Parent vs. Mother

“Discipline” by baladeva_d on Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, I read this apparently ancient article and like most well-written things it parked into my brain and has been idling at times more loudly than others.

It turns out, I hate parenting. There’s a difference between being a parent and being a mother. As a matter of fact, it’s not that there’s a difference, it’s that they have very little, if anything at all, in common.

  • Parenting is figuring out how to keep your children nourished at healthy levels and facing the various obstacles to such a feat. From battling childhood obesity to figuring out how to get one serving of veggies a month into your child much less five a day, the daily (hourly) food battles are parenting at work.
  • Parenting is dealing with the child’s educational life. This includes mining book bags and folders, looking over homework assignments, helping a child prep for exams, drilling facts, reading together, establishing and maintaining a healthy relationship with teachers, managing all forms sent home for parental review, participating in school activities, not allowing for an abundance of absences and/or tardiness, etc.
  • Parenting is managing the health care of a child– setting appointments for check-ups, tending to illnesses immediately, alleviating pain and discomforts, administering medication and care as directed, and monitoring a child for symptoms.
  • Parenting is assuming the role of judge and jury in all potentially hostile  inter-personal relations in your presence (think child and sibling or child and playmate) attempting to maintain an environment that is impartial and fair as possible. It is also making the active decision to remain a silent observer in the hopes of fostering an opportunity for negotiations and peace-making independent of your involvement.
  • Parenting is creating and maintaining a healthy, safe, and comfortable physical environment. It is implementing a maintenance schedule and routine that involves all parties’ participation to maintain the levels of organization and cleanliness to a suitable standard.
  • Parenting is the education of a child in acceptable or even desirable societal behaviors, mannerisms, language, etc. It is teaching a child to cope with negative situations, manage emotions healthily, and build confidence in a real, results-oriented way.

It has lately struck me sharply how much parenting is so similar to running a business. You are building a business from nothing. Most likely, returns will be zilch or at the very best, minimal in comparison to the investment. The hours are long. The environment is often highly stressful with little downtime. Burnout is high with little reprieve. The opportunity to delegate is often rare and can itself lead to a contentious situation. In some situations, delegating is simply not an option. Not to mention, the product’s performance is entirely a reflection of your abilities—whether you feel such judgment is deserved or not.

Like any method of management, the above list is general. Each manager must pick and choose among these things, prioritizing according to their own agenda, eliminating and adding as seen fit. It is here you see styles emerge—Tiger and others. Not only in which topics to advance, but also to what extent each area is enforced. As the list suggests, it also becomes apparent that parenting is not limited to the biological mother and father of a child. Many adults can, and do, assume parental responsibilities in the life of a child—with positive and detrimental effect. At times, biological parents choose not to parent.

It’s hard not to understand why. After all, where parenting is extremely exhausting and exacting work, mothering is not.

Mothering is nurturing and affection. Mothering is kissing boo-boos all better and playing silly games with no educational purpose. Mothering is hugs and kisses without prompting or expectation of a desired result. Mothering is favorite colors and foods, chocolate chip cookies, singing lullabies four times in a row, and reading “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late” in the most dramatic over-the-top way because they giggle in the most contagious way. Mothering is putting aside the Very Important Thing you’re doing because your two year old is walking around the house in a weird funny way singing this little chant that goes something like “Dance, I’m a robot. Dance, Dance, Dance. I’m a robot” and he’s doing so in his best stiffest motions and with his best digital voice and it’s absolutely hilarious and uncannily creative and you’re just unable to comprehend how this amazing little creature came up with such a thing! Mothering is doing things not because they’re the right thing to do or because they’re going to help your child in one way or another, but because they make your heart swell so much you can hardly breathe. And it’s not swelling with pride, it’s swelling with this overwhelming surge of unrelenting love you can’t even explain it.

Of course, the two things may be very different, but they don’t work at cross purposes. And loving mothers, single or otherwise, understand more often than not, parenting is necessary. So, as much as I love being a mom, I hate being a parent. At the same time, because I do love my kids so much, I also understand it’s in their best interest for me to be a parent and to assume as many of the parental responsibilities as I can and to do so in as graceful a style as possible—whatever that may be.  

For what it’s worth, I think this is where Amy Chua went wrong. The excerpt from her book that flew around the world was focused too much on parenting and not enough on mothering. I’m not saying that’s how she was and I’m not saying the rest of the book was like that as well, but the excerpt was. The excerpt was 100% unadulterated parenting and in an aggressive management style. People went ballistic because The Wall Street Journal was heralding this excerpt as the reason Chinese mothers are superior and yet there wasn’t a shred of mothering in the piece!

So, mental note to self: When the parenting becomes really overwhelming and is threatening to push me to the brink, stop and do some mothering to get back to center. Kids need, and want, both. More importantly though, so do I!


10 thoughts on “Parent vs. Mother

  1. Yes, parenting is tough. It’s the hardest job ever. I never really thought about the difference between mothering-fathering and parenting, but you make good points here. And I guess like anything, the best thing is to keep it all in balance as much as possible.

    • I never really thought of the differences either until I read that piece. And I started thinking about all of the people in my kids’ lives who take on parental responsibilities. That’s when it started to dawn on me that there were differences and maintainging a middle ground is probably a safe bet. Besides, mothering/fathering is fun! Can’t have all work and no play– even in the world of parenthood!

  2. I think it is hard to find the balance. I always enjoyed the Mom part more, but alas was also the parent. I have always tried to bounce between the two but sometimes the mom wins and sometimes the parent wins.

    Great post


    • Thanks! It IS hard to find the balance. Especially when you sort of get into the groove of one more than the other. Making the shift is hard. You know, those days when everything is so nice and smooth and easy and breezy and then a situation crops up and you had better shift into parent mode or things are going to get out of hand fast. And the opposite is true too- you are so into parent mode: meeting objectives and staying on schedules and you feel sort of empty inside because there’s been no fulfillment or emotional award from your kids. You have to stop yourself and say it’s ok to let things loosen up a bit for right now. Everyone deserves a break! But that shift is hard to do to!

  3. It’s often hard for me as a non-parent to comment on kid/parent related posts – sometimes because I just don’t have the experience, but sometimes also because I feel like my perspective is often pooh-poohed exactly because I don’t have kids.

    Even so I’m gonna comment on this one to say I really liked this post a lot. There is a difference between mothering/fathering and parenting and I think not enough people think about that. And I know too many parents who are AFRAID to be parents because they think if they are, their children won’t love them/like them as mothers and fathers any more.

    It’s also nice to know that getting to be a mom or a dad helps to balance that out and make the parenting part less .. icky. 🙂

    • Thanks for the comment! I think it’s great you commented because it reinforces the fact that lots of people can, and do, participate in the parenting process even though there are no biological attachments (think uncles, grandparents, teachers, mom’s friends, etc.). I think separating the two might make it easier to come to terms with finding a good mix you’re comfortable with!

  4. Pingback: Speaking in Tongues… Momfinitions « Random Musings Of A Mad Mama!

  5. Pingback: BABE IN CHRIST » Blog Archive » 26 Days Before Mother’s Day; “A Mother’s Worth”

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