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Our Mothers, Ourselves

Our mothers had it right. That's the conclusion I've been coming back to in recent months as I strive daily — and in vain — to be a "good mother" by today's standards to my three little boys. A few of my shortcomings this week alone: served only three fruits yesterday and they were all orange (not the prescribed five to nine per child with at least three being blue), lost my temper and began scrubbing my 6-year-old's teeth when he refused to do it himself, forgot the fourth-grader's cello, made brownies from a mix, allowed the baby to take a bottle to bed, argued about money with my husband in front of the children, and let everyone up past bedtime on a school night to watch American Idol. Such transgressions, I'm well aware, are sure to have major fallout for my kids in the form of childhood obesity, poor self-esteem, proclivity to cancer, anxiety, sleep deprivation and resulting poor school performance ... and rotten baby teeth.

Okay, so I'm being a little facetious, but the truth is that guilt and self-doubt have become my daily companions in the decade I've spent navigating the shoals of motherhood. Judging from my commiserations with fellow moms, I'm certainly not alone.

All of which brings me back to motherhood, a generation ago — the era when Maebell Turner, mother of Maryland Lieutenant Governor Michael Steele, A&S '81, learned from her son that he'd been kicked out of college for poor grades. Maebell Turner didn't agonize about what she could have done differently to have spared Michael this fate. What she did was say, "I don't care what you do, and I don't care how you do it. But you will be back at Johns Hopkins come September" ( "Mother Knows Best," p. 52).

My own mom, a schoolteacher, missed all my school field trips. She allowed soda at dinner, put no limits on our TV viewing, and left us to our own devices on weekends with, "Go outside and play." Mom, like Maebell Turner, probably never wasted one ounce of psychic energy second-guessing her parenting skills. And yet I — Michael Steele, and a host of other 30- and 40-somethings — managed to grow up feeling secure and well-loved.

It's time, I'm convinced, to take a page from our mothers' books. To relax, stop beating ourselves up, and know that our children are resilient creatures who can survive, even flourish, in households where mommies get mad, floors go unmopped, and WonderBread gets served.

A follow-up to last issue's cover story, "Separate Fates." In March, Peter and Nelly Block joyfully announced the birth of a healthy baby girl. Little Dorothea joins big sister Lea. The family, back in Germany, is doing well.

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to April 2005 Table of Contents

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