I first heard of Dr. Meg Meeker when she was a guest on the Dave Ramsey show some time back. She is a Catholic pediatrician and mother of four grown children, and she has now written several books on parenting (turns out she has a blog too). After the show, I ordered her book The 10 Habits of Happy Mothers: Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose, and Sanity. I’ve been reading it a few pages at a time for months now, and I found it a rewarding, if uneven, read.
At first glance, the book seems a lot like the advice you might get in parenting magazines or the What To Expect books: Maintain Key Friendships, Say No to Competition, Make Time for Solitude, and Find Ways to Live Simply. Most of the books and articles I’ve read like this are long on general platitudes and short on practical advice. They give me no new ideas except to add to my to-do list: “#47 make time for myself, #48 live more simply.” One book I read (which shall remain nameless) suggests making your own laundry detergent and household cleaner as a way to live simply. Wha??? How is making something myself simpler than buying the thing at the store? More environmentally friendly? Sure. Healthier? Perhaps. More frugal? Definitely. But simpler? I don’t think so.
But I digress.
Dr. Meeker’s book offers more than platitudes and laundry detergent recipes. She suggests some new attitudes and ways to prioritize that don’t add to my to-do list but do help me be more at peace with life and with mothering in particular. The most groundbreaking concept for me is in her chapter entitled “Find Ways to Live Simply”:
We live with an overriding sense that we have ultimate control over who our kids become when they are adults. We therefore believe that every decision we make can potentially alter the outcome of their lives. And this is an enormous burden to carry. . . . Parents are the primary influence in a child’s life concerning character development, but . . . even our influence is very limited. . . . Kids are who they are. . . .
Inward simplicity as mothers begins with this very release. Our children are fully different creature than we are, and we are in their lives for a time in order to nurture them, love them, and nudge them in certain directions. We simply must accept that they are loaned to us for a time and then they are released into adulthood.
How very freeing!
Also enlightening is her chapter “Give and Get Love in Healthy Ways.” Dr. Meeker points out, “We feel pressure, particularly when our kids are young, not to show disappointment, anger or frustration at the young people they are.” She goes on to tell about the mother of a seven-year old who would scream at the smallest provocation. The mother at first worried because this trait was so unlike anything she had encountered in other children that age. The mother decided, however, that “maybe this is just him.”
She reduced her expectations about normal seven-year-old behavior and resolved early on that regardless of what other kids did, this was something her kid did. . . . She refused to take [the boy’s] behavior personally. If she would have sat and stewed about what she was doing wrong, she would have gotten angrier with her son. She didn’t. . . . She was able to step back and think about what she needed to do in order to love [the boy] through his temper tantrums.
Mothers can be much happier if we learn to dismiss character flaws, sullen attitudes, or temper tantrums and focus on the goodness in loved ones. Doing so doesn’t mean that we are blind; it is quite the opposite. It means that we are willing to see the faults and frailties of our loved ones but appreciate and love them anyway.
This chapter brought me back to one morning at the Montessori parent-toddler class with Girl 1. Girl 1 decided she did not want to leave the entry way where all the children left their shoes. All she wanted to do was try on the other kids’ shoes. She would not be coaxed into the classroom. After at least half an hour sitting amongst the shoes, I gave up and we left. I felt frustrated that my child wouldn’t get with the program. In these situations, my tendency is to ask, “What am I doing wrong?” although perhaps it’s just her. Even at that point, though, I knew it was better for me to leave than to make her go in just because it was what I wanted us to do at the time. Obviously I can’t let her have her way in every situation, but there was no need for us to go in that day. Loving her meant not comparing her to the other, more docile children. Loving her meant accepting who she was and doing what was best for her. This is a constant struggle for me.
Other chapters in this book I found less enlightening. The third chapter, “Value and Practice Faith,” offers nothing new to someone who already has faith, yet I doubt it would be convincing to someone who doesn’t. “Hmm, Dr. Meeker says I’ll be a happier mother if I have faith. Well, then, I guess God does exist, after all.”
Another flaw is Dr. Meeker’s frequent use of filler phrases like “Let’s face it,” “I am convinced,” and “It’s no secret.” I wonder if her editor gave her a pass on this to keep her book in the book category and out of the pamphlet rack, as it’s a slender 250 pages including the supplemental material in the back.
Overall, this is a book I’m glad I’ve read and, even rarer, one that I probably will come back to in the future.