February 21, 2013
Categories: Family, Self

lovely ladies

Last week, I had the honor of spending a day with my new friend, Barbara and several of her girlfriends, all self-proclaimed hippies who met in Colorado in their 20s and who have managed to remain “thick friends” through the years.

Barbara (first in the lineup) lives part-time in Colorado and part-time here in Tulum. She and her husband have an off-grid, solar powered home in the jungle community my husband manages. Barbara is a gem. She and I hit it off from day one, swapping stories about the cultural norms of our respective eras, the struggles unique to mother and womanhood outside the box and the threats to thriving communities both then and now.

So when she mentioned that her girlfriends were coming to town — the very ones she’d communed with in the early 70s when Crested Butte was little more than an affordable escape to the land and from the establishment — I was there like a hungry hitchhiker at a protest potluck.

After the first few minutes of feeling me out following Hunter’s preface that I was “writing a book about motherhood,” they all relaxed a bit, realizing that I was neither A, in search of the holy grail of parenting perfection, nor B, about to share with them the wealth of wisdom I’d acquired, having read everything ever published post-Dr. Spock.

By the time it was obvious that Christine (my own dear friend, current house guest and fellow mother-of-four) and I had already long-since had our theories chewed up, spit out and handed to us on a fast food napkin, it was on. “Yes, we’ll share our perspectives, yes you can take notes, and about those parenting experts…”

me and christine

Christine, one of my besties. Eight kids between us and both admittedly winging this parenting thing.

What an amazing bunch of women. Their energy, their humility, their depth of connection and their sense of humor were a true gift, and one I’m so pleased to be able to share with you.

Never having conducted a proper interview before and preferring the cadence of casual conversation, I simply took notes as we chatted. Here’s what I gleaned over the course of the day, followed by a few words of wisdom from each mama to you.

Perspective from Three Wise Women…

On Parenting

  • There are way too many books out there telling you how to raise your kids. You don’t need books, you need each other to help you raise your kids.
  • I couldn’t have “done it all” like mothers try to do today. I’d have gone crazy.
  • You only really have your kids until they’re about five. Make the most of those years. After that, life’s influences are largely beyond your control.
  • You’ll never have the perfect kid. That’s really not what it’s about, anyway.
  • You have to work with what you have. It’ll make you crazy trying to change everything. 
  • Our children need to see us go through hard times. People try so hard to avoid difficulty, but kids really just need to see that we have it in us to get through the tough stretches.
  • Your kids aren’t always going to listen and you can’t let that get to you. There’s no sense in beating yourself up over normal.
  • Teenagers have to be the way they are (difficult) in order to break away. It’s all just a part of the process.
  • With teenagers, often the less you say, the better. Lectures are usually tuned out anyway. One word is sometimes enough.
  • There are plenty of parenting fallacies and over-generalizations out there. Here’s one for you: If you read to children, they will learn to love to read. In my experience, if you read to children they will learn to love to be read to! Do it your way. Do what works for your family.

On Nurturing Ourselves

  • Moms tend to give too much of themselves away. You have to learn how to hold back enough to create your happiness.
  • Find ways to fill your own glass. No one else can do that for you.
  • We have to learn tools to create peace within ourselves. They’re not always just there.
  • Do what you love and don’t worry so much about doing it “right” for the kids. They will benefit most if you’re happy and you, as parents, are cohesive.
  • Quit trying to be perfect. Just be yourself. You won’t know until later, if ever, the influence you’re having on peoples’ lives, but it will be greatest if you’re true to yourself.

On What’s Different About Raising Kids Today

  • It’s harder today than it was then. There are so many options, too many options. All the alternatives have everyone confused and trying to do everything perfectly, which is, of course, not possible.
  • When we were raising kids, when they were school aged, they just went to school. No options, no big ordeal trying to afford somewhere private or teach them yourself, you just went close to where you lived like everyone else. It wasn’t always great, but then, what is?
  • Our parents didn’t worry a thing about upsetting us. That was never what it was about.
  • We were all children and our parents didn’t do anything right and we all turned out okay!
  • Our parents certainly didn’t over-parent and they never seemed to overanalyze things. We did a little more of that with our kids, but today’s parents make themselves crazy by over-thinking it all.

