Saturday, April 1, 2023

A Mother's Lessons

By Danielle Cote Serar

I know I’m not alone in the interesting dynamic of my family makeup but I know I’m also in the minority… blended, 17 year age difference between my husband and myself. A twenty-plus age difference between my stepchildren, one I raised, and my own biological children. I’m finding this is making me both an “expert” and a “novice” in this role called parent in my network of friends. Both, having gone through some of the hardest part of parenting called the teenage years yet a novice at toddler.

But something that has become clear as I attempt to succeed at this thing called parenting, regardless of the stage of parenting, we have to get comfortable in our discomfort. We have to learn to thrive, being calm cool, and collected in the moments that our insides are churning and we don’t want to do what we know we have to.

And it can be something as simple and as gross as the blowout diaper from the exorcist that makes you want to run for the nearest hill. Or a sick kid covered in vomit and your gag reflex kicks ins. We have to get comfortable in that discomfort because babies can’t do it themselves.

But we also have to get comfortable in the discomfort of questions. My daughter is four and very inquisitive and like all four-year-olds, her favorite question is why? But not all of them are as simple as why is the sky blue? (On a side note, you never fully know how absolutely limited your knowledge is and just how unintelligent you are until you are trapped in a conversation of whys with your four-year-old.) Sometimes she asks the hard why… the why that turns your gut or you think to yourself I’m just not ready to answer this.

I talk about my mother and my father with my daughter all the time. I call them by name. I tell her about them. And recently she’s started asking more about them. One of the most uncomfortable came just the other day, “Momma how come Grandma Bobbie died?” I’m an adult and I struggle with this question and it wretched my insides daily. How in the world do I even begin to break the surface of such a complex issue with her, knowing what is coming next? It was ironic that the question was about my mom because she was the one who taught me by the example of living comfortably in discomfort.

I was admittedly a unique child. I spoke more to and had more adult friends than children growing up and my mother always talked to me on my level but with tone and respect afforded her adult friends. So when my inquisitive and observant child mind would come to her with tough questions like “what if I were gay” or “what if I dated someone who wasn’t white” or “what if I got pregnant as a teen” or “what if I got into a fight to defend someone” or “mom did I break up dad’s marriage before you”… and yes as a child I did in fact ask all of these questions without any malice in them… she had to hide her discomfort for the sake of keeping communication open. For creating a safe space where I could come to her, without judgment, at any time. And it worked.

She never sugarcoated what her thoughts were, often saying I would be disappointed if you got pregnant as a teen but we would figure it out together, or it’s not the life I would hope for you but you are my daughter and I will love and support you. But because of those open conversations, when I became a teen and was being bullied and even had my life threatened, I knew I could go to her. When I was being pressured to drink or have sex, it was her I came to for the hard conversations. And as she later confessed to me she hated those conversations because they made her uncomfortable talking about them but also because she’d see a different world from what she grew up in. Yet I never knew how she felt until I was well in my mid-twenties. She was that good at living in her discomfort.

My stepson I helped raise is now 25 years old. I made him a promise when he was much much younger… that I would always tell him the truth, even if he didn’t or wouldn’t like what I was gonna say. And I did. I found myself in many awkward and uncomfortable moments. But he knew he could come to me for anything. And he did. He still does. He will still call me, his stepmom, with the tough questions.

We live in a world where the things our children face are leaps and bounds in their complexity of what we experienced as kids or even what my 25-year-old experienced. At preschool age, my daughter is already confronted with concepts hushed under the table until I was in my teens. She’s seeing people more sexualized than ever, faced with drills for getting shot at, and so much more. She is exposed to, hears more, and sees more than I ever did. I’m not commenting on the right or wrong of it. It’s just reality. Now more than ever, I feel strongly that the bond we need to form is one where she always feels safe coming to me. The bond that every parent needs to form with their children is just that… they can come to us with anything. And that starts by being comfortable in my discomfort.

My mom taught me so many things. And the lessons have shaped my life in so many ways. But this one concept has been without a doubt the most impactful in my parenting from my 10 to a now 25-year-old AND my babies from newborn to now almost 5 and 2.

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