Mother and Child watching each other (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I stumbled across this in-progress post after it languished for months in my drafts folder. I was writing the post in response to one that I’d read on Christina Rosalie’s blog, one that really hit home for me. I was new to her blog and discovered it through an e-course that I was taking, “Blogging From The Heart.” The post, “The Asynchronous Art of Motherhood and Craft” is a two parter. While there is no doubt that both are insightful and well written, it is the second that brought misty-eyed memories about letting go to mind. When I came across it again, I realized that, once again, it is relevant in my life, and that I had to finish it.
The origin of Rosalie’s post arises out of her role as mother to a small child. It serves as a siren call to mothers in the same or similar situation — one that they desperately need to hear, but one that in the moment, most can’t quite believe. She describes her feelings as “like my art, and time, and leisure, and my barest truest sense of self had been exchanged for some other murky self defined by milk and moments of sweet heat and sobbing, blooming smiles, and the raw edge of desperation.” She felt the loss of her essence, of who she was before motherhood.
Since my three children are fully grown, I am further along the motherhood path than she and many of her readers. Nevertheless, like it was yesterday, those words took me back to years long past, as well as some more recent. The message that I took away from the post is the promise that “there is time” within which to reclaim those dormant parts of oneself that seem to have vanished. They are still there, in the shadows, awaiting their return. We don’t gain one, to lose another. Yet, based on my experience, there is more to be said.
I gave birth to three children when I was between 18-21 years of age. As a teen and young adult, I knew nothing but motherhood, and my fear was that I would never know or discover any sense of who I was separate and apart from my role as “Mommy.’ I was at that age when most of us are in the process of discovering who we are, what we hope to become, and similar ‘profound’ questions. Instead, the reality of mothering three children, a newborn, an 18 month old and a 3-year-old, overwhelmed me. In my mind, my future seemed to involve nothing but mothering, and the hope of anything beyond that was remote. The single-faceted life of motherhood was seemingly my destiny. Of course, I was being overly dramatic, but then, no one could convince me otherwise.
When I read Rosalie’s post, I read it with full awareness that this is the first of many challenges that these young mothers will face as their babies, their children, grow older. My stomach ached for them because even though the early years bring with it an apparent lack of delineation between mother and child; in hindsight, there will come a time when they look upon those fleeting years with nostalgia and longing. The later years tests the mettle of even the best parents because the seemingly unbreakable bond between mother and child is strained to the point of severing. (It is important to note that I fully realize that this is not the path of all parent/child relationships.)
It is when you are no longer the center of your child’s universe and there is a split between you and the burgeoning life that they are creating without you. It is when the ready hugs and kisses are given more reticently and begrudgingly. It is when they spend more time with friends than at home with you. It is when yours is no longer the first opinion that they seek when making “big” choices in their lives. It is when you warrant that first “I hate you,” knowing full well that they don’t mean it, but still feeling the sting of the words in your heart. It is when they inevitably leave you for a life in which you play an important, but supporting role. It is when life forces you to recognize them as the adults that they’ve become, with no need for the constant mothering of the early years.
I am not saying that all is lost and that you’ll never know the bond that you once enjoyed. No, that bond never leaves, but it is more tenuous and delicate, not the indestructible bond of the early years. Yet, there will come a time, when you realize that the gulf between you, is not as vast as it once was, and that it grows smaller each day. You’ll never experience the same relationship that cemented you in the earlier years, but in its place, is a relationship far sweeter and deeper, one filled with the knowing and respect that comes from successfully negotiating the interminable period between infancy and adulthood.
You will come to view the woman/man standing before you, with wonder and awe, all the while acknowledging and accepting that they are of you, but not entirely yours. They walk in a world not your own, but you finally accept and welcome it as the end result of the process of parenting. Pride replaces the fear of loss — the pride of knowing that the two of you traversed a wild terrain, with your love and relationship intact.
Yes, in many ways, you will come to view the earlier years as a relatively brief period in your role as a mother. However, for now, it is more important to remember that they do grow up fast–literally, and that every moment of your time with them is precious. You will face this truth many times over the coming years because as they travel their own “trajectories” they are necessarily moving farther and farther away from your own. Just know that because of you, they will return. The most important thing for you to remember is a version of what Rosalie says, “[you] do not need to be at the center of [their] world, to know that [you] are at the center of [their] heart.” Again and again, it will all “balance out.”
Then, as in my case, you will have grandchildren and the feelings and experiences that you thought behind you will resurface. It is heartening that because you’ve travelled it before, the road is easier, less frightening, but no less painful. Nevertheless, a grandparent is blessed with a wisdom born of battle-tested experience, and can act as a mentor, advisor and confidante for their confused and exasperated children, who are themselves proof that this too shall end and that the final destination is indeed worth it. Parenthood teaches us that letting go is at best a temporary state, not a permanent one.
All Will Be Well, ~ St. Julian of Norwich