caregiver, motherhood

Mother Moth

I’ve written rather a lot over the years about biology and the human condition. We are driven by our endocrine system to some extent, we are shaped not only by nurture, but the nature of how our parents and grands and great-grands and so on lived – more and more we realize just how much that shapes us as epigenetics reveals itself to science. However, I never intend to state that we are helpless to escape our own nature, or even our nurture that made us and shaped our philosophies. Instead, my intent has always been to gain a deeper understanding of what drives us, and by knowing that, to be able to grasp the steering wheel and gain more control over our own personhood. I am not, and never will be, a fatalist.

My personal faith involves rather a lot of free will and making our own choices. For good and for evil. Actually, being a fatalist is rather easier than believing we’re responsible for our own selves. If fate, or the Calvinist’s odious predestination, if what is in control of our destiny, then why bother? It’s all coming out in the end anyway. The same goes for biology and adaptation. Just because that is part of our construction does not mean that we have no control or cannot choose to be something else. I was having a conversation with a friend recently, and one of the topics involved the cycle of abuse. Abused children are highly statistically probable to grow up and themselves become abusers. But this is not an iron-clad rule. Awareness and self-analysis can prevent this as hitherto unconscious reactions can be caught and halted before they cause harm. First, you have to be taught to be aware and analyze yourself unblinkingly.

Take motherhood for example. How many mothers will tell you that their children are the purpose of their life? That their lives center around their children? I love my four. They are all amazing people and the world is richer for their presence in it. But they are not the sole purpose of my life. Insects grow to maturity, mate, and die. The gorgeous Imperial Moth I photographed last summer has a six-inch wingspan, and no mouth. She exists as an adult only to lay eggs, after which in all her plumy glory she lays down and expires. Humans have a long, rich lifespan that brackets our reproductive ability with the times we aren’t being parents, and in those times we are not purposeless.

If you, a human, never had children, would you be useless? No. Certainly not! I can highly recommend having them, for all that mine drive me up a wall some days, there are also the days of discovery and growth, and utter enchantment with perfect little baby toesies. But for another woman who cannot have a child of her own body, to say that the only reason for women is children would be surpassing cruel… and false.

I am, by genetic heritage, not even middle-aged. I can reasonably expect a lifetime of some nine decades. In less than a decade none of my children will still be under my shelter. That will leave me with some forty years of being alone and sufficient unto myself for purpose. As long as I have my husband, being his helpmeet and partner will be a part of my purpose. But also, I will be doing things for myself.

Myself. It feels somehow furtive and selfish to say that some of what I’m doing, even now as a mother, is for me. Shouldn’t it all be for them? For… something else? Now, I did once live like that. I’d been convinced that the only way to be a good mother and wife was to die to self, in order to live for service.

That was wrong. Very wrong. It took me years of pain and misery to realize that my self-sacrifice was only being used to feed another’s vanity and insatiable needs. When I came out of the fog of pain and fear I learned something else. I had to take care of myself if I was going to be able to take care of the others in my life.

You see, someday I want to be able to help with grandbabies. I don’t want one of my daughters (by birth or by marriage) to struggle with sleepless nights and hopeless days the way I did. I want to be able to offer support, in person or just with a shoulder to cry on once in a while. I can’t do that if I’m like the moth, dying a beautiful and glorious death in childbirth. I have to be a whole, capable, self-supporting person. If I’m not going to be a burden on my own children, I have to be able to take care of myself, which means hard work and careful planning for the future.

And I want to teach my daughter that life is more than hovering over your children trying to make them into the most brilliant students/people in the world. You have to let them go off on their own, make their own mistakes, and learn from them. If you hover, you deny them the chance to truly grow into adults, instead stunting them in your downdraft into perpetual adolescence. And, my dears, if you wrap your whole being up in the children and their fate, then you will hover, because you don’t have anything else to focus your time, energies, and attention on. And for my son, who isn’t harnessed by biology as tightly to this impulse to nurture, I want him to look for a woman who can walk on her own two feet and not yield to the impulse to raise entitled brats.

Imperial Moth Face
She’s hanging on for dear life, but once she’s laid her eggs, life is over.

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