Lately I’ve been interested in the major differences between our generation and my mother’s generation when it comes to our challenges and approaches as parents.
I often wonder, is it harder to be a mother today than it was 30 years ago?
One evening I propped myself in bed and my mom excitedly used Facebook to video chat me for the first time. I’m the farthest I’ve ever been from her ; 9,948 miles to be exact. She was immensely proud of herself for being able to initiate the chat without any prior instruction from me.
As we started talking I asked her the biggest difference between being a mom in the 1980s versus today and she said, without taking a minute to think, “Your generation doesn’t call their mothers.”
I put the question out there to the older moms I know on Facebook and got this reply from another family member, “We are no longer the 'smartest' person they know. They often don't seek our advice and go directly to their cell phone for the answers.”
These answers surprised me. I hadn’t realized that although I’ve relied on my mom to babysit my son I didn’t ever ask her for advice on mothering. I remember clearly one afternoon how I expressed to my mom how upset I was that I couldn’t exclusively breastfeed my son.
She said, “Honey, formula is just as good. You were formula fed because I couldn’t breastfeed either.”
I snapped at her saying, “Actually mom, it isn’t. Medical research these past 20 years has shown it’s a much healthier alternative and can protect the baby.”
I know I reacted this way because of my own insecurities but I realize what I really communicated to my mom in that moment was, “I know more than you.”
But I don’t. No matter how much research I do my mother will always have something more valuable than information: experience. My mother’s experience provides the context of what it really means to be a mom every single day. She has a story to tell that is worth hearing.
My mother’s wisdom offers a perspective of knowing what it’s like to mother through sleep deprivation, to make immense sacrifices like working two jobs to put your child through school, and what it’s like to feel insecure, make mistakes, and love so deeply that it hurts. I haven’t seen any research that involves any of those things as variables.
Yet I’ve spent the first two years of motherhood Googling and posting questions to many Facebook mommy groups when I could have been relying on the support of one of the most important people in my life. Knowledge may be power, but it isn’t love.
It makes sense to seek out the advice of people from our own generation. They understand the unique challenges that our generation faces as mothers. But the strangers in these online groups that we don’t know personally also don’t have something our mothers do – a sensitivity for our feelings, the best intentions, and an unconditional regard for us. This may be apparent when you put out a question about formula feeding and indirectly cause one of those tired mommy war debates.
Julia Henrichs from Projects and Parenting put things perfectly: “Today’s moms believe they are ‘smarter’ and ‘better’ than any other generation of moms. They’ve earned their Bachelor’s in Google Search, their Master’s in Non-Experimental Research, and their Doctorate in Mothering.”
When and why did we become such know it alls? And what do we truly think we know about mothering that is so drastically different from all the mothers before us? Instead of being arrogant or self-important we should be vulnerable and willing to learn.
I’m making an effort to seek out my mom’s support more. I tell her when it’s been a rough couple of days. I tell her what my toddler is doing and that I have no idea how to respond. Sometimes she has great advice and other times she’s not sure what to do either. But the most important thing being accomplished in these conversations is a deepening of our connection. My relationship with my mother has a direct impact on how I relate to my son. If I want my son to be open and vulnerable with me it starts with me being that way with my own mom.
So the next time your mom offers you a tip and your first instinct is to roll your eyes, stop yourself. Remember where this sage advice is coming from. Remember that this is a person in your life who did the same things you are doing every day and who fought the battles you are fighting now. Look at her in the eye and say, “Thanks, Mom.”
Ask her questions. Let her know your struggles. If you don’t have a mother to call try to find a mother figure in your life who can be there to offer support with the best intentions.
And when you’re freaking out about the last tantrum your toddler experienced or you’re worried that you’re not doing enough for your child, close your laptop, put down your tablet – stop Googling and call your mother.
Her approaches may seem outdated and you might feel as if she is nagging, but in that advice is a nugget of wisdom and love. Remember there will be a day that you wish you could call her.