Parenting isn’t easy. And mothers, especially, can be hard on themselves when it comes to balancing parenting styles that allow their children independence with healthy boundaries and supervision. In (un)Natural Mom: Why You Are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids, author Hettie Brittz writes on the myth of the “Natural Mom,” discussing how every mom is the right mom for her children, and how God has given each mom the skills she needs for her children’s needs. Enjoy this guest post from author Hettie Brittz, in which she tells us a story where she experienced this tension between “too loose” and “too tight” parenting.
Motherhood is filled with paradoxes. Pregnancy woes reduce us to tears while a deep joy grows inside of us. We can’t wait to be moms, yet we cling to the uncomplicated days of having just our spouse and ourselves to worry about. I never navigate these dichotomies with style. I am not the natural mom I thought I would be. I tend to teeter towards an extreme, only to stumble back over towards the other precipice. All the books tell us how moms should keep a healthy tension between the two extremes: allowing kids their space and independence and supervising them well enough to keep them out of trouble. You’re supposed to balance them, I hear. They’re like an elastic band that works well when stretched just right. That way it holds things together without snapping. I still get it too loose or too tight. And sometimes there is a catastrophic snap. . . .
When our daughter was four, and our son eighteen months, my husband’s band launched several ministry tours to Europe, Canada, and the United States. For three years in a row, our family spent four months, six months, and three months respectively touring with the band. Trying to balance a family focus with a ministry focus did not work very well. We teetered on the edge of all kinds of parenting problems.
My motherhood was put to the ultimate stress test when our lives went on the road. There was little routine. Every day we moved from one strange home or cheap hotel to another, never knowing how long it would be to the next diaper-changing station or microwave. How much leeway should one allow while keeping some kind of routine going? I thumb sucked a midpoint, but this unsettled existence shook my foundations. My kids were proof it.
On the second tour, at a high school in Iowa, I left my kids in the backstage room where snacks for the band were laid out on platters. My daughter had art supplies to amuse herself with, and my son had a set of simple animal puzzles. (Who gives a little boy a puzzle and thinks he will behave for the next two hours? This (un)natural mom did.) This was my attempt at allowing them play time while allowing myself some adult company. It seemed fair.
I joined our host in the foyer, chatting away. She was a teacher at the school. Together we bemoaned the state of discipline in schools and Christian homes. I made the ignorant statement that South African parents still had a firmer grip on discipline than American parents. At this point she asked if perhaps it were time for me to check on my kids. I didn’t think it was because, as I had already pointed out, we South Africans are not known for letting our kids run amok. She insisted. I relented.
I marched confidently through the door. The backstage room was a war zone. Ranch dressing and mustard splashes covered the floor. Cherry tomatoes, broccoli florets, and strawberries lay squashed everywhere. It was clear what the rules of the game had been: dip and demolish! My son was still stepping on tomatoes to send the juicy pulp squirting everywhere. Puzzles couldn’t beat this!
My daughter froze at the sight of me and then offered a perfectly logical explanation: “I dropped one tomato and it popped and then we just couldn’t stop.” The food-fight demon had taken over their bodies, and it was not their faults.
After waking up the janitor so we could borrow his mobile cleaning unit, we cleaning up the room as well as we could. At least I did this one thing right – I taught them to take responsibility for their mess. I sat down with my kids for a serious talk. I dished out what I considered to be fair punishment at the time but regretted later. In my defense, I was still learning that the traditional one-size-fits-all discipline method I grew up with did not teach kids skills.
We sorted what remained of the intact fruit and vegetables onto separate platters, and then I noticed it: the ranch dip was a light yellow color. Perhaps Iowa has a yellow version, I thought optimistically, or perhaps it was just a little mustard contamination that could be scraped off the top with a teaspoon. Instead, my investigation revealed a surprise of eight or ten large strawberries, which I hoisted hastily out of the dip. I gave the already churned ranch dressing a good stir, and wished the earth would open up and swallow me whole.
It should have been obvious to me that kids this young still needed so much more than a bag of goodies and four walls. They needed much more guidance and more of my simple presence than I naturally wanted to give. These high expectations of their good behavior and low level of input from my side was, and often still is, an unfortunate combination of my (un)natural mothering style. Why do I tend to be hands-off while wanting my kids to appear well-trained? The light bulb was illuminated when parenting and personality styles became a part of my research. The more I read, the more I saw that there were other parents like me. I was normal!
I keep experimenting with the tension between the tough no and the easy yes and the clash between indulging childish wants and cultivating resilient character in my kids. Every mom lives in the space between what our hearts cry for and what our consciences warn us about. Whichever way you lean, you do so because of a unique design. Your natural way is helping your kids navigate the tightropes they will one day walk without your supervision and helping hand.
I may be too “tight” while you are too “loose” or vice versa. What if the fallout of both extremes could make us and our kids stronger? I believe there was redemption among the mustard smudges on the floor. The mess got me to engage with my kids for an hour of cleaning, sorting and deeper insight. The food fight aftermath provided quality time and a much needed reality check. Your mistakes are redeemable too.
Have you ever thought back on some of the gainful results of your own mom’s parenting mistakes? Didn’t both of you learn a lot in the space between being prescriptive and allowing you your own choices? Would you have been as wise, as careful, as considerate and as mindful as you are now, if she always got the balance “just right?” I believe not. Similarly, I suspect the mothering beauty in you and me is shaped on the uphill or the downhill rather than on the level path. Long live the lessons we’ve learned on the “too loose” and “too tight” days! Long live the variety of mothering styles and the beauty of the unique kids shaped by them!
Hettie Brittz is a wife, mother, and speaker from South Africa. Author of Growing Kids with Character, Growing Kids Through Healthy Authority, and Cultivating Compassionate Discipline, (un)Natural Mom is her first book to be released in the United States. Between homeschooling her three kids and joining her husband on his ministry outreaches, Brittz tours internationally, speaking to audiences around the globe, as well as appearing in weekly parenting spots on South African television. Get her ebook, (un)Natural Mom: Why You Are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids, on Vyrso today!