It is a tightrope we walk, this Motherhood thing.
It is a good mother’s greatest joy or deepest despair, I haven’t yet decided which, that it is sometimes hard for her to tell where she ends and her children begin. The joy comes from the depth of feeling she has for these other human beings, her children. She may as well be them, so grief stricken she is for every slight they suffer, every pain they encounter, every illness, every accident, every heartbreak. Empathy and compassion fill the loving mother, creating within her a wild territory where only the rules of the heart bear credence and while not without its pain and suffering, this new inner state is sacred territory to her, a place of great reverence, a place where grace visits regularly and brings the tender gifts of childrearing. The mother is transformed by this, made new in purpose and focus. It is her greatest joy.
And the despair? Not knowing where you end and your child begins can cause enmeshment, never a healthy thing. People are by nature independently minded beings and forging a life path should be the sole enterprise of the owner with hopefully only the lightest touch of guidance and support from parents. Yet, how much guidance? How much support? Where to draw lines in ever shifting sand? It is a mother’s job to nurture and at the same time gently push her children out of the nest. The despair comes from knowing what an impossible task it is, really. One inherently prone to miscalculations and errors of judgment.
For a mother who is conscientious, ever anxious to do the right thing, that very anxiety can serve to offer the wrong message to her offspring. This maternal vigilance, from the child’s perspective, colors the world as a perilous place to be approached with caution. It also undermines a child’s budding sense of self. If the mother strives for perfection in mothering, the child must strive for perfection as well. And what does that mean? In an imperfect world, of course, it means a sense of failure all around. To the mother, this vigilance seems essential. What if she slips up? Her precious child may pay the price. From one generation to another this anxiety is passed as if it were a precious heirloom. Yet it is far from that, it is a liability we all carry forward.
It is a tightrope we walk, this motherhood thing. I know I did a lot of things right. I know many, many times I made the right calls and lead the way with a heart full of love. Yet, I also know I have stumbled, I have erred, I have clung when I should have let go and let go when I should have pulled close. I have listened to others when I should have followed my instincts and listened to myself when I should have sought wiser counsel. Motherhood humbled me. How could I have possibly entertained the thought that I could do it perfectly?
And yet... and yet...when I look back over the whole thing from where I am now, when I take in the whole view and see the journey that it was, when I see three lovely, wise, extraordinary people who have gone from my arms into the world with brave hearts and shining souls, I wonder. I wonder if it all wasn’t just a different kind of cosmic perfection. I see the lineage of my ancestors, each mother sending her children out into the world, everyone doing the best they knew how to do, each an integral part of the next, interconnected for eternity. I marvel at my inclusion in this mystery. It is then, in my mind’s eye, I see Joy and Despair clasp hands and walk into the sunset. And I have the deepest sense that there could be nothing more perfect than this.