Sunday, May 08, 2016

On mothering and being mothered

Me and my boys, circa 1999
Me, aged 5, with my parents


Mother's Day, like all the invented holidays, has always seemed awkward and artificial to me. As a child, I remember feeling uncomfortable making my mom a card when even then I understood the image of mothering and motherhood in the media was some impossible perfect target that no one could reach.


 she gave me love and security bundled tightly with the anxiety she battled all her life.


How could I tell my mother she was the best mother ever when there were times when I was angry with her? When I wished she wasn't my mother. When I wanted her to be more like my friends' mothers.

I suspect all adoptees do this to some degree or another, but I do remember vividly imagining that perfect mother who had to give me up. Who would come back for me and give me the magical life I was supposed to lead.

From the perspective of adulthood and having parented my own children, I recognize how unfair I was to my mother in my expectations and how she gave me love and security bundled tightly with the anxiety she battled all her life. The fact that I am a reasonably healthy adult in a healthy relationship with both my spouse and my own kids is partly a testament to the mothering (and fathering) I received.


How arrogant I was. How full of myself.
How foolish.


Maybe it is enough to acknowledge that I wasn't the easiest of children to mother. I seem to remember spending my growing up years in an extended approach/avoidance phase with her. Maybe that's not so unusual, but it certainly made every Mother's Day feel fraught, somehow.

When I had my own children, I was determined not to make the mistakes (as I saw them) that she made. How arrogant I was. How full of myself. How foolish.

We are none of us perfect. Nowhere is this clearer than in the highwire act of mothering.

*

So many people give you advice when you are a new mother. And nearly all of it centers around how to care for newborns and young children. Honestly? I'm not sure any of it is more than basic responsiveness and common sense. Truly, any caring and competent adult can be a loving and effective caretaker for a baby. (It's a sin and a shame that so many children don't receive even that, but that's another conversation for another time.)

I found parenting older children far more difficult. The more individual my children became, the harder it became to find the appropriate boundaries. I wonder if part of my struggle was that I didn't have a good model of parenting the emerging adult child from my own mother; she and I continued that approach/avoidance dance well into my 20s and even into my 30s.

This Mother's Day, my children are now both in their 20s. They are adults. Yet, they also continue to be my children and continue to seek and benefit from mothering. And I continually struggle to find the right balance in how to be a mother to them.


 I finally understand the brutal fact of my own mortality: I will not always be here to be their mother.   


For all the sleepless nights and fears of being a new parent, their infant years were, in retrospect, far simpler than the reality of their adulthood. I can no longer pretend to protect them or even be their biggest champions. As much as I understood my role from the first was to prepare them to separate from me (first day of preschool, first day of Kindergarten, first unsupervised playdate, first solo drive, etc), now, after both my parents have died, I finally understand the brutal fact of my own mortality: I will not always be here to be their mother.   

And so I wonder and worry if I did and said all the right things when they were babies, toddlers, young adults. In my drive to be the best parent I could be, in trying to avoid repeating the mistakes of my own mothering, what mistakes did I make that burden my sons' lives? 

I am perversely comforted by knowing this anxiety has been passed down from mother to child, likely starting with the first parents huddled around some fire pit in a cave at the dawn of human civilization. 

Mothering is hard. 
We do the best we can. 
It is enough and it is never enough.






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1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and hard, like all the best truths.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    ReplyDelete