Mommy Mode

A con­ver­sa­tion with sam­bear last night led to an inter­est­ing realization—some peo­ple either don’t ever get into “par­ent mode” or don’t go there auto­mat­i­cal­ly. Even par­ents. Even devot­ed, lov­ing parents.

I am not capa­ble of com­ing out of “Mom­my mode” if there are chil­dren present. Not at all. It does­n’t mat­ter if I’m not tech­ni­cal­ly respon­si­ble for those chil­dren or not. They could be total strangers. I’m still going to notice if they’re stray­ing into dan­ger or need some­thing. In fact, I expect that from oth­ers. It’s part of being a respon­si­ble adult human being as far as I’m concerned.

Exam­ple: Yes­ter­day I was at lit­tle­fire­fae’s school to check her out for a den­tal appoint­ment. A child came in with a cut on his hand, and there was­n’t any­one in the clin­ic. I had him cleaned up with a cool Band-aid applied before the clin­ic lady or lit­tle­fire­fae showed up, and he went on back to class. I did­n’t think about it, I just took care of him because he was there and I was there and the office work­ers just said, “Well, she’ll be back soon, I’m sure.” I had the stuff in my purse, why not use it?

I was raised sur­round­ed by extend­ed fam­i­ly. My moth­er and father both come from big fam­i­lies and while we lived in Gads­den there were aunts, uncles, and cousins of vary­ing degrees every­where. Many of their hous­es were with­in walk­ing dis­tance of ours, even for a small child. And since we lived close to my mater­nal grand­moth­er’s house, where my moth­er had grown up, many of the neigh­bors might as well have been rel­a­tives, too.

In that envi­ron­ment, every human was held respon­si­ble for the care and super­vi­sion of any human younger than he or she was. Females were held to this stan­dard more strin­gent­ly than males, but males were held to it.

I do not remem­ber a time when I was­n’t expect­ed to be respon­si­ble, in some way, for some­one younger than me. And I have very clear mem­o­ries of the week my sis­ter came home to us—I was 23 months old at the time. She was my baby. I learned to help change her dia­per, dress her, feed her, etc. I pot­ty trained her. Really—both of my par­ents will tell you that. I helped take care of younger cousins, neigh­bors, etc. If my younger sib­lings did some­thing (even if I was­n’t around at the time) that I could/should have, in our par­ents’ opin­ion, pre­vent­ed, I got in trou­ble because my par­ents held me account­able for their behav­ior. (No, I don’t rec­om­mend that, okay?)

So—I’ve been trained all my life to take care of small chil­dren. It isn’t some­thing I con­scious­ly choose to do. It’s wired into the auto­nom­ic ner­vous sys­tem just like breath­ing as far as I can tell.

I also expect that any human should be ful­ly capa­ble of tak­ing care of him or her­self pret­ty inde­pen­dent­ly by age 9 or so (bar­ring severe dis­abil­i­ty), but that’s a post for anoth­er time.

As a result, I am not able to relax ful­ly, ever, if there are chil­dren around. Not just in the room, in the house. I can go into our bed­room and try turn­ing the music up loud and lose myself in a book or what­ev­er, but I’m still in Mom­my mode on some lev­el and unless I’m uncon­scious, I always will be. There’s a con­stant process going on—what’s going on with the kids? Are they okay? Do they need me? What was that noise? Why is it so qui­et? What are they doing?

To real­ly get a break requires that the chil­dren be elsewhere—and not just ANY else­where. No, they have to be with some­one who I trust to take care of them every bit as well as I would. As they’ve grown old­er and more and more capa­ble of tak­ing care of them­selves, there are more peo­ple to whom I will entrust their care, but it’s still a rel­a­tive­ly small group of peo­ple. That presents prob­lems here at home, some­times, espe­cial­ly when deal­ing with two kids who are well behind the matu­ri­ty curve.

I find it absolute­ly incon­ceiv­able that oth­er peo­ple aren’t auto­mat­i­cal­ly in Mommy/Daddy mode. The idea that some peo­ple need reminders to, say, pay atten­tion to a toddler—it does­n’t com­pute. We’re talk­ing about an adult human here, right? Sane, in full pos­ses­sion or his or her fac­ul­ties? Hell, I find it dif­fi­cult to under­stand that a ten-year-old could let his sev­en-year-old sis­ter do some­thing that is clear­ly dan­ger­ous and cer­tain­ly not nec­es­sary with­out car­ing enough to either inter­vene or get an adult. The idea that an adult could neglect or abuse a child in his or her care is utter­ly for­eign to me. I don’t care if the child was just placed on your doorstep in a bas­ket and you’re just wait­ing for the author­i­ties to come to claim her, she’s your respon­si­bil­i­ty for that 15 min­utes or whatever.

Peo­ple who have to be TOLD to care for a child—especially a child of their own!—well, I lose respect for them. Immense amounts of respect. In case you haven’t noticed, I con­sid­er par­ent­ing a damned impor­tant thing, and I def­i­nite­ly judge peo­ple based on how well they parent.

If some­one has­n’t been around chil­dren much and sim­ply needs to learn how to care for them, that’s eas­i­ly rec­ti­fied if the inter­est is there. It does­n’t take a Red Cross babysit­ting course, though, to tell you that the five-year-old in the yard start­ing fires needs adult super­vi­sion now, and if you’re the one who noticed, baby, you’re IT.

An adult who does­n’t have chil­dren, espe­cial­ly one who has stat­ed that he or she has no inter­est in or plans to have chil­dren in the future—okay, I’ll cut them a lit­tle bit of slack. But not much. Because they are humans, and they were chil­dren at one time, and pre­sum­ably there were peo­ple around tak­ing care of them. It’s one of those social ani­mal things—we take care of our young. All of our young. Not just the ones car­ry­ing our genet­ic mate­r­i­al. I’m the first to admit to hav­ing def­i­nite pri­or­i­ties and giv­ing more atten­tion to the chil­dren to whom I’ve made a commitment—but I will not ever stand by and allow any child to come to harm due to my action or inaction.

So when I do agree to even be around a child, I’m mak­ing a com­mit­ment. And there are chil­dren whose com­pa­ny I refuse to endure, some­times because they are sim­ply too high-main­te­nance. It isn’t a par­tic­u­lar age—they might be 4 or 14. It’s sim­ply that they are not very nice peo­ple, and they usu­al­ly have not been par­ent­ed very well, and since I can­not block them out of my con­scious­ness while they are present, I choose not to have them in my home at all. Ever.

sam­bear insists that I need to find a way to turn off the Mom­my mode so that I can relax. I have nev­er con­sid­ered it a problem—it just is. But then again, until last night, I nev­er con­sid­ered it at all. It is sim­ply The Way We Are Sup­posed To Be. I want to give his views con­sid­er­a­tion, but I’m real­ly find­ing it dif­fi­cult to see a mid­dle ground on this one.

Cyn is Rick's wife, Katie's Mom, and Esther & Oliver's Mémé. She's also a professional geek, avid reader, fledgling coder, enthusiastic gamer (TTRPGs), occasional singer, and devoted stitcher.
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