Toward the end of the day I asked them each a final question, “How would you advise the current generation of women and mothers trying to live and parent against the mainstream?”

Here’s what they said:

Barbara
Barbara — retired nurse, mother, step-mother and grandmother of 13

“Parenting is hard, and more complex today than ever. It’s so important not to stay isolated. Talk to others moms, find or build community. Your doubts and questions are shared by many. You’re not in it alone.”

“Relax, enjoy your kids and let them BE as much as you can. Try not to be so uptight, not to worry so much. Much of it is out of your control and that’s okay.”

“Most importantly, be good to yourself and keep a sense of humor. A sense of humor is essential.”

Vicky

Vicky – flight attendant, mother of two boys

“Women grow up with Disney-esque perspectives, thinking that true love, a man and a family will complete the portrait of our lives. No one tells you how real and challenging it actually is to raise a family, so we end up thinking we’re doing it all wrong. The truth is, we’re doing fine, life just isn’t Disney.”

“Stress is mostly a new concept. Our kids didn’t feel stress like kids do today. Kids pick up on their parents’ vibes, so it’s really important for parents to take care of themselves and do what they love; to show children how to create their own happiness by example.”

“Kids want you to parent them. They need you to say ‘no.’ You aren’t doing anyone any favors by giving in to whatever they want. Spoiling your kids with stuff is not the same as loving them.”

Christy
Christy – simplicity and organizational coach, single mother since age 17.

“Teach your kids simplicity. Don’t overwhelm them with stuff. As someone who helps people simplify their lives for a living, it’s fascinating to see how much people acquire for their kids because they think they should or that it will make their children happy. Kids develop “needs” for and dependency upon things largely from their parents. Kids need space to be and to play without the distraction of tons of toys. When we teach them to want and expect so much from the time they are little, it affects them the rest of their lives. You are actually doing more for your kids by not giving them everything they want.”

“As for being a single parent, I have no idea how I would have done it without a strong community. We all supported one other.”

—–

Perhaps the most refreshing thing I experienced all day was each of their reactions to having their photos taken fresh out of the swimming pool. “Well, I’m not getting out of my bathing suit,” and “Hang on, just let me pull my hair back,” were followed by total indifference when I showed them each their head shots to make sure they liked them. “Yep, that one’s fine.” “Oh sure, looks great,” and “Whatever, that’ll work.” Not a one of them fussed or requested redos or made critical comments of themselves. Their beauty was truly enhanced for me in that moment by their confidence and self respect.

Since that day, I have thought of so many more things I want to ask them — about raising kids in the 70s, about feminism and how things have shifted, about utopic ideals and how they soften with age. Our time together reminded me of how valuable women’s stories are and how important it is for us to foster relationships cross-generationally and intentionally within our unnaturally divided and age segregated culture.

The need for community seemed, in fact, the common thread woven throughout their reflections. Looking back, their sentiments very much support a favorite quote of mine by Wendell Berry…

build community

Mil gracias Barbara, Vicky, Christy. Your wisdom, strength, passion and beauty are not lost on me.

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22 Comments

  1. Beth, I just LOVE this post! Thank you so much for sharing this. I got teary when I read it, but not in a sad way. Rather, in an uplifting way. We can do it but we have to do it together! Thanks.
    Karen

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  2. great post!

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  3. I want every parent I know to read this. Today.

    Thank you Beth…

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  4. that is so funny, i just had that thought the other day…that this may be the last year i can lift my boy up and hold him, while he rest his head on my shoulder. he’s a growing boy and out growing mamas strength. i have told my self to lift him up and hold him as often as i can because it did make me like i really only have him until now. he’s in school & sports and definitely experiencing life’s influences. Loved to be reminded of the importance of simplicity, loving and supporting those around you. thanks for sharing!

