Sunday, April 21, 2013

Smart Mothers -- oh, the pressure!

The most significant benefit my android-powered phone offers me is frequent and easy contact with my kids, particularly in the form of texts, which are often delightfully accompanied by a photo of a granddaughter. I got such a photo-text the other morning, one of my 5-month old granddaughter contemplating self-propulsion, her wee bum hunched up in the air while her knees and arms thought about how to budge her torso forward. She's almost got it, having recently mastered back-to-front and front-to back flips.

New mom and I back-and-forthed short texts for a while, and then she sent this one, directing me to another medium: "Write something smart for me on my FB update."

Hmmm. Tall order, right? Curious, I switched screens, found her post -- "I don't think you should feel guilty about feeling bad about what happened in Boston just because there are worse things happening in the world. Go ahead and feel your feelings, just don't forget to be super grateful for the life you have and  keep creating and giving out positive feelings/vibes/energy. The world obviously needs it. My first response was to began filling in context. Obviously, she'd been bugged by some conversation or other which chastised her, or our social propensity in general, for responding to the tragedy in Boston (and she was posting Wednesday, before the hunt for the suspects) while we pay much less attention to ongoing or sudden horrors in the "developing" world.

But Yikes! Something smart? When all I wanted to do was finish my tea break and get back to my marking?  Still, how can one let a daughter down, especially one who regularly sends baby photo texts and who thinks her mother capable of writing "something smart"?

 Just before I posted, a friend of hers wrote this, which solidified my guess at context:
"Where I get stuck is when i look at the obsessive airtime events like Boston receive and the mere passing mention that much larger atrocities in the developing world get."
Hard not to sympathize with her friend, really, but my job was to leave a "smart comment" helping my daughter articulate what I could only intuit she meant. At the same time, I didn't want to offend any of her friends, particularly those who might have been, or felt, targeted by her original Status Update. After all, we're all just flailing at answers in the wake of such tragic events. Here's what I wrote, and it's not particularly smart. . .

Seems pretty human to me to be able to identify with those living lives more recognizably like ours. At the same time, besides feeling grateful for my own life, I've been lucky enough to be able to contribute to some really great work friends/neighbours are doing in the developing world. As for the larger atrocities M refers to, if they're political/military/terrorist in nature, I'm not sure what I can do about them -- and I can't see how shutting down my response to events in my own backyard helps those in the developing world. I vote, I pay taxes, I choose good causes to contribute to financially, and I might also lament when a little boy in Boston gets killed, along with my fellow long-distance runners, because someone is f**Ed up. . . .And I try to give out the good vibes as well . . .  Baby's smiles help . .

The whole conversation reminded me of something. . . . and sure enough, as I began searching back through earlier posts here, I found this, written in the aftermath of the Japanese earthquake. Same daughter triggered that one. I'm not sure I've gotten any "smarter" in the two intervening years. I'm pretty sure there's not huge evidence of "smart" in either post. I'm smart enough, though, to be pleased that my daughter continues to count on my having some answers to life's big questions.

Indeed, while I'm sometimes exasperated as much as flattered by her need for my supposed wisdom, I'm moved by her investment in the process. I suspect she could come up with the obvious answers I supply her. But she wants to hear from someone who has lived longer -- and most particularly, she believes an older woman holds some wisdom. While that's an entirely different post, a very personal sadness of mine, especially recently, has been how little of that investment I had/made in my own mom, how much of her wisdom was lost or silenced. So I'm going to keep trying to "Write Something Smart" for my daughter, who is showing my granddaughter that we aging women know a thing or two. . .

Trying, I said. Trying.

Now, over to you:
Have you been asked for wisdom in response to very visible, very troubling world events? Or are you the one they turn to for help with relationships, advice with child-rearing? Do you find this role and responsibility a weighty one, challenging, or do you embrace it easily? Do you see gender and/or age a factor in who asks you for what wisdom? And are you lucky enough to have gleaned wisdom from elderly female relatives in the past? --  it's wisdom and some kind of philosophy, articulated, that I'm looking for, specifically, rather than simply comfort and support, which are hugely important, but of a somewhat different order . . . .

23 comments:

  1. Writing from cold and snowy Edmonton where I've been invited to bring my experience of years of moving across country and across continents - a sort of wisdom, I guess.
    Yes, I had a wise female relation in my youth - A sister of Notre Dame - my dad's eldest sister. It wasn't so much what she told me as what she showed me - the way she loved a life that could have been restricting but one that she lived fully and rather adventurously. Whereas my mother always seemed to fear for me, this aunt always gave the impression that she was asking me 'why not?' when I wondered if I might try something.
    Don't you you think that this wisdom your daughter credits you is well-earned?.........and a bit of a reward. All the years 'in the trenches' of child rearing - all the nitty-gritty life lessons taught, and now a daughter comes to you for something that really matters - to her heart or her soul. That's how I feel when my children ask my advice on things that matter to them - all that and a little surprised and humbled.

