Becoming a mother is a profound and unique adventure. Motherhood is an experience unlike any other on earth. There is nothing as profound, nothing that will stretch you so far beyond anything you previously imagined. It is remarkably challenging, vet uniquely rewarding at the same time. Other life experiences may bring you joy or fulfillment, or encourage you to grow, but none are on the same scale as becoming a mother.
When I began to write this book, a friend of mine in her early thirties who does not have children yet asked me how I would describe the experience of becoming a mother. It was a question that stopped me; after all, how could I describe the indescribable? How could I put into words what it is like to be the shepherd, the guardian, and the caretaker of a tiny, helpless human being . . . and to gradually wean and empower him or her to be able to live a healthy, happy, and successful life?
The answer is that there is no one definitive answer. In its most elevated state, motherhood is awesome. When you look up the definition of "awesome," the dictionary says: "so impressive or overwhelming as to inspire a strong feeling of admiration or fear; grand, moving, frightening, majestic and lofty." This is the most inspirational element of motherhood-the soul-stirring aura of greatness that makes it so hard to define.
Yet the job of mother most often plays itself out not on the lofty levels of Hallmark splendor, but rather in the trenches of day-to-day life. The greatest adventure lies somewhere between the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the teaching of life lessons. Some days will be a placid and lazy cruise down the river, others will be a wild and furious ride through the rapids. One day you'll think you have it all figured out, and that, of course, is the day your son comes home with a note from his teacher alerting you to the fact that he is failing four subjects. Just when you think you can't take it anymore, a handmade Mother's Day card appears like a rainbow in a stormy sky. And right at the point when it all seems to come together, you take a second look and realize your baby is all grown up and in need of your services in an entirely different way.
I can compare motherhood to any number of things: a diamond with many facets, an adventure, a miracle, a graduate course in the school of life. The truth is that it is all of these things and more. The process is unique to each woman, and no two mothers have the same exact experience. It is a rite of passage, a whole new level of responsibility, and a chance to explore and exercise your personal choices. However you experience the role of mother, you can be certain that it will be quite different from any other you have played in your life up until now.
A New Level of Responsibility
I remember when my neighbor Ivy got a puppy a few years ago. She'd always wanted one, and when she and her boyfriend of four years split up, it seemed the right time to get herself a loving canine companion. She imagined how the dog would curl up at her feet an night, greet her with joy when she came home, and fill the "cuddle void" in her life. So she went to the local pound and got a Labrador retriever puppy she named Skipper.
Three weeks after Ivy brought Skipper home, I saw her walking him around the block and I stopped to say hello. Ivy looked exhausted! I asked her how the training was going, and she told me she was amazed at how much work went into training a puppy. She was shocked when she realized that she couldn't take her eyes off him for one second. He was curious and wanted to chew everything in sight, and it was her responsibility to teach him what was and was not allowed. We laughed together when I told her she was getting her first glimpse at motherhood.
Having a child is different from buying a plant, getting a dog, or even getting married. A plant requires only the time it takes to water it. A puppy needs the survival basics of food, water, walking, petting, bathing, and visits to the vet. Having a husband or partner comes the closest, in that it requires the advanced skills of communication, negotiation, give and take, nurturing, love, and intimacy. From love relationships, we learn how to incorporate an "other" into our innermost frame of reference. Becoming a mother is different, however, in that it requires all of you.
Motherhood is a unique relationship that involves total commitment. It is a twenty-four-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week job that begins the moment your child is born and doesn't end until the day you leave this world. It doesn't cease when you go to sleep. You don't really get breaks, unless you have child care or help from a family member. The responsibility doesn't stop when your child has her own home or her own family. Wherever you are, whatever you do, a small part of you is always aware that there is another being on this planet who is under your care and whose well-being affects you as much as your own does.
Though my daughter Jennifer is grown and on her own at college across the country, I am always aware of her. I can be on the road giving workshops, lecturing or facilitating a group, at home writing on my computer or having fun with my husband and friends, but she is always in my consciousness. Sometimes she is right in the center of my awareness, like when I know she is in the middle of a big challenge or right after we hang up the phone. Other times she skirts around the edges of my mind and heart. No matter how far apart we are or how independent she is, she will always be my daughter.
The intense connection between a mother and her children brings with it a new level of responsibility. You are the one who watches over them, teaches them, and guides them. You are the person who nurtures their spiritual core and their well-being. You are responsible not only for making sure they know right from wrong and have a good sense of self-esteem, but also for seeing that they are wearing warm enough clothes and that they drink their milk. In the beginning, even their basic survival is your responsibility.
For many new mothers, responsibility shows up first in caretaking. During the first few months of your baby's life, you learn how to meet his basic survival needs, which includes how to feed him, bathe him, care for him when he is ill, and soothe him into sleep at night. There is so much at first that goes into ensuring that this tiny being is safe and healthy. Like any other new skill set, it takes time to learn, and it can be overwhelming.
Tags: Parenting and Families