The Good Mother, Part 1

Compared to her previous role as a high-powered attorney at the State Department, it might look like Sharon Rutberg isn’t doing much these days. Especially when you see her wearing baggy sweatpants, strolling down the streets of Washington, D.C., at a snail’s pace.

In fact, said Rutberg, the mother of two children, a whole lot is going on. On those little walks, she may not require a cell phone and a computer, but she does have call for a warm hand and a sense of wonder. For that is when she often teaches son, Teddy, age 2, about nature, or answers questions from her 4-year-old daughter Jamie about things like “Where is Pushing Buttons
You know what it is. The thing that really pushes your buttons, no matter how much you think you won’t overreact the next time your kid does it.

God?” and “Why is the sky blue?”

At the end of a long day with two small children, “I sometimes feel fried,” said Rutberg. “But this is what I wanted to do as a mother — teach my children and watch them develop.” Some of her favorite activities are reading children’s literature aloud and coming up with creative ways to do the ABCs.

Increasingly, for many mothers, those random moments of mothering are evaporating in the face of unyielding schedules. Modern mothers are at the center of a vortex, with everyone’s pressures — from their infants to their own aging mothers — swirling around them. There is always too much to do.

Mothering takes time and space, said Doctor, a psychiatrist specializing in women’s mental health at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md. “And with a pace of life that’s so fast and with so many expectations put on mothers, the experience is at risk in our society.”

Yet mothers are the last to say die. Tuned in to their kids and tired out by all there is to do, at the end of 1999 mothers are mixing their desire for timeless love with their need to time the minutes. And even as women are asking, “How am I doing?” they sense the only answer that counts is the one in their kids’ eyes.

“Frankly, I think we are writing the script every single day, based on where we are in our lives, and where our children are,” said Barbara Zax, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Los Angeles. “Being a mother is not a static process. It’s a work in progress all the time, even when the children are adults.”

And, she added, “It is a stunningly difficult job.”

Sometimes that shows up in the details, large and small. To work or not to work? Strict discipline or easy-going control? Bake from scratch, or use a mix?

Katherine R. Hutt of Vienna, Va., said she uses books, experts, friends, church and family to provide a framework for her approach to mothering. But what she relies on most is her gut instinct. It comes in handy for everything from career to cookies, and “the zillions of little day-to-day decisions that are Mothering Styles
In the book she co-authored with Stephan Poulter, “Mending the Broken Bough”, family therapist Barbara Zax identifies different styles of mothering. There is no pure type of mother, she said, but most mothers have one distinctive style along with bits of each of the others. up to me,” she said.

After her second child was born, Hutt turned 15 years of experience in the highway safety field into Nautilus Communications, a “virtual” public relations and marketing firm based in her home. Now that she’s eliminated commuting and Saturday errands, she has more time for child-centered activities like weekend bike rides with Billy, 8, and Katie.

“I try to make parenting decisions based more on what’s fun than what’s expected,” said Hutt, who opts for things like slice-and-bake cookies so she and her kids get right to the good part — decorating the tops.

“I am acutely aware of being responsible for my kids’ childhood memories,” Hutt said. To make the best choices, she said she draws on her own favorite memories, like tooling around with her mother and sister in a white VW Bug for after-school adventures. “My mother was an inspiration on how to give your kids a happy childhood,” she said.

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