By Sharon Rosen Leib
I’ve accepted the cold, hard reality that as the mother of three teenaged daughters I’m going to be judged and criticized for everything from the way I breathe when watching a movie to my outdated workout clothes. Most of the time I can roll my eyes right back at my daughters (as in “here we go again”) and laugh it off (it helps to have a husband and friends with good senses of humor). Sometimes when I’m feeling vulnerable and my daughters all gang up on me, their words sting and hurt my feelings. But usually they don’t hit too far below the belt and I can move on.
What I do resent and have a harder time moving on from is when extended family members and insensitive others proffer unsolicited critiques of my parenting style. In the past couple of months I’ve heard everything from “you need to ease up” to “you need to get tough and impose more consequences.” The most tone-deaf advice came from a relative who compared her relationship with her mother to my relationship with one of my daughters and said, “My mom and I never got along. What saved me in high school was joining the gymnastics team. The team became my family.” I wanted to punch her but I didn’t because I know she meant well (at least I hope she did) and has her own mother-daughter issues to contend with. And why is it that moms get tagged with the blame?
As we all know, children have wildly different temperaments. Figuring out how to bring out the best in each child presents one of life’s greatest parenting challenges. On this count, I am my own toughest critic. I agonize over things I’ve said that would’ve been better left unsaid; or, conversely, when I remained silent when I should’ve spoken up to offer words of comfort and compassion; over when I was too stuck in my head to meet my kids’ needs; or when I was so anxious about their well-being that I was overbearing and in their faces.
During the High Holidays, I will be beating myself up over, and atoning for, these parenting peccadillos. Spontaneous critiques/observations from family and friends only add fuel to the five-alarm conflagration going on internally. As parents, don’t you think we all need to demonstrate more compassion to each other? Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” So I’m striving to judge less and love more.
That said, I’m no saintly Mother Teresa. I’m a flawed, all-too-human being. I have opinions about other peoples’ parenting styles but try to keep them close to the vest (shared only with my husband and, on a bad, snarky day, a friend or two) and not be smug. Because G-d knows I’ve made mistakes. Which is why this is NOT a parental advice column, but more a parental survival column. I strive to give advice only when people ask for it and even then judiciously with lots of caveats thrown in. My best advice, if you or anyone in your family is struggling emotionally, is to find a good therapist!
Speaking of the benefits of therapy, I recently excavated from the garage an article I wrote for my high school newspaper when I was a 14-year-old freshman cub feature writer. The piece, titled “Learning to Understand,” described a visit my parents, younger sister and I made to a family therapist. In it I wrote, “The only thing wrong was that, whether consciously or unconsciously, everyone was blaming all our problems on good ol’ mom. Even little innocent me must admit that she is not the root of all evil.” My mother loved this article so much that she saved the October 15, 1976, edition of the Palos Verdes High School paper enabling me to discover it all these years later.
This summer marked the six-year anniversary of my mother’s death. It also was the first time my daughters, husband and I visited a family therapist. And guess who took a lot of the blame? Mean mom me of course. I could swear I heard my mother laughing long and loud and saying, “Itys, itys” (her acronym for “I Told You So,” pronounced to rhyme with “titties”). So here’s a shout out to my mother’s spirit: “Yes, damn it. You were right, and I’m laughing through my tears right along with you.”
And to my three wonderful daughters I say, “May you one day share the blessing of having daughters who blame you for all their problems, and may I have the good fortune to be around to laugh with you about it.” Shana Tova!