With Mother’s Day approaching, this blog examines Motherhood - it is partly an overview of the role and in part a personal reflection - and addresses the role, when it begins and observations about how it changes through time (across the years and even from day to night!).
Motherhood - it's such a huge and complicated role. We bring to it our own experiences of being Mothered, our hopes for the kind of mother we'll be, our social conditioning about what it means to be a Mother, even what it means to be a 'good/bad' Mother, expectations of how this new role will shape our identity, our family - there's so, so much. And many of our preconceptions will prove unfounded or wildly off base, becoming a mother is transformational and it means very different things to different people - it even means different things at different times of our children’s lives! It’s a mundane, ordinary, beautiful, exceptional role - full of contradiction and expectation.
So, what defines Motherhood and when does our journey into this new role begin?
The dictionary definition of 'Mother' speaks of a woman in relation to her child, as a verb it describes 'raising a child with care and affection' or 'look after kindly and protectively'. For me, these definitions really unpick some of the core aspects of Motherhood - it's not a state that exists in isolation, it's defined by our children's existence. When our children are young we are so rarely alone, our care, attention and often our physical selves are in near constant demand. As they grow and become more independent our role changes, it becomes one of watching, guiding, waiting to be needed, softening any knocks that life delivers. And much as the constant demands of their early life can feel overwhelming, so can the distance that comes with parenting a teenager/young adult. Motherhood is a continuum of love, vulnerability, protection and care - it is constant and changing and so are the lessons it brings us.
But when does this journey begin? When do we become a Mother? Osho says that "the moment a child is born, the Mother is also born". This is factually true but I think that the role of 'Motherhood' is emotional at it’s core and it starts at different times for different people. And whatever is true for us is okay. For some it starts as soon as they start planning their pregnancy, or have their pregnancy confirmed, or see their baby on a scan, or feel their baby's movements inside of them. And for some it starts when they meet their baby (or child) for the first time, or (in my case with my first baby) when the shell shock of birth subsides, emotional awareness resurfaces and connection is made. My point is that we are all different, and all of our experiences are valid.
One funny part of becoming a Mum is that the words 'Happy Birthday’ are forever changed. Until now it's likely to have meant parties, gifts, friends and fun. But, if you’re a Mother who’s given birth the words become 'Happy Birth Day' - the day that Osho describes - the day you gave birth, and were born into Motherhood. Your child is born but so too are you, as a Mother - and your relationships to your family, friends and community are different now. You’ve made a generational shift and your priorities will be radically altered.
Another permanent change after entering Motherhood is your capacity to feel. Emotions get turned up to 11!! Motherhood makes you more vulnerable, compassionate, empathetic and you love more deeply, fiercely, passionately. But the flip side to this is that you can also be hurt more deeply. And you become more conservative because you are responsible for these new lives that you are so powerfully connected to. It’s like before children come into your life your emotions are black and white and once they do, you’re living with glorious technicolour - it’s pretty intense and, at times overwhelming.
As research for this blog I asked hundreds of mums online to complete the sentence 'Motherhood is .........' with one word. The results form the word cloud below:
These responses were funny, honest and real, and I resonated strongly with many of them. The most interesting thing about the them was that during the day they took on a slightly negative tone - ‘relentless, exhausting, hard, challenging’ were very common. I was getting a bit concerned!! Would my planned word cloud be really very negative? I hoped not….. But come the evening and the responses struck a more positive note (to my immense relief!) - examples would be ‘rewarding, love, amazing, transformational’. This was more like it - but what had changed? The time of day? There must be more…. so what else? Well, I guessed that mums with younger kids might have put their children to bed and were finally able to think about Motherhood with some perspective. I spoke to my family about these results over dinner - I joked that I totally got it, that I always loved them the most (as younger children) when they were asleep. My kids took a little offence at this so I explained:
During the day I’d be constantly demanded of, pulled in different directions, juggling multiple roles. Sometimes hormonal, often tired and always busy - even having fun with them could sometimes leave me feeling exhausted. And caring for them would leave me emotionally spent by the end of most days. But when they were all tucked up in bed I’d be overcome with a fierce protective instinct and immense love, it was my opportunity to reconnect with my feelings for these tiny humans and appreciate the time and experiences I’d had that day - to refill my heart before they woke up and I was needed all over again.
Motherhood is a rollercoaster indeed - Happy Mother’s Day, everyone.
(this blog has also featured on the newborn directory The Bambino Bible, where I have a Directory Listing!)