Hominy & Hash
TO THE HANDS THAT ROCK THE CRADLES
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Modern couples write their own wedding vows and often include a Biblical quote. The one most often used is from the Book of Ruth: "Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God."
That sentiment strums heart strings and melts deeply into the soul where total commitment lies. I wonder how many of the brides and grooms this century realize Ruth spoke those words to her mother-in-law, Naomi, not to her husband on their wedding day.
It was in a time when men of marrying age brought home a wife. She and his mother would be company for each other, two more hands to cook and clean, fetch and carry, sew and mend.
Normally, a woman would go back to her own tribe when her husband dies, but when both women were widowed early, Ruth didn't want to part from Naomi. Thus, her tearful plea: "Entreat me not to leave thee."
Mothers and daughters are sewn from the same cloth; mothers-in-law and daughter-in-law are from a totally different fabric. The one common element is love for the same man. A mother is the first woman her son loves; a wife is the last. The first love is filial; the last love is conjugal. But, they love him fervently in their way
Sons-in-law have that same distinction along with a connection to his wife's mother (the one cut from the same cloth as his wife.)
I never had a mother-in-law so I had to learn how to be one watching my own mother -- who had five daughters-in-law -- all of whom loved her. The secret? She never gave advice unless it was asked for. That's a little difficult for me; I'm not as shy and retiring as Mama was, but I never "drop in" and that has to mean something.
Mothers sometimes think they know what's best for their children, and until they're old enough to make choices, that's true. They try to guide them toward careers they "think" would suit them or offer greater success income-wise. (Which is why my dentist once said: "Why did I become a dentist? I don't like probing around the inside of a dozen mouths every day." ) When it comes to The Mating Game, however, wise mothers step back and let "Natural Selection" take over.
It is only when the babies start coming that a grandmother sees the wisdom of the match. The genes of generations on both sides came together to form a perfect blending of each. How could this child be anything other than who he is?
Ah, but then comes the child-rearing part. I only got through my first infant's growth and development by taking my dog-eared copy of Dr. Spock's book out of my pocket and putting my baby into the crook of my arms. "It's you and me, kid. We're not the first people on earth to work out this bond, so let's do it."
So, with lots of fears and many sleepless nights, we got through it and then added six more to the fold. Whether I raised my children then the way I would now, with the knowledge coming from 20/20 hindsight, makes no difference whatever. I had my time. You never get a second chance to do it right the first time. And you don't get to re-do the whole thing by raising your grandchildren. They have their mothers.
The one natural ingredient a mother gives to the raising of her children is her instinct for their well-being. It's so hard to recognize this when "experts" are directing you otherwise. In the twenties, parenting articles cautioned against hugging and kissing your children; do not hold them on your lap, if you must, then a kiss on the forehead at bedtime would not harm them. What were they thinking? There are times when only a hug will do.
In the '30s and '40s, mothers were told to get off the breast and onto bottles of formula -- designed to be the exact nutritional value as breast milk. In the '50s, we had Dr. Spock and my personal favorite, the Gessell Institute's book of developmental stages. If my baby hit the mark at 16 weeks I pinned a medal on me. In the '60s, we went back to breastfeeding. Some studies suggested parental inadequacies and thought raising preschoolers in a kibbutz style nursery rather than in the nuclear family would be beneficial.
Only my first child was what I called "the experimental model." The other six benefited from what I learned the first time around. But, not even with that technique, no two of my children are alike. The experts based their findings on a random sampling. Out of their studies, they compiled data that gave a statistically average child. I doubt those findings to be useful. Using my "sampling," seven children born to the same two parents, raised around the same table, could not be averaged out.
It's time now, for my daughters and daughters-in-law to have their one chance with their children. I'll get my expected remark out of the way now: My grandchildren are the best grandchildren in the world. But, I have to add, I have nothing to do with that. These young ones are in the very capable hands of their mothers, all exceptional women who are reading their children's personalities and temperaments eyeball-to-eyeball, and not looking for a profile in the "ages and stages" chapters in books.
These women are all well educated, able to take higher echelon positions and command commensurate salaries - but that can wait, they'll say. Motherhood is their number one priority now.
What I find so interesting is the parenting itself. All four are so different from each other. One raises her children with executive efficiency, yet always perceptive to children's needs, another uses a laissez faire approach (never interfere with personal freedom or conduct of action,) the third is into enjoying television with her toddler, reading, swimming, and the fourth is doing everything right by learning from the other three, raising her 2-year old son with a mixed bag of advice. When she calls me, I send her back into her world with just one line: "When they are least lovable, they need the most love."
With all of these different approaches to raising children, wouldn't you expect different results? I can see no appreciable differences. They are each clean, well spoken, accomplished, talented, healthy, athletic, understanding and kind. Oh, and did I mention ... smart?
I don't see differences but I do see one similarity: They are all loved. Yes, these mothers of my grandchildren rock ... and I don't just mean cradles.