Being a mother is a pretty complicated undertaking, no matter who you are or how you do it. I woke up this morning thinking about it, and wondering how I could possibly write anything meaningful on the subject in only a few paragraphs. When I reflect on my life as a mother, and the lives of mothers everywhere, my mind is filled with a million different thoughts. But it’s an important subject, certainly the center of my life, so I’m going to give it a shot.
Please keep in mind I’m writing only from my point of view, and my own experiences, and to some degree from observation. (As a therapist, I’m a big observer of human behavior.) One thing I know for sure, we’re all individual human beings first, individual women second, and mothers third. Our approaches to mothering reflect our many differences in values, as well as our different emotional makeup and our unique lives. Children flourish with mothers who love them, regardless of parenting styles. And of course, many women, including several of my closest friends, never wanted to be mothers; they were born for other paths.
I love being a mother. From the time I was very small, I knew absolutely that I would have children. I was the oldest of seven children, and I helped bring up my younger siblings. When I wasn’t taking care of real babies, I was playing with my baby dolls. By the time I turned twenty, I was married with a new baby daughter of my own. At twenty-three, I had my oldest son. By twenty-seven, I was a single parent.
I knew I had to get out of my marriage for my own sanity, but had I known in advance how hard it would be for both me and my kids, I might have stuck it out. Single parenting, particularly without much money or family support, is really difficult. In those days I often did my parenting around two or three jobs. I was also chronically depressed, which meant I frequently dragged myself through the days. If I wasn’t mature enough, and emotionally together enough to make a marriage work, I certainly wasn’t ready for single parenthood! But there we were, and there were the two people I loved more than life, looking up to me and depending on me. So I did the very best I could, and of course, they grew up to be wonderful adults and great parents themselves.
I actually have two families. My youngest son was born seventeen years after his brother, then, when my husband’s sister died, we helped raise my three nieces. By that time, mothering was much, much easier. I had more money, a supportive husband, and I was myself a real grownup with most of my emotional issues resolved.
My style of mothering is now described as attachment parenting, very hands on. I nursed my babies for several years, and seldom left them. I homeschooled the younger ones. My life was constructed around my children. But I was also an ambitious person who wanted to accomplish a lot out in the world, so I was always juggling to maintain a balance. Working for myself made life easier, but not as easy as it might have been had I not been a mother.
As a human being, I’m always a work in progress. So naturally, none of my children had a perfect mother. But if I helped my children grow, they also helped me. Children provide instant feedback. If I yelled, they cried, or yelled back. If I got too busy and didn’t pay enough attention, I could see the results in their behavior, and I had to come back and give them what they needed from me. When I was providing good mothering, they flourished, and our lives worked. Behavior modification is a two-way street.
Mothering is the most creative work I’ve ever done. In addition to the six children I’ve raised, and helped raise, I’ve also had foster children. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that I’ve made a difference in the world, through the children I have touched.
Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story. Kids grow up, much more quickly than a young mother can imagine. My children, the center of my life, left home one by one. Each time, I cried and my heart hurt, even as I was proud and excited for them.
My youngest son is a very independent person, about to graduate from college. He wouldn’t appreciate it if I called him every day, but most days, or at least every couple of days, he calls me. I remember when my oldest son was single and he also talked to me most days, for encouragement and support, or just for companionship. These days we talk every week or so. He has a wife he adores, and she is his encourager and companion. That is just what I want for him, what I prayed for all the years he was alone. One day, before too long, all my younger children will also have completely independent lives. It feels good, but still a little poignant.
I am very grateful we all remain close, even as my role changes. I respect and admire each of my children, and enjoy watching their adult lives unfold. Now there are grandchildren, and I am cherishing that special connection. My husband and I are loving our freedom and privacy. I figure I have a third of my life remaining – even though I spent forty-something years raising kids – and I am excited about the work I am doing and what I still hope to accomplish.
Motherhood has provided the most satisfaction in my life, and the most frustration. It’s given me the greatest joy in my life, and also the most pain. Being alive is sometimes painful, and when children hurt, so do their mothers.
Being a mother is a complicated undertaking, but for me, it’s been a rich, full life. If you’re a member of the tribe, Happy Mother’s Day!