Sunday, February 12, 2012
My Uncle Kenny, he should rest in peace, used to shake his head and say, “If only we could raise the neighbor’s children.”
Sure, because we’d be detached, we’d be able to see exactly what we were doing without the overlay of our own childhood, our own wishes. I’m a grandparent now like my Uncle Kenny was back when he told me that, so I think I have a better sense of what my failings were.
From what I remember, most parents when I was young didn’t worry about whether or not their children loved them. They just assumed they did, like they assumed they were taking in oxygen when they breathed, no matter what they could afford or even how they treated their kids. I was beaten at home and wouldn’t recommend it. In fact, I’m still recovering. But I remember my friend’s father, a big burly man, telling his four children, “If you don’t like my rules, don’t bang your ass on the door as you leave.” His four kids didn’t leave until they were of age and could support themselves and they would do anything for him.
On the other hand, when I became a mother and had to give my daughter a time-out, I’m sure I suffered more than she did in her roomful of toys, worrying that I had been too harsh. Oh, and the times I didn’t make it to the count of ten and lost it and yelled, my heart took an express elevator down to my knees. The first time my daughter said, “I hate you Mommy,” she was two and only my head knew this was normal. The rest of me shriveled like a salted slug. I had hoped to be the beloved Marmee of Little Women, the playful mother in The Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, the wise and kindly one in I Remember Mama. Maybe my parents were lucky that they never read books. They weren’t trying to live up to impossible expectations.
By the time my son was born, I’d discovered the work of Haim Ginott. http://www.betweenparentandchild.com/index.php?s=content&p=Haim who believed that parents should reflect back a child’s feelings. For example, if you notice that your child feels blue after her cousin leaves from a week-long visit, you might say, “The house must seem so empty without Leonard here.”
I was so insecure with my parenting that I overdid it. One day my son came off the bus in huff. He glared at me and said, “Don’t ask me how I feel about socking Adam back.” After that, no matter how cagey I was with my Ginott, my son was onto me.
My friend, Rick, was so reviled by his parents for being gay that he had to move from the Midwest to New York to escape them. After observing me interacting with my daughter and son, he said, “Gosh, Rochelle, I had no idea that there were parents who wanted their kids’ approval.”
He was right. But thankfully, despite my insecurities, it all turned out fine. My daughter calls me daily and ends most of our phone calls with her saying, “love you” and my son always clasps me to him whenever we say goodbye. But what anguish I would have saved myself if only I had had the benefit of reading about the mother/child bonding in Judith Horstman’s The Scientific American Book of Love, Sex, and the Brain: the Neuroscience of How, When, Why, and Who We Love (Jossey-Bass, 2012), http://www.amazon.com/Scientific-American-Book-Love-Brain/dp/0470647787/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1328372577&sr=1-2 By using modern tools for looking into the brain, it’s been proven (p. 43) that because of the firing of mirroring neurons and the flooding of oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone,” joy is created in a mother and child by just looking into each other’s faces. As a result, a mother holds a special place in a child’s heart and brain throughout his lifetime, even when the child is grown and out of the house for years. Soldiers wounded in battle cry out for their mothers. Most children phone their mothers when they are in crisis for comfort. The reminder of a mother’s touch, her voice, can help change people’s minds, moods, and choices. We carry our mothers with us to the end of our days. The elderly often cry out for their mothers as they are dying.
If I had fully understood the neurological and biochemical factors of motherhood as I was raising my children, I might have thought of it for what it truly is---a valentine that lasts a lifetime.
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro is a novelist, essayist, poet, blogger, writing instructor and more. She is the author of Miriam the Medium (Simon and Schuster) which is selling in the U.S., the U.K., Belgium and Holland. Visit www.rochellejewelshapiro.com