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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