Monday, February 22, 2010

Making Our Relationship Work -- by Jamie

Jayda accompanies me to my gym every weekend. First, she joins me in the locker room while I change, and both of us converse with the women around us, who always greet Jayda enthusiastically. Then, Jayda goes into the daycare center to play for an hour or so, while I work out. Along the way, Jayda stops and stares at all the men and women who are training in the gym and bombards all of us with questions, watches the step and spinning classes with obvious fascination, and simply enjoys being in the venue as much as I do—and appears to have a lot of fun with me, chatting and socializing.

The other day, an older woman approached me during my work out and told me that she loved watching me with my daughter and that we “reminded her of herself and her daughter” when her child was Jayda’s age. She then proceeded to tell me about how she had raised her daughter (who is now in her early 20s) by herself following her divorce, and how they had been “buddies” in the way Jayda and I appeared to be. But then she said she “had to warn me that having such a close relationship did have its downside,” and explained that when her daughter had hit her early teens, she’d rebelled. The mother and daughter quickly went from “best friends” to barely speaking and it was a very trying time. She assured me that now her daughter is a successful businesswoman—which I thought meant there was a happy ending to her story—but when I asked, “so now you guys are close again?” she shrugged her shoulders and made a face. She said that now, her daughter’s always so busy and never has time for her mother; she never calls her mom for advice, and always cuts her phone calls short because she “has work to do.” But this, too, the woman warned me, was the “downside of raising her daughter to be so independent,” which she was forced to do as a busy, working single mother. She claimed her daughter didn’t “need” her help or advice because she was taught to be self-sufficient at such an early age.

This woman’s story made me very sad. And the worst part is that she was comparing her family to mine! Of course I don’t know how Jayda’s and my story will “end,” but I’d like to think there are a few important differences that will assure my family of a happier ending than my ill-fated gym friend’s. First of all, though Jayda and I may appear to be “buddies” at the gym, we’re not. I’m Jayda’s mother—and I’m in charge. As difficult as it is to do sometimes, I do make rules and set limits. A single friend of mine recently told me, jokingly, that it was a good thing she wasn’t a mother because “any child of hers would be obese!” She was referring to the fact that she’d never be able to say “no” to candy at the supermarket—and would likely give her son or daughter anything he or she asked for when it came to junk food. I laughed…and then I told her she had a point. It is very difficult to say “no” to Jayda when her big blue eyes are fixed longingly on a bag of M&Ms at the check out counter of CVS. Or to hold my ground as that same adorable girl protests, “but I a good girl, mommy!” after I refuse to let her eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast. But mommies are supposed to keep their kids healthy…and they’re supposed to set limits. And they’re also supposed to let their kids know that the mommies are the decision-makers—not the kids. Jayda’s “buddy” might let her stay up as late as she wants to at night; I most certainly won’t. In fact, I’m a stickler about Jayda’s bedtime. And though she’ll throw a tantrum now and then—or even shout “I don’t like you, mommy” in a fit of unhappiness—Jayda knows I take care of her—and I always will. And that’s the most important thing in the world to both of us.

Another difference between me and my gym friend is in our concept of teaching our children independence. An independent person doesn’t have to be a disconnected one. Just because I’m teaching Jayda how to take care of herself doesn’t mean I’m training her to never consult me about anything. Hopefully she can follow in my footsteps in that sense: In college, I was independent enough to travel to Australia to study for a semester…but I still “needed” to check in with my parents on the phone at least once a week for support, advice, or even just to share a good story. And now, I’m a mother, myself, raising my own daughter, but I still “need” my own mommy sometimes for help with a problem. Just because I know how to take care of myself doesn’t mean I have to do everything alone. That’s the kind of independence I think every woman should exhibit….and the kind I’m hoping to foster in my own daughter.

Similarly, I think an important part of being able to take care of oneself is knowing how to take care of others. And I’m raising my daughter to do just that. It’s another thing that I hope will keep our relationship thriving until I’m old and gray: Jayda and I take care of each other. Of course as the mother, I’m in charge of the big issues and responsibilities, but there are plenty of ways that Jayda can help take care of me…and she does. For instance, just the other evening, I asked my daughter if she was tired and she said, “No, mommy. Are you?” When I admitted I was “a little tired,” she instructed me to lay my head in her lap and “rest for a wittle while.” She even covered me with one of her baby’s blankets while she sang “Rock-a-Bye Baby” to me and stroked my hair (though I declined the binky she offered). It was a precious moment and I savored it for as long as I could. Then I got up and made us a healthy dinner—with a few M&Ms for dessert.

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