I was always a smart student, in a sense. I could get A’s barely studying and figure out how to write the essay that would impress the instructor but take minimal effort from me. I knew all the shortcuts that would keep schoolwork down to a minimum, freeing up time for my real interests.
For a time, as a mother, I looked for the perfect formula that would produce the best results in my children while taking minimal effort from me. I imagined that my house would run like clockwork, everything would get done, my interests would be fulfilled, and my children would be angels, if I just got the equation right. I looked at what mothers before me had done right, what they wished they could change, poured over parenting books and theories, kept looking for the best parenting techniques. And today, fifty books, three kids, and two cluttered houses later, I still am, in some ways, looking for a shortcut.
Again and again, I find myself at the same dead end, with the truth that parenting is less of a science than an art, and less of an art than toiling in the hot, dry soil hoping that something will grow. Motherhood is a pragmatic skill. It is not a masterpiece, a product of inspiration, but a slow methodical process, similar perhaps to weaving. While the colors and technique in a woven fabric are important, it is the continual, patient up-down, in-out weaving of the threads that creates the finished work.
There are no shortcuts in parenting. I can be the best parent in theory, but it is the day-to-day mindfulness, patience, and attention that helps a child grow, not the brilliant parenting techniques. To a mother who applies herself, the parenting techniques will bring power and purpose to her ability to influence and nurture her children. To a flaky parent, they won’t be of much help.
I am beginning to realize that it does not matter so much what I do as a mom, as long as I have the right perspective and basic values down. What matters more is how hard I work at it, how much I reflect on my own self, how in synch I am with my children’s needs, and how much time I spend in thoughtful engagement as opposed to reaction mode.
I am suddenly filled with respect for our mothers and all the mothers of the previous generation. Although we can point to the things we will do differently, one thing they had down right was the effort and striving they put into their children. That effort, not a shortcut or a mindset, is what has made the greatest mothers.
Maha Ezzeddine lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and three daughters. She is a dedicated MAS worker, part-time writer, and creative homemaker.