Stacking Blocks of Wisdom

Newsletter Final Thought: May 2014

My daughter is away for the week and it’s just me and my infant son, Paz. Their daddy is doing gigs out of town. Their grandma (nainai) is the one who took Echo back to the family’s hometown. It’s officially the second time in my experience of motherhood that I’ll have been separated from her for a whole week. I’m already not sure what to do with myself.

A friend of mine in Canada remarked that she wished she had someone she trusted enough with whom she could send her kids away for a week. It got me thinking…

This close relationship that I have with my mother-in-law as part of the child rearing team has been a hard one for me. Even though I knew that she was going to be a big part of our family dynamic when any kids arrived, the first year of her constant presence in my life was a strain. (I wrote a lot about that!) I spent more time with her than I did with my husband and I still do! Almost like a forced additional “marriage” (domestically, that is), I have found myself smirking at the irony of co-raising my children with a woman even though I actually married a man.

The things we imagine for our future sometimes happen–just not exactly in the ways we plan them to!

In China, my feminist defences go up when people describe my mother-in-law as having come to Beijing to “help me care for the kids.” I argue that she is here to help “us” and not “me,” as the mother. They laugh. They think I’m far too “foreign” about it. I rarely can inspire likemindedness on this point.

Sexist and old-fashioned philosophies like this one have created a strained domestic reality in my household. To be blunt, I expected more of my partner. He has no qualms about passing off his responsibility to his mother; it’s the Chinese way. But, my Canadian (Western) expectations for him to be more engaged with the day-to-day activities of our family can’t be erased either. It’s the Canadian way, I say, defensively. The result? A broken feminist heart and two onlookers (husband and MIL) who are bewildered by my response. It’s a battle I’ve only recently realized cannot be won.

With that realization, came two other realizations, leaving me three separate stacks of wisdom piled up around this half-empty house:

I’m actually quite lucky. I realize that the additional assistance from my mother-in-law is absolutely golden. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not interchangeable. If I could have more engagement from my husband, I’d be happier, but regardless of my opinions about him, her presence is a winning lottery ticket that I’ve been cashing in for the past two years. As you can tell by my “Mama Mia” video, I’m extremely grateful for her in my life.

And stack #3 is a realization about myself: I am being the mother I want to be. No matter what my husband does or doesn’t do, I wouldn’t change my level of engagement in the least. That’s because I am LOVING being a mother. I choose this sleepless, occasionally irritating, exhausting role with pride. It’s a source of joy, in the end. It’s perfect.

So, when I realized all of these things put together like three wobbly stacks of wisdom blocks, I had to stare long and hard at them to fix them in my mind. And, I could finally do so because I don’t have a toddler raging through the room eager to knock them down with a burst of giggles.

This is what I’ve come to:

Because I’m so grateful for her, it’s much easier to just let my mother-in-law be as involved as she is without comparing her to my husband. That means letting her take Echo back to their home city for a week because I do trust her, implicitly. I know that I’ll be back in Echo’s life in just a few days and that she will miss her mommy while she’s away. I know this because she proves to me every day with cuddles and smiles that I’m being a good mother.

And, thus, the war that I can’t win with my partner has suddenly stopped being a war I even want to wage. I’m learning to just step back and wait. Eventually, I have to believe that he’ll catch up without me nagging him to do so. In the end, our decisions around the type of parent we want to be must come from ourselves. What’s more, I concede that, as babies, children do need their mothers differently than they need their father. All I can be is the mother I want to be. Being the dad he wants to be is up to him.

{One week later}

Guess who has missed his daughter so much this week? Guess who keeps calling me from his out-of-town gigs and telling me how happy he is to be a family? Guess who can’t wait to go and pick up his daughter from the train station tomorrow? Guess who came to say good-night to her this evening, on her first night back home, and tucked her in?

The things we imagine for the future sometimes happen–just not exactly in the ways we plan them to!

Happy spring,


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