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Real Life Happens Here

Real Life Happens Here

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In between intention and action, real life gets in the way. I wanted to take my daughter to her elementary school interview, but my father was dying. My husband took her instead while I flew home to America, already too late to say goodbye.

Now, three years later, I want to treat both my children equally, drawing from the same deep pool of bottomless devotion. But their differences make that impossible. They have already emerged from the cocoon of my fantasies as distinct individuals, fighting battles I never imagined for them.

I want to treat both my children equally, but their differences make that impossibleFor my son, academic achievement comes easy, but friends come hard. The birthday party I envisioned—with a cake with a train on top—leaves my son struggling over who to invite, and why he should invite anyone at all. Why not retreat into the safety of a world of books, a world without the possibility of rejection?

For my daughter, each book is a rejection, as the words collude against her, refusing to yield their secrets. How much easier to retreat into the safety of friends, a refuge from the cruelty of dissatisfied teachers and their endless and unachievable demands.

My daughter is disciplined for ignoring the bell and forgetting to return to class at the end of recess, while my son lurks in an empty classroom, waiting for recess to end and order to be restored to his world.

I carefully wrap up my intentions, preserving them along with their baby clothes. I no longer delude myself into believing that their story is mine to write.

“Close the book and come outside,” I coax my son. “Let’s go to the park.” Later, I coax his sister to stay home. “Let’s read together out loud. I’ll read and you explain. Then you read and I’ll explain.” This is my new role: I accompany them on their journey.

How can I treat them equally when they themselves demand such different mothering? How can I cling to outdated intentions—intentions that were conceived when they were still tethered to me by an umbilical cord? To do so would be to ignore the reality of who they are, and what our life has become.

I support them as they navigate a maze of school and friends, of teachers and standardized tests. I arrange for remedial reading lessons and social skills training. I arrange for my daughter to sit next to a stronger student who doesn’t need help, and for my son to sit next to a weaker student who does.

My daughter loves clothes, and a new dress will send her prancing through the house like a ballerina. My son is the only member of our family who doesn’t bite his nails. Instead he gnaws and picks at his clothes when he is nervous or frustrated, a habit much more costly than nail-biting.

How can I cling to outdated intentions—intentions that were conceived when they were still tethered to me by an umbilical cord? Instead of new clothes, I buy him a specially textured sensory bar that can be rubbed or chewed at will. He keeps it in his locking drawer, along with his other treasures—a rubber doll whose eyes pop out when you squeeze it, stray keys, and a picture album filled with trading cards. He also collects stickers and Silly Bandz, which he swaps with his sister and her friends.

These collecting habits don’t endear him to his peers. Instead he befriends an elderly neighbor, and truly counts her as a friend. I consider inviting her to the party with a train cake, but I abandon that idea when I abandon the idea of a party entirely as just another outdated intention.

Once upon a time, I envisioned myself as a certain type of mother. I wanted to be the mother who made homemade cakes with a choo-choo train on top, and never missed a significant occasion. Instead I am the mother who chose my father’s funeral over her daughter’s school admission interview. I have learned to yield to life as it unfolds.

This new approach leaves room for G‑d at the center of our unfolding family narrative. It leaves room for my children to participate fully as well, not as mere characters but as authors in their own right.

Instead of a birthday party, our family will have a mini-barbecue and roast marshmallows on sticks, with an assortment of guests of his choice, almost none of them his peers. Whoever said friends must be your own age? This is what my son intends for his birthday—sticks and fire, and a sweetness that yields itself to you entirely.

Robyn Cuspin is a therapist living in Israel.
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Julie Durham, UK November 18, 2011

Through difficult times too I loved your article; how lovely to read how we meet our children as they grow. For me the story was very much the same until when my two sons were aged 18 and 13 and my daughter 17, their father died from cancer aged 52. Suddenly my children fell apart and their individual natures shuddered and crumbled before my eyes. The confident one hid, the steady one became obsesive and the bright one made terrible mistakes. "Why", I asked, after all the nuturing and individual attention, my life's work..? Six years on I can now see it, the bright one has been enriched beyond her years and her academic work is better than ever it could have been without her mistakes. The confident one retreated into music and has now become the confident one with skills to match, and the steady one has found at last his true calling in life - medicine. Now I know that the gale wind which tore the early leaves from the trees was just the breath of G_d breathing life, not death into my family. Reply

Twin Mommy Miami, Florida November 17, 2011

Oh, how I relate... Thank you so much for sharing your story with the vast and vulnerable universe of the world wide web :o) You words are comforting, they give me strength in knowing that I am being the best mother I can be – that I learn to be better, one day at a time. Your words offer some undefined kind of serenity in knowing that “I can't write their story”, Hashem writes it... and that my job is to use the tools that I am given to help my family blossom and grow – at its own pace. It's complex what I feel – but I am relieved when I see that I am not the only mother on this planet that understand that letting go of the “umbilical cord/intended connection” with our children is difficult.

