This is a story of how a mother, without her knowing, improved my mothering skills. She would be considered an outlier in most mom groups. She is a mother who is judged, mom-shamed, and viewed with slight looks by most in our society. Like all mothers, she tries her best. Like all mothers, she hopes for the best in her children. The mom I am giving credit to for affecting my mothering skills came into my life through a non-profit agency. She asked for help with her newborn and light housework and I was assigned as her volunteer. Many people, from all walks of life, find it hard to ask for help. She asked for help to improve her son’s life, and this is something to learn from.
This woman is in her early twenties. She has no transportation or license, no job to return to or get benefits from, has a boyfriend who cannot be around her and the baby at the same time due to mutual domestic abuse issues (they both have to complete counseling). That is just the beginning: her newborn has a blood disorder, she has limited family resources, another daughter who is adopted, and two phone numbers that go back and forth depending on the amount of minutes used. One of these phones cannot be used for texting, which is convenient for a new mother. CPS and her son’s state-mandated lawyer use up most of her other minutes. She takes medication to improve her executive functioning. This list is not meant to be judgmental and from one of privilege. These are things that make people judge her. We shame those who seek services that are meant to help. The irony of this is that if people didn’t use available services, they would also be shamed.
The point of this list is informational and to demonstrate some of the obstacles she is living with. And although she is struggling with her circumstances and choices, she is still trying her hardest to raise her child like any other mother. Even mentioning these circumstances to some people in the middle and upper class is uncomfortable.
Yet, this mom still perseveres day by day with good ones outnumbering the bad, just like you and me. She still tries to be the best mother. She nursed through mastitis because she wants to nurse as long as possible. She has adjusted her diet to improve her breast milk. She is aware and educated about the needs of her son’s disorder. She has books, toys, and safety equipment around her house. She goes to mommy and me groups. She uses a special soap for her son’s eczema. She reads about parenting trends. She sings, cuddles, and loves her son like any other mother. She should not be judged. She should be supported and loved herself.
During my time helping her, I felt l needed to nourish her and take care of her. I also felt the need to help her become independent. However, neither was my role. I was there without judgment or purpose to influence; I was there to help her as needed. In the end, she helped me. She helped my recenter my goals as a mother and as a woman. She helped me question my stereotypes and assumptions of others. My time with her piqued my interest in details about the role of government assisted programs, mandates, long-term court systems, and adoptions through foster parenting. I question why the loneliness of new mothers has become a taboo topic. Why mothers are judged so often? And why, as women, do we make it easy to dismiss others who don’t parent the same? Our subconscious is molded by other motherly behaviors we see being performed around us, yet we rarely acknowledge this.
Because I was a volunteer, I could have easily been discarded. However, I wasn’t. I couldn't drive her or babysit for her. My responsibilities always had to have her nearby, even if she was napping. During most of our visits we talked while I held, fed or bathed her son. We talked about what she could do tomorrow that could help her son in the future. It was talk about the present, about the authenticity of what we do daily that shapes our children. It was apparent to me that I had lost some of that grounding, the kind where we all get caught up in our busy lives, busy doing too many things. I needed reminding to enjoy the moment, focus on the now, and teach this mantra to my children.
During our time she found a part-time job, put her son in daycare, went to court, had hand surgery and eventually had to release her son into foster care. Heartbreaking, indeed, but hopeless by no means. This mother’s goals surround her son’s well-being. The social workers and government employees who work with her, the foster care system, and those I tell this story to all judge her. To many, having to put your child in foster care may mean the opposite of well-being, but to her it was safety. A temporary place to allow her to regain hand movement, a job, and regroup to focus primarily on mothering.
What led her to this place does not matter. Where she goes with it in the future is unknown. All of our futures are unknown. This mother taught me to value each day. She reminded me, as a mother, to try my best and don’t regret that I have and be grateful for the time I have with my children. I don’t need anything fancy to mother my children, all I need is love and commitment to parent them. We should not shame mothering skills. We should celebrate all mothering intentions that are authentic and real.