Reflecting on being a mother, these last 23 years, as Mother’s Day passed quietly yesterday. It’s far too much to unpack at in one sitting, those two decades-plus, and I have other things pressing on my time and attention. Which is, I suppose, a summary of motherhood in itself. It’s a constant war for my attention, where ‘my’ is any mother.
There’s a lovely article by Miranda Meeks over at Muddy Colors, and as I was reading her thoughts on being a working artist and a mother, I was struck by the reiteration of a very familiar theme:
Imagine you have a good friend who is going through the same thing you are and struggling in the same ways you are. Would you tell her that she’s being a bad mom or a bad artist? Absolutely not! You would show her compassion and empathy in any way you could, and you would believe it full-heartedly and want her to feel that for herself.
If that advice applies to your friend, why would it not apply to you? Why would you be an exception? Why would you so easily give this grace to your friend but not to yourself? Replace this friend with yourself, and extend towards yourself that same compassion and grace. You are deserving of all the same love and understanding.
This sounded a lot like a gently loving tease from a good friend this weekend, when I was feeling overwhelmed with the need to get all the things done right now. She reminded me, not only that ‘you too are mortal’ but that I have help. Sometimes it’s the little things like going to get a hug from my husband – which seems like a small thing, but it isn’t, at least not for me. I’m far removed from babies and toddlers, but every age and stage has new terrors and challenges, as well as new rewards. Sometimes the help comes in the form of a friend reminding me that I’m not 20 any longer, and I should be kinder to myself, and set more realistic goals. Sometimes the help comes in term of odd Mother’s Day gifts. Like a door for my office at the new house.
My son was lamenting not having the ready cash to buy me a present this year. He’d spent the last of his on tools. I pointed out that he was using those tools (a nice set of drill, impact driver, and circular saw) to help with the house. Including framing in a small wall and setting the door of my office. Not only will this enable me to work from home in peace, but it increases the value of the house by making it back into a three bedroom (we found signs that indicate there was a door at one time right where we put this door!). It was an incredible Mother’s Day gift, and one I could never have imagined getting when I was a new mother.
It’s not just the practical of a door (!) it’s the teamwork. I get to work shoulder to shoulder with my son, watching him learn and grow and get confident about his handiwork. I’m also watching him seek out help and advice from the First Reader (their early relationship was beyond prickly), and the North Texas Troublemakers. I’m very proud of him, and his sisters, and it makes all the struggles of early motherhood fade into memory.
I know, from observation, there’s never a point when you stop being a mother. I have the example of my great grandmother, grandmother, and mother to show me this. Great Grandma Ella has been gone for years now, but when I last saw her not long before her death, she was close to her daughter, and granddaughter, and they worked together on a project (preparing a big family meal) in harmony. It’s a good model and I’m hoping to project that forward into my future. Companionship with my children, where we can work together on a project, making their lives a little better (or mine, perhaps, because sometimes I need help too). Simply enjoying being with this amazing person, who I happen to have known since before they were born.
I’ve also seen models of toxic motherhood, not abuse, but simply mothers who didn’t want to let go, or perhaps didn’t know how. Their children could be grown men with family of their own, but they still wanted to treat them like they were twelve and needed their lunches packed, or allowance withheld because they’d gone against motherly wishes. That, I will avoid with all my ability. Children should become independent. They aren’t meant to be stifled and stunted into perpetual adolescence by mothers who can’t give up that stage of mothering. The interfering mother will do irreparable harm to their child, just so they can clutch them close and never give up being a mother in the only sense they know it. Motherhood is not only about that early stage of utter reliance, and it should not be. That’s exhausting to everyone involved.
There’s another stage, one I’m stepping into. One where mothering is remote, tended by phone calls and discord chats. Where I can worry, but can’t do much, as they have to walk the twisting roads of life on their own. Where I can regain myself. I’ve loved the child-stage, where you were lucky to get a moment of privacy (usually behind a locked bathroom door, sometimes with toddler fingers and a cat’s paw helplessly waving for your attention under it). I’m looking forward to the time where I can make art, write, sit quietly on the porch with the First Reader, and there will only be rare interruptions. Rare, and precious because of their scarcity. I’ll never stop being a mother. Motherhood is forever.