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  5. Very empowering, what a great post. Now to just find myself a community of wise women and I could fly.

    Thanks for sharing this and thank you to those wonderful women for sharing.

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  6. This is absolutely fantastic! What a terrific way to spend an afternoon with one of your besties :)

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  7. Love this! I have so many mothers from different parts of my lives. They’ve all helped shape who I’ve become as a woman, a mother, and everything else. Thank you for a post which reminds me why we ALL are important to a variety of people throughout our lives, and how we ALL have important lessons to teach and experiences to relate…

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  8. I think this might be one of my top favorites of all your posts. You are helping us mamas keep all this parenting business in perspective. These older mamas hold much wisdom and have so much to share – thanks for bringing it to us today!

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  9. My friend and I were skyping last night about this exact thing!!! Women need a community of other women for support and it’s something many of us are missing today. Thank you so much for this timely post. I LOVE IT!! I, too, was tearing up and felt so relieved to read and be reminded that this parenting thing isn’t as serious as I’m making it out to be. Thanks Beth!

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  10. Such a fantastic post. I have always wanted to read something like this–other women’s biographies emphasizing exactly what they said–creating community and giving encouragement and relief to the stressed out mothers of today! Thank you!!

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  11. Rhonda Charnes Martin

    Let me just say that when this most recent blog arrived in my email this morning, it was perfectly timed! I so appreciated the wise words of those women, and I cannot tell you how comforting it is to hear that there isn’t a “right way.” My daughter is only two and a half, but as a full time working mother and a PhD student writing a dissertation, I struggle with guilt ALL THE TIME. My husband works two jobs and so my child is with my mother and mother-in-law. They are my support community. I understand the value of the “community” but unfortunately, they also want to tell me HOW to do things. It is so refreshing to hear a new and experienced perspective.

    Thank you so much for all that you share! Your thoughts are always valuable and offer me a bit of peace in a world full of chaos!

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  12. Absolutely love this post!! It feels wonderful on so many levels. Thank you Beth

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  13. This post was a great way to start the day. Thank you!!

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  14. I know everyone’s saying the same thing, but it bears repeating: great post! I am curious how you experience community child-rearing having moved so much? Do you find it takes a while to wiggle in? Or do you dive in as soon as possible? It takes me an average of four years to begin to wiggle.

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  15. thank you so much for this post. i long to have a community of woman to share stories…to hear stories, and laugh about the mistakes. it’s almost like a second book, a book of mothers speaking…mothers through the ages on the wisdom of mothering is so essential. especially those mothers that were living through that transition…50s, 60s, and 70s. much love to you and yours.

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  16. Your curiosity and generous sharing continues to offer me beautiful gems to incorporate into the fragile ‘crown’ I wear as a woman and a mother. You make my life better.

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  17. Great post! I love hearing what older mama’s have to say about child rearing. I would say though that I homeschool so I can have a little more control beyond 5 and hopefully won’t have as obnoxious as a teenager as I was when that day comes. My daughter gets plenty of interaction with other kids, and when it’s around most public school gets she acts like teenager…and she’s only 6!

    I also love what you said about how they didn’t care about how their pictures looked. I can never take a picture of myself without being critical and my mother hates me taking pictures of her. This is hard for me because I like getting pictures of her with her grandchildren. I live in Florida but don’t do much in a bathing suit because of my body size. I have two very young children and am working to get past that. I’m actually obese, not just a little bit bigger, so that makes it tough to move beyond. But I am happy to say I’ve progressed beyond needing much makeup, which is a huge accomplishment. These ladies just inspired me to move a little further away from critical thinking!

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  18. This was such a great post! Just what I needed to read this morning.

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  19. What a beautiful post, thank you for this!

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  20. Awesome, thank you. Struggling with my first born (almost 4 weeks) and the information overload. This piece was reassuring and inspiring :)

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  21. A perfect post.The wisdom of years and experience and seeing it through.

    We all need this, so much.

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  22. I feel like I relearned how to breathe as I read this. Thank you.

    Reply

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