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  2. Having posted this with some trepidation, I nonetheless was hoping to start an interesting conversation. And how satisfying to have yours as the first response! You trigger memories of some of my aunts, one in particular, that I wish I'd stayed in touch with more. I'd love to think I've earned my daughter's confidence in my putative wisdom -- certainly, I'm happy to consider it a reward for anything I might have done right. Like you, I'm always surprised and a bit humbled by the requests. . . Enjoy your Edmonton visit; I'm sure your wisdom is much appreciated there.

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  3. I do seem to be the one my women friends and family come to for guidance. Certainly my children do come to me for advice and I'm delighted to offer my help. It is weighty but also rewarding.
    My husbands family has recently put me in that role as the medical advocate for my brother in law. He is most likely terminal. They think I have all the answers. That I know how to best communicate with his doctors. That I am the most capable to care for him physically. It's a rough one. I'm flattered, humbled and a little afraid of the enormous responsibility.
    My father was the wise person in my life and when I lost him, I felt a huge void...which I still feel to this day. Ten years later it is easier, but the comfort of his guidance is sorely missed.

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    1. That is a huge responsibility, but I'm sure your family wouldn't have put it on you if you hadn't given ample evidence, over the years, of your wisdom and care. But again, what a huge responsibility!
      I miss my father still as well, after 13 years. The persistence of that sense of loss is surprising, isn't it?

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  4. Yes I have looked to older women for wisdom. My grandmas provided spirit, every day solid, down to earth wisdom. Big grandma ( 4 foot 9) and little grandma (great grandma)(4 foot 8). Both were strong, intelligent, working class women who brought up their kids, survived their marriages and loved their grandchildren. My little grandma used to ask me to speak to her in French everytime I visited. She could not speak French she just loved the fact that I was learning something new.

    My big grandma was always telling stories and making me laugh. When I introduced her to my husband she said ' he's alright. I like him even if he doesn't say alot.' Perfect. They did not always provide words but simply solidity. They were always there when you needed them. Usually with a smile, a hug and a cup of tea. It was more than enough.

    I do not know my mum that well, she was not a natural nurturer. However, from reading and learning of the experiences of others I would like to remedy that before it is too late.

    I strongly believe we need to share our experiences. My world could have been so much smaller than it is, collectively we can all contribute whatever age but the knowledge and experience of each generation has to find a way to be shared, mother, daughter, sister, friend, mentor, coach, whatever the title we can learn from each other and face the world that way step by step. That's my view anyway, for what it's worth!

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    1. Thanks for sharing those memories of your tiny grandmothers -- I love that sense of down to earth wisdom. I didn't get much time with my "English grandma" but quite a lot with my Mom's mom -- both gave a sense of love, support, and comfort, but I can't imagine asking them for advice. I'm still sorting through what I might mean by the wisdom of our mothers. Just wishing I'd paid more attention. . .

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  5. Oooh, interesting questions. I don't know that I'm the one that people go to for advice or wisdom, but I'm pretty comfortable discussing anything. I believe that an honesty is perhaps the most useful quality of them all. I tell it like it is - and it's rarely perfect. People have told me that they appreciate that quality.

    I do find wisdom EVERYWHERE! There are so many fantastic women of all ages (though generally older) who teach me and enlighten me on a daily basis. I'm incredibly grateful.

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    1. Well, first of all, you're the Bra Whisperer. . .
      I do think that honesty (tempered with kindness, as appropriate) is its own kind of wisdom. As is parsing out just what honesty might mean, in different situations. . .
      I love the celebratory tone of your last paragraph -- there really are so many fantastic, wise women!

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    2. OMG - I totally forgot about the bra thing (though who the hell knows how!) On that account I do get asked for much advice. No one seems very interested in my parenting advice, though :-)

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  6. I had a great great aunt who was an inspiration to me when I was in my teens. I was a nerdish girl uncomfortable with myself and she always came to my room and had a conversation with me. Sometimes she had clippings to share or books to recommend. She was a spinster who had travelled in Europe extensively as a governess in a diplomatic family. I inherited her books and am intrigued still by bits of poetry, dedications and keepsakes that fall out of them. I have not found the wisdom in my mother and that makes me a little sad. My sister and I tend to be giving her advice all the time as she is totally lost without my father. My daughter leads a different life from mine and so does not come to me for advice. I miss having a family wise woman.

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    1. Your great-great-aunt sounds like a treasure! We nerdish/bookish types really benefit from someone who can offer a big picture of life, especially that beyond adolescence. Like you, I haven't found wisdom in my mother, at least not for many years, and I'm on a bit of a quest now to think through why that might be and to look harder for what I might have missed. . .
      Whether your daughter needs your wisdom at the moment or not, she probably recognizes it, and may yet seek it out in the future. Meanwhile, you can be your own wise woman, as long as you keep sharing that wisdom with us on your blog!

