Listen up, Super-moms: Don't sweat the small stuff

May 23, 1999|By Susan Reimer

I was hanging out with a lively group of women who had recently traded power suits for Pampers. They'd gathered for a weekend of networking while the hubbies watched the kids, illustrating one of the critical lessons of super-motherhood: Babies don't stay babies forever, so you better keep your hand in the game if you want to work again.

I was overhearing lots of conversations I'd had -- about a million years ago, I think -- about the isolation of staying at home; the fear of skills rusting away; the helplessness of the modern male; and how those preschool choices will keep you awake nights.

One of the women was lamenting the fact that infant and toddler nutrition advice is hopelessly vague.

"Just what constitutes a serving of fruit," she asked rhetorically, "10 grapes or 40 grapes?"

I had been feeling very old, but suddenly I felt very wise and I wanted to blurt out:

"I have a strong, tall, high-school freshman who hasn't had a serving of fruit in 13 years.

"Relax. It doesn't matter."

I felt like Kathleen Turner in "Peggy Sue Got Married," who whispered to her classmates during her dream sequence that algebra never comes up again in life.

I wanted to say that the serving-of-fruit advice is one of those things that turns out not to matter. At least not as much as you think it will when you are scheming to get a picky eater to consume just one grape.

I wanted to give these women a list of all the things that turn out not to matter, all the things that never come up again in life.

Such as when your child is weaned, when he starts solid food, when you start potty training, when he starts to walk and speak, and where he went to preschool.

Relax, I wanted to tell them. They don't ask for any of this information on a college application.

I was feeling six kinds of superior to these young mothers, as determined to be good parents as they were professionals, when it dawned on me that there must be all sorts of consternations I have about my adolescent children that may turn out not to matter.

That it is very likely that my children will not become drug-addicted teen parents who drop out of school and enter the welfare state or the criminal justice system. That it is very likely my children will get some kind of post- secondary education and find meaningful work and raise children to whom they will be devoted.

And that this result may have less to do with me and my value-laden servings of fruit than I flatter myself and believe.

It is very likely that my children will make successes of themselves -- not because that is what I want for them -- but because that is what they want for themselves.

I am not averse to offering some unsolicited pointers. But what makes parents so arrogant as to believe that our children will not want to grow up to do good work and surround themselves with love unless we tell them they should?

We have to believe our kids want contentment and success as much as we want it for them. We have to get used to the idea that they may never like fruit, but they will probably grow strong and tall anyway.

Suddenly I felt the patient eyes and indulgent half-smile of some unknown mother on me as I went about the business of micromanaging my children's lives.

And I could hear her say:

"Relax. It doesn't matter."

Pub Date: 05/23/99

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