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Good Enough Mothering

Updated: Jun 9, 2023

My daughter is about to graduate from high school. It seems only minutes ago I was pregnant, somewhat by surprise, and so anxious about what this journey would be like. A high school friend of mine, whose older brother had had kids about ten years before my daughter was born, warned me that it was gonna be tough because kids don’t start to have independence until age 8 or later. Oh, wow, what a steep curve in responsibility--and so a rise to the occasion is the choice. And her sister joined us, when Isabel was 3 and 3/4 years old. She accepted that bundle of joy perhaps a little easier since Magdalena brought her a fun new camera–right out of the womb. It’s amazing to me to realize how unprepared I was for this journey and empowering to think back on how I taught myself, with plentiful help from others how to birth, nurture, and raise humans–adventure of a lifetime!

Sadly, I had very little wisdom about how sacred, my role was as a mother. I fumbled around, seeking help from friends, organizations, books, my girls' father and his family, etc.: making it up, with few role models to emulate (this is not a tale of a victim, just a consequence of the interwoven factors forming my path) and struggled with a bi-cultural marriage. And there was a mysterious force impacting the process: my gorgeous, curious, precious daughter was having trouble learning, lagging in anchoring letter sounds and names in her memory, as well as in understanding the dynamics of numbers. And I was so young that my ego got caught up in it, as did her father’s. We were internally battling our own insecurities, were impatient, we blamed much tension on her that was not hers. As we stumbled around trying to find a way to support her better, not knowing the name of the problem for years, we kept engaging ineffective approaches.

Our sweet flower suffered in those early days. She was valiantly trying to fit in, to get it right, to feel “normal” and yet this mysterious force was holding her back. Eventually, after hitting one too many dead ends, we brought her to a diagnostician, and her learning difference was identified. Little by little it became clear that she had dyslexia and that even that label cannot describe the unique constellation of struggles that arise for each individual with a learning difference. While reading seemed to be the main difference, her physical coordination was also impacted (which was most alarming to her elementary school and lead them to believe she was having seizures--though she was not), and her struggles with math would come to be excruciatingly anxiety producing. Unexpectedly, that anxiety, in addition to an intergenerational propensity for anxiety, passed down from both maternal and paternal sides, would be the element of the "difference" that would most impact her blossoming.

Once her father and I decided that it was better for all involved to live separately–forever–than to continue to attempt to live under one roof and act out insanity every day, her sensitive constitution had to deal with the fallout of one of the most stressful things in anyone’s life–divorce. This precious flower now had to contend not only with her learning difference, the resulting anxiety, as it uniquely influenced her life, and now with the separation and divorce of her parents.

And… the point of this is to say that from the minute I knew I was pregnant with this lovely dahlia, my north star was doing my best in any particular moment to support her. Given how I grew up, that meant that I had a lot to learn, a lot of which was self-taught, though certainly not all, about how to be a good enough mother. Did that “best” always look like the best to an outside observer or even worse to my inner critic? Absolutely not. And in the process of divorce, as well as in the dysfunction leading up to it, I brilliantly played the role of the “not good enough mother” (I was mothering well, and as best I could, and I yet felt like nothing I did was enough and my partner agreed)–that pattern felt ever so comfortable after a childhood of anxious attachment and parentification.

Overtime, I re-embraced contemplative practices to ground myself, to be the calmest me I could be. I trained tirelessly, for years, to be a dyslexia therapist (CALT)–the professionals most knowledgeable about how to mitigate the effects of dyslexia, at least for other people’s children and to advocate for Isabel. And I continue to train in mindful self-compassion and trauma, so that I can bring to bear the best for my flowers. And what I’ve recently discovered is that “I have come a long way, Baby!”

In the process of deciding where to send this lovely, wildly creative, beautifully sensitive, intuitive young woman to college, I was able to embody my core values: I felt aware about how to assess and try to meet her needs (aside from my expectations). It has been a sinuous, sometimes treacherous journey, to separate myself, my ego, my way of moving through the world, from my daughter’s. She has a different world view; distinct relationship to intellectualism; is proudly half Argentinian; and sees gender roles through her unique lens (that of her times and her interpretation of her father’s and my cultures). I was able to be clear about how to meet her needs as a wildly creative artist who has yet to come fully into her own sense of self-compassion. It took resilience to seek help from others in areas where I thought our long history of being different might impinge upon her freedom, to hold an open question for months, to ask difficult questions and sit with challenging answers. And it took deep compassion, on my part, for her as a human being at a different, but not inferior, stage in life, a moment of development, and for myself, as a mother sending a child to college at this moment in history in the US (art school is ridiculously expensive and educational loans a form of slavery), as framed by her relationship to schooling and learning as influenced by the learning difference and it’s flavoring of our path.

This is not easy to write about. There are so many expectations on mothers. And what does mothering a child with a learning difference look like–it’s not the same. It’s a process of humility; it’s a process of being on the outside looking in; it feels lonely; it’s a process twisted by shame; it’s a process of using words to try to translate what is beyond words; it’s a process of learning what the soft feelings and unmet needs are below all that anger; it’s a process of showing up day after day and saying “we are still here and we are hanging in”. Many people have looked at us and wondered why we were doing it differently (judged the difference) because that what we humans do. And so Isabel and I smile and keep on doing the best we can. Here’s to good enough mothering, to daughtering in equanimity (accepting you just as you are my sweet baby), to doing our best at each moment, to self-forgiveness and to forgiveness of other, and here is to SELF-Compassion: being with our suffering not in order to make it go away but because we suffer.

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