Let me know how I can help.” She never answered. Then I came up with specific ways that I knew I could help and offered those things. “I’ll take the kids while you grocery shop. I’ll take the kids overnight so you can get some rest. I’ll come to your house and help you clean and haul wood and do chores.” It’s hard not to take her refusals personally, especially given the struggles she and I have had since August.

I know I am much wiser now at fifty-three than I was at twenty-three when I gave birth to Kate. But to Kate, I am “The Mom” and my knowledge is questionable even on the best days. In my mind’s eyes I can see Kate rolling her eyes when I say to her on the phone, “Taking care of your kids for the weekend will be so much fun!” And because Kate is a perfectionist, I know she is striving to follow the Mom Model she was shown all her life. She is an intelligent woman, very capable and determined. And even though I have said, “You don’t have to do it alone,” she is determined not to show her insecurities, her weaknesses.

I am coming to terms with the fact that I am on the downhill slide of my life, with less years ahead of me than behind me. But I am not a quitter and I know I have a ton of work to do yet. It’s becoming very apparent to me that I must model for my daughters The Mature Woman, someone fully capable of doing it all but one who chooses to accept the help of friends and family, one who is confident despite her insecurities, one who loves unconditionally despite rejection.

 

The bully is back.

About two years ago, I was the daily target of bullying at work. It was pretty awful and I couldn’t get support from my manager. Then one day Jane “slipped” and put her bullying in writing. She pulled back and didn’t bother me much after that.

Late last week word went through the office that Anna had put in her two weeks’ notice. Anna joined our company about two years ago and everyone liked working with Anna. She always smiled, always said “Yes, I can”, and never complained. Turns out, she was the perfect target for Jane.

I had no idea Anna was being bullied. She never complained, never said a bad word. I was so relieved that I wasn’t being targeted anymore that I never gave it a thought, never imagined Jane was bullying Anna. I naively thought Jane had learned to behave more appropriately.

On Monday of this week, Jane grilled me in a meeting that I facilitate with about a dozen or so people attending. Some are on the phone, some are at the table with me. This week Jane was seated across from me at the table and she went off on a tirade about how the meeting is a waste of time because it’s so poorly facilitated. She asked if anyone else agreed with her. Not a single person spoke up. But that didn’t stop Jane from ranting more, essentially repeating everything she had already said. When she paused for someone to join in with her rant, I spoke and told Jane that I find the meeting to be efficient and effective for its purpose but I was open to suggestions from anyone for improving the format. Jane shut her mouth. No one else wanted to add anything (do you blame them?) and the meeting adjourned shortly after.

Later that afternoon I received a phone call from Dan. He had been on the conference call during the meeting and he wanted to know why Jane had been ranting. He thought perhaps he had missed something since he was on the phone, not attending in person. He found her behavior inappropriate. I agreed. On Tuesday, a woman who had attended Monday’s meeting in person, pulled me aside to ask why Jane had “gone off” in Monday’s meeting. She too thought Jane’s behavior was inappropriate. And then she proceeded to share with me a conversation she had had with Anna the week before. And that’s how I came to learn that for the last two years, Jane has been bullying Anna.

I feel so bad. If my manager had paid more notice when I first complained more than two years ago, would that have saved Anna from being bullied? Would Anna have stayed in the job? Or is she such a bright star that she would have moved on to a better opportunity no matter what?

Jane bullied me in Monday morning’s meeting. She bullied me again on Tuesday, but to a lesser degree. Wednesday was Anna’s last day and she spent nearly two hours in an exit interview with HR. Is it possible HR listened a little closer to what Anna had to say?

Jane didn’t say a single word to me today. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.

Body Talk

I headed out this morning to do some errands and shopping. As I pulled into the grocery store parking lot, I saw a woman getting into her car to leave. So I stopped and waited, with my blinker turned on so that anyone coming along would know I was planning to take that spot. As I was waiting for the woman to back out, another car approached in front of me and stopped. The woman who was leaving was taking a very long time, and I was waiting patiently. And so was the car that had come from the other direction. As I sat there I wondered, he’s not going to try to grab the spot when the woman backs out, is he? No, he didn’t. He must have grown impatient waiting for the woman to back out, because after a couple of minutes, he moved on passed me and over to another aisle to park. But as he passed by me, I saw his face and instantly I was taken back to another time in my life.

When a man, any man, has an anger problem, there are tell-tale signs that his body language silently yells. Sadly, too many of us women have experienced first-hand the results of that anger and we became “bilingual.” Our very lives and the lives of our children depended on being able to “hear” the body talk of anger.

As often happens when shoppers enter a store at the same time, I encountered this man and his wife and small child in several places throughout the store. In the canned goods, near the produce, by the milk. His wife was quiet. His child was withdrawn. It was painful for me, and I tried very hard to just keep on moving quickly and out of their way. I did my best to ignore them, to treat them like all the other shoppers that I encountered today but none of whom I noticed. I was grateful that they were not anywhere near when I entered the checkout. I just wanted to get home, where I knew I would be safe.

Perhaps none of the other shoppers today heard this man’s body talk in the way I did. What a blessing it would be if that was the case! And it was a poignant reminder to me of the life I once lived. I was surprised that after thirteen years of being apart from my ex-husband, I am still “bilingual.”

When I got home with my groceries, my loving husband came out to the garage to help carry things in. I gave him a big kiss and told him I love him. He probably thinks it’s for helping carry in the bags. I’ll tell him the real reason later when we have a few moments to ourselves.