a close friend was telling me about an article she read. it was directed at mothers, and it was explaining how to tune in to the needs of each child. the article covered learning styles and emotional styles and attachment styles and other assorted styles that a “good” mother is supposed to pick up on. then this dream mother should tailor each interaction and experience for each child according to how best to present it for their particular needs to be met.

the timing of this discussion was ironic, since i had just seen some parenting advice best summed up as: tell your kids that life isn’t fair. explain to them that at any given time, they might get the better end of the stick, or they might get the worse. tell them you hope it all comes out even in the end. finished.

it’s funny how each generation seems to have its own peculiar slant on how mothers should/could be doing a better job. it’s a strong testament to motherhood that we even want to read these articles, and that as taxed and maxed and exhausted as we sometimes get, we still want to know how to give more and how to give better.

and as i thought about the different parenting advice (although disproportionately directed at moms, i think), i got a mental picture of a jellyfish. it sort of oozes through the water, with no real discernible shape or color, just swooshing around as other fish and rocks and  detritus are seen distorted through the mush that is the jellyfish. it doesn’t seem to have much of its own stuff going on; rather, it provides interesting backdrop for the poster of ocean life you hang up in a science class or a child’s bedroom. (PLEASE do not send me links to info about jellyfish!)

i wish i could remember where i heard the term shape shifter. i am thinking maybe heroes? but i think a mother’s job would be well classified as “shape shifter”.

take the shape of a stern military officer to get the kids to clean their rooms.

take the shape of a rotund mrs. piggle wiggle to get your kids to open up about what’s bothering them.

take the shape of a patient teacher as you sit with your children over their work.

take the shape of a role model, as you finish whatever project or do whatever task you would rather not, just to set a good example for any one of your kids.

take the shape of a small bent librarian and read story after story so your child will read more/better/sooner/easier.

take the shape of a million zillion things to become what everyone else needs you to be.

but don’t ever dream of having a shape for yourself, because that automatically cancels the option of being a shape shifter.

because to constantly shift requires that there are no formed edges to begin with.

so, as an ideal perfect mother, you need to be shapeless.

you can’t have your own preferences (i HATE reading american girl book right now, for example, but my daughter wants me to read them and read them and read them.). you shouldn’t have your own goals (unless that goal is to put yourself aside to be a better mother). you mustn’t try to have an agenda that supercedes the agenda of being a super mom. or else you’re sunk.

so the question is, how can those two direct opposites co-exist?

how can i have my own shape and meet my own needs and still try to reach beyond my comfort zone even to the point where i can/will do things that i don’t think are consonant with my worldveiw?

i know that i have to go outside of my comfort zone to be a good mom, and also to be a good person! i think that hiding behind a veneer of smallness doesn’t do anyone any good, so that’s clearly not a good goal.

i can have an artistic child and pack her a non-artistic lunch, and she will have to appreciate the utility of the lunch the same way that i will appreciate the way she decorates the bag it is in.

i can have a loud flashy child and i can teach her to be loud at appropriate times and flashy in appropriate ways.

i can be quiet with the quiet child and fun with the fun child and smart with the smart child and happy with the happy child.

but when can i be me?

 i can be me with each child, and i can give each and every one the very best of myself that is available on any given day. i can be myself so that i have s self to give, and i can support them in their uniqueness the same way that i support myself.  and THAT is how i can parent my babies and still have a shape.

because, contrary to the advice that a mother’s highest calling is to subvert herself to the needs of her husband and children, a mother with her own edges can be a pretty good mom indeed.