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  7. Oh my, there is so much in here. I'll just respond to the bit that particularly resonates with me right now, which is the mother thing. My mother is a narcissist, incapable of empathy - or even a perspective that doesn't make her the centre of the known universe - so I have never looked to her for wisdom. However, I have been lucky enough to have a number of older women who have been available to offer their own wisdom - my maternal grandmother, several aunts, family friends, bosses. My daughter talks to me in a way that I would never have dreamt of talking to my mother, about many things; I hope that continues ... How wonderful that your daughters come to you for advice and wisdom.

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    1. And you just spoke of such a woman who mentored you in your professional life!
      Sometimes I recognize, when I hear examples such as yours, that for all her limitations, I was very lucky in my mother. And as I think about and around this post and the comments, I start to admit more of the wisdom she did have, even if I still hold disappointments about what she lacked.
      Most hopeful of all is that as we examine our own relationships with our mothers, we see so much difference in the way we relate to our daughters. I've been lucky enough to see that hold true right into adulthood, and I'm pretty sure you will as well.

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  8. I have had several older women in my life who have emulated the kind of woman I want to be. There are many things about my own mother I admire, and some things I do not. I want to cultivate the good things and avoid the negative.
    My two daughters and I have long conversations about life. I sometimes wonder if the things I share with them about my own personal journey - hopes, dreams, fears - should be shared more with a peer than with the younger generation. However, they tell me, from time to time, that they appreciate knowing that life has challenges at any age, and that they admire the way I handle things. That's very humbling.
    I love the fact that your daughter solicits your comments and thoughts. That's both scary and reassuring, is it not?

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    1. Well said re choosing those aspects of your mother's character that you admire -- I guess that's the sorting I'm doing now.
      Your relationship with your daughters sounds very rich, and I'm sure that it will only grow, especially when you share as honestly and openly as you do, across the generations.
      And yes. Scary AND reassuring!

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  9. For me, keeping in touch and being supportive is what is most important, not the content of what is said. I often have no idea what to say in this situations and feel no pressure to be smart. In similar situations I've said things like "that's a good point" and added a simple paraphrasing of what was already said.

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    1. Oh, I do much of what you're talking about as well. Sometimes support and simple contact is what's desired and appropriate. But sometimes, I get asked specifically for advice, as does my husband, and it's based not on our role as parents as much as on our life experience. They want to know what we know or think or, sometimes, feel, in order to sort out their own position or actions.

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  10. I'm not clear whether she wanted you to past as you, or as her. However, "Write something smart for me..." seems to imply you are posting as her. If so, there's a distinction I'd make between providing experience and guidance, to help her clarify her thoughts- and writing something for her. She has, in you, an outstanding example of forthright expression that is also considerate and inclusive of diverse opinion.

    A person using social media ought, I believe, to speak for him or herself, and *wait as long as they wish or need to* before doing so. (I don't see asking someone to author their own response as "letting someone down".)

    The capacity of social media to allow instantaneous response does not oblige one to provide one. Asking someone else to write under your name... I am sure you know the problems with that.

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    1. Sorry if that wasn't clear, K. She wanted me to post as myself -- I'm both chuffed and embarrassed to admit that she likes her friends to know that she has a "smart mom" -- whether I believe that about myself or not.
      She and I both write, on social media, only in our own names, have no fear.
      The context here is of a daughter, proud of her mom, asking her mom to contribute to a conversation carried on among friends and family. Although I was busy at the time and the topic wasn't one that I would have been moved to write about on my own, I was, as I suggest above, happy enough (if a bit exasperated and bemused) to meet her modest enough request.

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  11. My mother is very wise I think although she carries her wisdom lightly. She taught me so much as I was growing up about empathy and kindness, both by example and in conversation. Now that I am in my fifties I had perhaps begun to feel there was nothing she could teach me but I was wrong. In talking about my fathers illness, which has placed a huge burden on her which she shoulders calmly and cheerfully, she said to me " I think of my job now as giving us both a good day. Every morning I think about what we can do, however small, that will give us pleasure, and that's the way I manage." So she still has things to teach me after all these years.
    As to my own children and stepchildren, they do ask my advice. I try to encourage them to look at all possibilities and to have faith in themselves. I hope this succeeds but I don't really know. Like pond side I find it quite humbling to be asked.

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    1. What a wise woman she sounds, indeed, and you're luckily wise enough to notice and to listen.
      And your advice to your children and stepchildren sounds wise as well -- generally, this is the approach I feel most comfortable with myself. I'm uneasy about giving concrete strategic advice, but convince and convincing when I show mine their own strength and help them think an issue through. It really is humbling to be asked!

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  12. I remember the first time I had to talk with my daughter (age 2?) about Something Serious, though I do not recall the topic. But I do remember feeling utterly unequal to the task, having suddenly been entrusted as the dispenser of maternal wisdom.

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    1. Yes! And I've been amazed at how far into adolescence, and then beyond right into adulthood, mine will ask me questions that I'm amazed they think I might have answers to! Watch for it!

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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