By Beth Berry
Reposted from my blog, Revolution from Home.
Recently, I had the honor of spending a day with my new friend Barbara and several of her girlfriends, all self-proclaimed hippies who met in Colorado in their 20s and who have managed to remain “thick friends” through the years.
Barbara (first in the lineup) lives part-time in Colorado and part-time here in Tulum. She and her husband have an off-grid, solar powered home in the jungle community my husband manages. Barbara is a gem. She and I hit it off from day one, swapping stories about the cultural norms of our respective eras, the struggles unique to mother and womanhood outside the box and the threats to thriving communities both then and now.
So when she mentioned that her girlfriends were coming to town — the very ones she’d communed with in the early 70s when Crested Butte was little more than an affordable escape to the land and from the establishment — I was there like a hungry hitchhiker at a protest potluck.
After the first few minutes of feeling me out following my husband's preface that I was “writing a book about motherhood,” they all relaxed a bit, realizing that I was neither A, in search of the holy grail of parenting perfection, nor B, about to share with them the wealth of wisdom I’d acquired, having read everything ever published post-Dr. Spock.
Once it was obvious that I had already long-since had my theories chewed up, spit out and handed to me on a fast food napkin, it was on. “Yes, we’ll share our perspectives, yes you can take notes, and about those parenting experts…”
What an amazing bunch of women. Their energy, their humility, their depth of connection and their sense of humor were a true gift, and one I’m so pleased to be able to share.
Never having conducted a proper interview before and preferring the cadence of casual conversation, I simply took notes as we chatted. Here’s what I gleaned over the course of the day, followed by a few words of wisdom from each mama to you.
Perspective from Three Wise Women…
- There are way too many books out there telling you how to raise your kids. You don’t need books, you need each other to help you raise your kids.
- I couldn’t have “done it all” like mothers try to do today. I’d have gone crazy.
- You only really have your kids until they’re about five. Make the most of those years. After that, life’s influences are largely beyond your control.
- You’ll never have the perfect kid. That’s really not what it’s about, anyway.
- You have to work with what you have. It’ll make you crazy trying to change everything.
- Our children need to see us go through hard times. People try so hard to avoid difficulty, but kids really just need to see that we have it in us to get through the tough stretches.
- Your kids aren’t always going to listen and you can’t let that get to you. There’s no sense in beating yourself up over normal.
- Teenagers have to be the way they are (difficult) in order to break away. It’s all just a part of the process.
- With teenagers, often the less you say, the better. Lectures are usually tuned out anyway. One word is sometimes enough.
- There are plenty of parenting fallacies and over-generalizations out there. Here’s one for you: If you read to children, they will learn to love to read. In my experience, if you read to children they will learn to love to be read to! Do it your way. Do what works for your family.
On Nurturing Ourselves
- Moms tend to give too much of themselves away. You have to learn how to hold back enough to create your happiness.
- Find ways to fill your own glass. No one else can do that for you.
- We have to learn tools to create peace within ourselves. They’re not always just there.
- Do what you love and don’t worry so much about doing it “right” for the kids. They will benefit most if you’re happy and you, as parents, are cohesive.
- Quit trying to be perfect. Just be yourself. You won’t know until later, if ever, the influence you’re having on peoples’ lives, but it will be greatest if you’re true to yourself.
On What’s Different About Raising Kids Today
- It’s harder today than it was then. There are so many options, too many options. All the alternatives have everyone confused and trying to do everything perfectly, which is, of course, not possible.
- When we were raising kids, when they were school aged, they just went to school. No options, no big ordeal trying to afford somewhere private or teach them yourself, you just went close to where you lived like everyone else. It wasn’t always great, but then, what is?
- Our parents didn’t worry a thing about upsetting us. That was never what it was about.
- We were all children and our parents didn’t do anything right and we all turned out okay!
- Our parents certainly didn’t over-parent and they never seemed to overanalyze things. We did a little more of that with our kids, but today’s parents make themselves crazy by over-thinking it all.
Toward the end of the day I asked them each a final question, “How would you advise the current generation of women and mothers trying to live and parent against the mainstream?”
Here’s what they said:
Barbara — retired nurse, mother, step-mother and grandmother of 13
“Parenting is hard, and more complex today than ever. It’s so important not to stay isolated. Talk to others moms, find or build community. Your doubts and questions are shared by many. You’re not in it alone.”
“Relax, enjoy your kids and let them BE as much as you can. Try not to be so uptight, not to worry so much. Much of it is out of your control and that’s okay.”
“Most importantly, be good to yourself and keep a sense of humor. A sense of humor is essential.”
Vicky – flight attendant, mother of two boys
“Women grow up with Disney-esque perspectives, thinking that true love, a man and a family will complete the portrait of our lives. No one tells you how real and challenging it actually is to raise a family, so we end up thinking we’re doing it all wrong. The truth is, we’re doing fine, life just isn’t Disney.”
“Stress is mostly a new concept. Our kids didn’t feel stress like kids do today. Kids pick up on their parents’ vibes, so it’s really important for parents to take care of themselves and do what they love; to show children how to create their own happiness by example.”
“Kids want you to parent them. They need you to say ‘no.’ You aren’t doing anyone any favors by giving in to whatever they want. Spoiling your kids with stuff is not the same as loving them.”
Christy – simplicity and organizational coach, single mother since age 17.
“Teach your kids simplicity. Don’t overwhelm them with stuff. As someone who helps people simplify their lives for a living, it’s fascinating to see how much people acquire for their kids because they think they should or that it will make their children happy. Kids develop “needs” for and dependency upon things largely from their parents. Kids need space to be and to play without the distraction of tons of toys. When we teach them to want and expect so much from the time they are little, it affects them the rest of their lives. You are actually doing more for your kids by not giving them everything they want.”
“As for being a single parent, I have no idea how I would have done it without a strong community. We all supported one other.”
Perhaps the most refreshing thing I experienced all day was each of their reactions to having their photos taken fresh out of the swimming pool. “Well, I’m not getting out of my bathing suit,” and “Hang on, just let me pull my hair back,” were followed by total indifference when I showed them each their head shots to make sure they liked them.
“Yep, that one’s fine.” “Oh sure, looks great,” and “Whatever, that’ll work.” Not a one of them fussed or requested redos or made critical comments of themselves. Their beauty was truly enhanced for me in that moment by their confidence and self respect.
Since that day, I have thought of so many more things I want to ask them — about raising kids in the 70s, about feminism and how things have shifted, about utopic ideals and how they soften with age. Our time together reminded me of how valuable women’s stories are and how important it is for us to foster relationships cross-generationally and intentionally within our unnaturally divided and age segregated culture.
The need for community seemed, in fact, the common thread woven throughout their reflections. Looking back, their sentiments very much support a favorite quote of mine by Wendell Berry…
Mil gracias Barbara, Vicky, Christy. Your wisdom, strength, passion and beauty are not lost on me.
About Beth Berry
Beth Berry is a writer, mother of four daughters and born idealist living the real life. When she's not orchestrating the household, she can be found in one of several precarious yoga poses, wandering indigenous Mayan food markets, or holed up in a sunny southern Mexican cafe with her laptop, a shade grown dark roast and a contemplative look on her face. Having lived against the grain as a baby-slinging, toddler-nursing, secondhand-shopping, wanna-be farmer for 17 years, she and her family decided to ditch the rat race for a taste of life abroad. Now, in addition to challenging conventional wisdom, she writes about her life-changing experiences working among women in extreme poverty and oppression. Keep up with her musings and adventures in imperfection at www.revolutionfromhome.com