Having been a mother for almost 15 years, I should by now have a pretty good idea what the job entails. Yet, I’ve come to understand that the only predictable part of motherhood is its unpredictability. While it’s comforting in the rough times to know “this too shall pass,” it’s distressing to realize the lovely moments are just as fleeting. Lately, I’m nostalgic for those lovely moments when my children were very small. As stressful as caring for them was, in those early years, I believed I could protect them from almost every danger, and I could satisfy their every need. All too soon, I’ve discovered that’s no longer the case.
I have come to realize the older they get, the less I know what to expect from my children. That realization is both exhilarating and terrifying. How strange to discover practically overnight that those small ones who once followed me around like ducklings are becoming headstrong individuals whose lives will move in directions far different from my own. I have no way to control all the challenges my growing children will bring to our family life, yet what I can control is the way I respond to those challenges.
Therefore, a new year offers me an opportunity to imagine the future and open myself to the possibilities of motherhood I never needed to call upon before. As one who spent much energy protecting my children from danger, I now recognize that, for older children, too much protection can be as harmful as too little. I also recognize the need to be more sensitive to some issues — like my children’s relationships with their peers — and less sensitive to others — like my tears of being excluded. My family life is shifting, and to serve my children well, I, too, must change.
So, this year, my New Year’s resolutions reflect my goals as I respond to those inevitable changes of family life. The coming year will bring unforeseen challenges. Of course, I won’t always respond appropriately. Still, by listing these resolutions, I hope to become more aware of attributes that are important to my role as the mother of older children.
In 1998 …
I resolve to lecture less and listen more. My children have gently pointed out to me my tendency to give long-winded, elaborate answers to simple questions.
I resolve to pick my battles carefully. The older my children, the more I recognize in my nature a stubbornness to prove I’m right even if that means falling into ridiculous, petty arguments.
I resolve to make our home a pleasant place for my children to bring their friends, but at the same time, I will act as a chaperone, never trying to pass as one of the crowd.
I resolve to discern when and when not to interfere in my children’s lives … to learn which problems at school or with peers require my intervention and which are best left for my children to handle on their own.
I resolve to keep faith central to our family life, while at the same time realizing that each child will develop his or her own relationship with God … in his or her own time.
I resolve to step back and let others whom I respect and trust — teachers, relatives, coaches, neighbors, friends — form meaningful relationships with my children. Older children benefit immensely from the guidance of role models outside the immediate family.
I resolve to allow my children to dislike me and my decisions. As hurtful as their anger toward me can be, I realize not everything I say and do will be agreeable to them, not every decision I make popular.
I resolve to forgive. I will forgive those times when my children betray my trust, hurt my feelings, act irresponsibly and inconsiderately. And I will forgive myself for the many times I will fail my children.
Finally, I resolve to recognize the need to call upon God’s grace to accomplish these goals. Only when I surrender my prideful control and my own selfish desires can I discover and follow God’s will.
Mary Hood Hart lives in Calabash, N.C., with her husband, Jim, and their four children, ages 6 to 14. In addition to The Miscellany, Hart is a columnist for The Mirror, diocesan newspaper of Springfield — Cape Girardeau, Mo.