Perfectly Imperfect

Recently I was with a group of great women of all ages and stages of life.  And we each were asked to answer, “What makes a good mother?”

And among other things there was a theme of being willing to accept our children for who they really are instead of forcing them into a mold of what we thought our children should or would be like.

The former approach would leave space for individuals; the latter would take the tack of “A Cosby kid would never do that” or “That’s not what the Cleavers believe” or some such one-size-fits-all molding of raw material into a family template.

It was a good conversation with all those women, reflecting on motherhood, and it spurred my own thoughts towards my own impending “grandmotherhood.”  What does it take to be a good grandmother?

But today I’ll hold off on my own musings and direct you to the musings of two other stellar mothers.  One is a friend, Amy Julia Becker, whose memoir of life with her Down Syndrome daughter/treasure Penny will come out in the fall.  I’ve written about Amy Julia’s work before, touting her excellent book, Penelope Ayers.  She wrote recently on her beliefnet blog about the candor with which she and husband Peter address — with Penny — her Down Syndrome and its role in her and their lives, both the challenges and joys.  Read her directly.

And then listen to the NPR story that she recommends.  You can link from it here or directly from Amy Julia’s post.  It’s an interview between a mother and her son with Asperger’s; the mother candidly answers her son’s questions, including one about whether he has met her expectations as a son, in spite of his Asperger’s.  It’s very poignant.

Yet I challenge us all, even those of us with children without identifiable special needs, to emulate these mothers and not be afraid to embrace the child we are given, in the glorious specificity of that child’s challenging aspects and easy attributes too.

And more importantly, how do we even define what about our child IS a joy? That’s the point that Becker and Sarah Littman (of the NPR interview) both make — that their children’s challenges are part of what has shaped them for the better and part of the joy of that child (and not an unwelcome burden).

Having less taboo subjects in a family could prove to be healthier and create a more hope-filled environment for a child.  All children need to know that sometimes parents are thrilled with them and that at other times they are disappointed… but that there is a bigger picture — in terms of unconditional love being big enough for either scenario.  It’s too much of a weight on a child to have to bear the expectations of a family for a perfect specimen, and it’s unrealistic to expect children who have been given a trophy for every bowel movement and breath taken, to then launch into a world that sees them as, well, kind of regular.

Imagine if we didn’t all feel the need to hold our collective breath and avoid saying things like “Down Syndrome,” or “Asperger’s” or admitting to ourselves in a thousand less dramatic ways that our children are themselves, delivered to us as they should be, with very little regard for the master plan we’d dreamed up before they were even conceived (hint: this plan usually involves Harvard and the Olympics).  And that they are — in their own selves — exactly what we need.

Good mothers and fathers come to realize that these bundles of joy are loaned to us, are our teachers, our delights and our challenges — which makes them all perfect.


~ by Cary on January 4, 2011.

5 Responses to “Perfectly Imperfect”

  1. I love this, Cary. It is very timely in my parenting journey right now. Thank you for your wonderful words.

  2. Love love love this- and pray that i can be this kind of mother..:Can there be a vocare on motherhood? And if there have been/are some in the works, can I come? 🙂

  3. You gals are in the trenches… and yes, a motherhood “vocare” or some such gathering would be fun!

  4. Well, I know that technically you never made the Olympics, but should your parents ever ask, in OUR home, you will always be the silver medal winner of the all around in gymnastics:-). That still comes up, to this day. Glad that we can learn to love and accept our children on the way to figuring out how to love and accept ourselves:-).

    • Well, thank you for the reminder. I think of that often when I wonder if my life has amounted to anything thus far, taking solace in the fact that the Kranz family considers me an (almost) winner.

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