Thank you again immensely for sharing your story, you touched me beyond words... Reply

Holly Holmstrom Poplar Bluff, MO/USA August 27, 2011

Parenting Just wanted to say thank you for your article and my heart goes out to you because being a mother is such a heart-breaking experience. Now that my son is a grown man I can look back and see the hand of the Lord upon him but then when he was young I had much of the same feelings that you expressed. The weight of the responsibilty of raising a child was almost too much too bear and I was anxious to make the right decisions, more so for him than for my own life. But truly we need to remember that children are entrusted to us for a season and a reason - to praise the Lord . We are to teach the little souls that G-d has given us, to love Him and serve Him and to deal justly and merifully with our fellow man, and thankfully, G-d will take care of the rest!!! How I wish I had that knowledge and faith when my son was little. But I did pray and beseech the Lord continually that He would make my son a man of faith. That whatever path G=d directed him would bring him closer to G-d. Reply

Robere New orleans, LA August 19, 2011

g ds children Great lesson. I think that G d is teaching us that we should love , and nurture these children for there different ways. As we should do also for everyone. Reply

Alan S. Long Island, NY via chabadlittleneck.com August 18, 2011

Beautiful article. Just one little problem I might have found. You rationalized well the difficulty parents face trying to find the right balance between the (individual) needs of their children. However, you basically made it seem as if you might not be a good mom because you attended your father's funeral instead of your daughter's school interview. This certainly couldn't be your intent. Where you belonged (at your father's funeral, for certain), shouldn't have been the point of contention that the article implied. Reply

Anonymous pgh, pa August 18, 2011

Thanx! Thank you for the beautiful article!Each of my children is different in their own special way.So refreshing your honesty!! Reply

Julie Durham, UK August 18, 2011

Mothering Aren't children marvolous! I like you imagined certain pleasure before I truly knew them but now they are grown up and they are all different - they continue to widen my world, test my expectations and...leave me standing".

I am not Jewish but I have raised my children with complete devotion and when I read articles on this mag about what mothering means to you I feel very much that I have met at last, kindred spirits and I no longer feel alone. Reply

Anonymous Los Angeles, CA August 18, 2011

thank you Thank you so much for putting into words that sometimes so painful wrench at a mother's heart. You speak of young children and yet I believe that just what you express is true for most, I almost find no difference as my children grow to be who they are, and not who I want them to be when they are in their 20's and 30's. A good reminder to me and I think others that our children are who they are and what we thought they should be is just a sweet memory Reply

Hannah Glen Rose, Tx August 18, 2011

Equal does not mean same with children When "equal" is defined as "same", the children lose out. Their individuality is not accepted. You have given your love to each of your children equally. You have given love that acknowledges their individualism in equal amounts and quality. What a gift that you have allowed the practical aspects of "equal" to be according to the child rather than "same". Reply

Anonymous Albany, NY August 18, 2011

Children I, too, have a son and a daughter, as different as night and day. My son is now a lone soldier in the IDF having made aliyah, my daughter a senior in a public high school. The greatest lessons I've learned being their mother is to have no expectations and to love each of them just the way they are. Has my son followed the road I envisioned for him? Absolutely not, but I couldn't be more proud. Has my daughter excelled academically the way I wanted? No, she hasn't, but a more kind, compassionate and loving young woman would be very difficult to find, and I'm so blessed to have her in my life.

Enjoy and be thankful for each of them...know that your unconditional love and support will help them grow into amazing adults, while other factors, including Hashem, will guide them in the direction they were meant to go. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma August 17, 2011

Two very different children A mother knows it, almost as soon as a baby is put into her arms following birth. This one is calm and placid. This one's a screamer. This one is insistent. This one is more placid.

Every single child is unique unto his or herself, and yes, we should adapt to knowing them, to nurturing their unique personalities in loving them. And sometimes it's a struggle, because we clash. As we are different. And sometimes it's not such a struggle because we understand each other, and even share many moments together, and also a genetics that comes out, in sparkling ways that do astonish. A way of picking up music, or art, a particular love of a particular story, even, gestures that do remind us of ourselves, or somebody else in our family.

That's life. And this is a very true and lovely article. Reply

Malka ny August 15, 2011

you are such a special mother As a teenage girl I am inspired by how you relate with your kids I hope when one day, I will be a mother I will be like you. Reply

Anonymous NC, USA August 14, 2011

Your son sounds like my young grandson... And after he was diagnosed with Asperger's, at now age 11, he knows what he has...we realize other members of our family have it in lesser degrees. Because he was diagnosed very young, he is doing very well...he was given certain things that are OK to chew on when younger and I don't know of him using it now. He is extrememly bright, interested in a great many different things...loves learning!! He is just as interested in learning to crochet, needlecraft, and cooking as building models, etc. His birthday wish was for a cordless drill...everyone gave him money and he was able to get almost top of the line, which pleased him greatly. My son says he has to get some materials that are OK for grandson to drill on, etc. so he won't decide on his own to "FIX" something. He asks questions way beyond his years. We feel he will one day have something great to offer the world. Very likely you are raising such a son! I applaud your inviting those he wanted for his party, ignoring age!! Reply

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