I am a mother, four times over, so I can speak to the ways that love forms my relationship with my children, and how I’ve parented over the years. I’m not a father, hence the title. Some of these things may resonate with fathers, but men are different than women (quelle suprise!) so fatherhood is, thus, different from motherhood.
For one thing, as a mother I had an intimate front-row seat – one might even say that I was the circus ring, or the theatre stage – for my children’s earliest development. I bore them as they grew from a tiny cell into fully-functioning beings that could sustain themselves outside my body. The protection forms motherhood from the very beginning: we are the nurturers. The ones who feed a baby from our own reserves from prenatal development to breastfeeding, and there is a special bond between mother and child because of this. I have slept with them on my chest, their lullaby my heartbeat. I have watched them fall asleep, a drip of milk flowing off onto a round pink cheek as they were warm and happy and safe in my arms.
It’s difficult, then, to untie those heartstrings and release them into the wide world when they are grown, and that is the stage I am at now. While on one hand I want to cling onto those tiny fingers, on the other I know their hands are bigger than mine, now, and it’s time for them to stretch wings and start flying lessons in prelude to leaving the nest. It’s heartbreaking, and heart-warming, and the biggest challenge I have ever faced. I want them to have the best start in the world, which means that I need to take a step back and let them stumble a few times while they learn to walk. Just like I did the first time.
With first steps come first falls, and that was when I learned that hovering over them clucking and tutting when they plopped down and fussed over the failure was actually worse than picking them up, dusting them off, and encouraging them to try again. Persistence leads to success, and persistence will never be learned when there is no reason to keep trying. If I had carried them all the time, they would never have developed properly. My four had the benefit of an early childhood on a farm, with all the dirt and animals and a creek that implies. They were not kept from rambling over the gardens and pasture and woodlands, but rather encouraged to get out and play. Small wounds were bound up and kissed, and back out they went.
Love is not mothering too hard. Helicopter parenting retards development. Love is watching them fail, and not rushing over to make it all better, but waiting while they pick themselves up and try again. Love is setting consequences, and enforcing them. I’d rather never punish my children, but if they don’t fulfill their obligations, the only way to teach them responsibility is to have the sting of a consequence. Love is always being ready to give or take a hug, even when it’s from a boy who doesn’t know his own strength, or a daughter who has developed a tackle-hug technique you need to brace for. Love is playing with them, teaching them how to follow the rules and lose with a laugh, ready to go again. Love is planting a garden with them and tasting their produce when it bears, and seeing in their faces the pride of having made that. Love is eating what they make you, even the very earliest attempts at cooking.
Love is standing over them while they do a chore, even when it’s boring and annoying that you have to teach a lesson over and over. Love is being endlessly patient when the world is one big ‘why?’ with the occasional ‘where? how? what is?’
Motherhood is rarely easy. The peaceful moments of tender beauty are usually when you are nearly ready to drop from lack of sleep and you’re watching them fall asleep. Brief, fleeting, but yet they sustain through the tempest of tantrums and growing pains. And when the children are on the cusp of adulthood, friendship becomes a part of the equation in a way it cannot while the child is growing. Parenting is not the same as friendship. There are times the adult must make decisions that pain the child, and they cannot understand, not having all the experience and information the parent has. Based on my own experience, it takes becoming an adult oneself to fully understand the parental state. Perhaps it can only truly be grasped when one becomes a parent oneself.
Mothering is not all-consuming, even if it seems that way when they are small. Take care not to lose your self in the season of diapers and endless feedings and loss of any real sleep. Take a little time away from the small ones – it will not hurt them; as a matter of fact it will help them as they learn that people other than mother are wonderful to love and take care of them as well. And it will give you, as a parent, some respite to renew yourself and be a better mother – or father – and not to neglect your wifehood as well. Because there will come a day when you have loosed the strings and they fly from the nest, and if you are a stranger to your partner, that isn’t good either. As I spoke of yesterday, it’s the little things that form a deep bond. Don’t neglect them. Motherhood has no expiration date, but there will come a time when you are just… you, again. Know that it’s coming – there are days when that will be all that keeps you going, and other days when it will make you cry. And then there will be grandchildren! I’m not there, yet, but I’m looking forward to that season in my life.