The Work My Kids Will Never Learn From Their Mother

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The Work My Kids Will Never Learn From Their Mother

I stood under the peaked roof of my country church, folded my arms across my chest, and looked out across the sanctuary, feeling a sense of admiration and a tinge of envy.


The mothers of our church had sewn dozens of darling dresses as a mission project, then draped them over the backs of every pew for the rest of us to see on Sunday morning. As the pianist played a quiet prelude of “Just As I Am,” I scanned the room and obsessed momentarily over the woman that I’m not.

Most days, I am able to appreciate my own skill set and accept my limitations. I’m content with the gifts that God has given me. But I do get wistful in moments like these—not for myself, but for my daughters, ages 10 and 8. They will not learn how to sew or bake or can vegetables or knit scarves from their mother. I make brick-hard brownies and the world's flattest angel-food cake. I know nothing about bobbins or blanket stitches.

That morning in church, I ran my hand along a polka-dotted dress on the back pew. Several of the other church moms, along with their children, worked together one Thursday morning to sew the dresses for Haitian girls. I generally avoid such activities, knowing that they hold inherent risks for a woman like me: I might get my own shirt mixed in with the project, and end up sewing myself to the machine.

But even when I keep myself far from the hazards of sewing, I daily encounter the dangers of parental comparison in the privacy of my office. Facebook, YouTube, and blogs offer myriad ways for mothers to count up their deficiencies.

For instance, online I discovered the following: One friend’s daughters contributed to her book of poetry. A colleague recently introduced his children to the world of filmmaking, helping them create an action-packed video using Legos. A girlfriend out west has a little cowboy in training.

I might be tempted to get jealous, except for the fact that I am genuinely pleased for each of my friends’ gifts. Still, the panicky part of me asks: Am I teaching my children enough about this curious, delightful world that we live and work in? What skills am I passing on that they can use later in life?

True enough, I do have my own skills. I teach journalism at a nearby college, so my girls might learn more than the average kid about the state’s public records law and the importance of the fourth estate. From their father and me, the girls have learned how to properly roll sushi, raise a calf, catch a walleye, be kind to the elderly, and read the Bible. They have not learned the work of a seamstress from us, but we’ve shared with them about the work of a farmer and a writer, a father and a mother.

There are so many things I want them to learn, and I know that they won't learn it all from us—which is both scary and liberating.

And just when I start to be OK with my personal shortcomings, I see how my girls have, indeed, picked up a few things from their mother.

It happened out on the grass one afternoon this summer, when my oldest daughter asked if she could borrow my camera.

I leaned against the side of a neighbor’s barn and stood there watching, much like I did in the sanctuary, with deep admiration for the moment unfolding.

“This is how I saw you do it, Mom,” Lydia said, then demonstrated what she meant. She sprawled out flat on the grass, held the camera to one eye, rolled the lens out all the way, then snapped a photograph of a single, exquisite dandelion.

Image by Lydia Lee. Used with permission. Post by Jennifer Dukes Lee.