As a math professor, I often describe my job as being half teacher, half cheerleader. I have taught women old enough to be my mother who grew up being told that “girls can’t do math,” students with learning differences that make math particularly difficult, and once even taught graphing to a student who was born blind (I made a Cartesian plane out of a white board, yarn, and magnets.) In some ways, it is teaching those students who need the most help that gives me the most satisfaction as a professor. I was reminded of this role that I often play when I met my first grandniece over Thanksgiving break. She is the daughter of my niece, whose former fiancé left her as a single mother only weeks before their planned wedding.
I remember the first weeks of being a parent, and of how overwhelmed I felt. I suspect that many of my students feel the same way as they begin my courses. I work to make sure that such a feeling does not persist throughout the semester, but I realize that I can’t always make up for difficulties that come from high schools (and middle schools!) that may not have prepared them appropriately. I do my best, and ask them to do their best. That is all that I can do. That, and cheer them on. I wish more people had done that for me when I first became a parent.
As someone who knows what it feels like to be good at something, I had the distinct feeling in those first few weeks of parenting that THIS was not that feeling. I fumbled around with bottles and diapers, and even had one diaper leak all over the couch in the middle of a visit by the adoption agency that was there to make sure our placement was appropriate. Thank heavens our social worker laughed it off, and combined it with a bit of wisdom that it might be time to move to the next larger size of diapers.
Of course, I took that bit of advice to heart, and the problem disappeared. This was a far cry from discussing linear regression with a classroom of statistics students!
Since those days, I make it a point to offer encouraging words to new moms that I run into. I am especially careful to offer words of congratulations to new parents, who, being sleep deprived, may momentarily forget what a wonderful blessing has entered their lives. I also try to find something to praise new parents about, be it cute clothes or how alert their child seems. I remember the feeling of being so incompetent, and also the frustration that came when random parents offered criticism just as I was struggling with my daughter out in public.
And so, when I saw my niece for the first time in years, I spent as much time as I could giving her encouragement in her in her new role as a mom. I was impressed at what an excellent mother she was, and how much unconditional love she gives to her beautiful daughter. And I was careful to offer many words of congratulations. No, this might not have been the ideal way to begin her life as a mother, but she was doing a great job, and deserved to hear that.
So, readers, do you have any thoughts about encouraging words you like to offer fellow mothers who are just beginning their journey as parents?
Wishing all of my readers a Happy St. Nicholas' Day
Read more by
Opinions on Inside Higher Ed
Inside Higher Ed’s Blog U
What Others Are Reading