Being A Mother Doesn’t End, But Your Role In Their Lives Shifts Monumentally
What’s interesting about most of the writing about motherhood is that it seems to be written in the time of motherhood that is all-consuming, the days when the children are barely, if ever, out of sight and certainly within earshot. And, if not, they are in the hands of capable, well-researched caregivers or teachers, adored and adoring grandparents, aunts, uncles or other equally trusted family members.
And so the children are presumed to be safe, or as safe as any child can ever be. There are terrible accidents that befall all of us, made all the more tragic when it is a young child, but for the sake of this piece, let’s just define safe in the sense that all possible effort is being made to foster this life into adulthood.
And while the fragility of that young life is readily apparent to everyone, so much so that great care is constantly taken to keep an eye on things, for the most part, children grow up. They survive foibles and faults, they get scratches and scrapes, broken bones and stitches, illnesses befall them and more awful diagnoses, too, but most of them survive and become full-fledged adults.
Still, in those early days, as parents we are viscerally aware of how we love these small people, “it’s like your heart is walking around outside your body” we say and it is, in a sense, quite true. We are equally aware of how necessary we are to the survival of these small beings, of our great responsibility now that we’ve brought them into the world, that the mere thought that this beloved creature could perish is too painful to comprehend.
Of course, the worst does happen sometimes and when we hear of it, we are devastated for those mothers and ever more desperately fixed on preventing its happening to our own children. It’s impossible to not, as mothers, get ourselves hyper-focused on the trauma of the accident of loss. In fact, the writer, Samantha Hunt, remarks on that in an interview with The New Yorker where she laments the idea that no one tells a new mother they’ve created a death — and yet a new mother obsesses about how to keep her child alive.
But, that is motherhood from the beginning, from the early stages, in the days when you can actually affect some kind of protection over your child. In those days, death, or more specifically its prevention, is the preeminent thought for a mother.
But, as time goes on, as the child grows and becomes a more and more wholly functioning adult, it becomes evident that motherhood is not the creating of a death but the creating of a life, a life that will outlast the mother and in its independence will go out into the world and make some claim to ownership of itself.
As a mother you have created a life and you have zero claim to it.
You gestated a person who needs your nurturance, however good or bad, attentive or inattentive you will be at that, but one day, at first slowly, and then more purposefully, that person will no longer need you, might not even want you around much.
You have created an individual whose life belongs to them and you must let go. You must let this life live. It belongs to itself and, like it or not, you have no say in the matter. You can no longer protect it, you can offer guidance, but whether or not this life will take it is entirely up to it. This life, from its inception, has belonged to the one whose heart beats in its chest.
And, eventually, that someone will stake its claim on itself and you will just have to watch.
It is nearly impossible to see this future under the pile of young child demands and interest and attention. “I can’t even pee alone,” mothers of young children cry.
Believe me, you will pee alone again and it will be starkly quiet because you have known the clamor and the wild, harried scramble of life with young ones, even preteens, even teens take up a thick chunk of your life.
And then they go, they leave, as they must, and suddenly you are alone again. At first you are glad and proud. They’ve made it, you’ve done it, raised a person. But then the permanence of it settles in and you begin to wonder, “are they ok?” “Do they need anything?” The answer is yes, they are fine, they will be fine, don’t you trust them? And no, they don’t even need money anymore.
And then you wonder, “Will I see them again?” Because for the little people who needed you so much in those early days, you have become the dock from which they sailed. You are the port they set out from. They do return but only on occasion and often manage in their visits to verbalize some searing criticisms to how the old port town is run.
“And this,” you will wonder, “is the child I spawned?” “This is the one who needed to sleep in my arms?” “This is the one who woke me in the night to nurse or later to calm the nerves before a first day of school or a big test?” “How can it be?” They are your child, but a child no more.
Your job now is to let them be the one who pushes away, let them be the person they are now, separate from you.
And, if you can come to appreciate them for their person-ness, like a young person you might meet at a dinner party, then you have not created death at all, but life, a new life, a real life, one that will go out and impact the world in some way big or small.
And, in doing so, you have acknowledged your own mortality because we are, down to the last of us, going to die. But, in bearing a child, you have created your replacement, in a sense. They aren’t you, they never will be you. But through your child, you will be a part of the future, a future that will carry on without you.
Like all the great mothers before us have, you will have created the life that sustains life, the life that sustains the world, indeed ensures the very existence of the world. It is as simple and as magical as that.