This post is about the ebb and flow of mothering. I’m thinking today about how impermanent any given moment in mothering is and how that can be a source of comfort and hope. Of course it also means that experiences that are sweet and tender fade; “stellar mom moments” fade (I wrote about this in a post on “necessary losses”); the life stages of your child or children that you most connected with fade. But the upside is that the children grow and change, even as you do, so in stages or phases where you feel stuck, you don’t stay stuck there for long.
I remember my mother saying to me, when I was talking to her about the difficulty of blending my new family after I split from my children’s dad. My new partner was and is so different from their father, and my relationship with him so different from mine with their dad, that interactions in our new family configuration seemed unbearably strained. I believed he would be a good step-dad for my kids but I didn’t marry him because of that. I married him because he was a good partner for me. This of course is the same reasoning I employed when I married their dad. Even so, connecting as a family unit, which had come so effortlessly to us before, now seemed so hard. This is not surprising, of course, given the significant changes all of us were undergoing, given that they had for every minute of their lives defined family in one way and now were having to reconfigure all of their understandings about it. But it was hard. And sad, I think. My mother told me to “give it time,” by which she meant not six months, or even one or two years. She meant time elongated. And, once again, she was right. Maybe I needed things to go more smoothly so I could feel less guilty; maybe it didn’t have anything to do with guilt and I just needed to be fed by a sense of unified family. We’ve come to that, at last, but I certainly felt stuck there for some time.
I’ve moved in and out of various phases of connection and disconnect with my daughter, who is in college. I experienced the periods of disconnect as piercing. In retrospect, I can see how these periods of time fit into the larger ebb and flow of mothering but at the time, they just felt like great piercing moments. And in them, I would imagine that if I could just explain to her my thinking, we could get to a better place. I would practice what I might say to her while I was in the shower. But I couldn’t ever articulate my thinking in a way that I thought would resonate for her. So I kept my ideas to myself and waited for things to start flowing again. And they did. Never in the time frame I was hoping for, mind you, but they did flow and they flow now. And of course, this will change again.
Partly because my children are different, partly because that requires me to be different with them, and partly because my own changes in life stages and phases (especially given that they are six years apart) means that, for my own reasons as well, I have been two different mothers to them. Mothering my two children has meant that there was little that I learned from mothering my first child that I was able to transfer over to mothering my second one. Sometimes I felt like I was mothering two “only children.” I had a therapist who suggested this idea to me and I found the idea infuriating, but I see now what she meant; there definitely is merit to the idea.
Mothering my son seemed so much more challenging in the early years. Maybe our gender difference is part of that; I don’t know. But right now, in this moment, in his early teens, we are in such a great place. I feel so tightly connected with him that the early periods of disconnect seem far, far away. I enjoy his company regularly, I enjoy his sense of humor, I am interested in his stories and the things that interest him. I know he must feel better about where we are now too. We were hanging up a hook on the fence this past weekend for a bird feeder and he kept kissing my shoulder while we were working; it was such a lovely few moments it nearly brought tears to my eyes. I was so grateful to be fully present for it. Of course this will change too. My daughter’s life will continue to change her, my son’s will change him (sooner rather than later, most likely, since high school begins next year), and mine will change me. It will keep ebbing and flowing. But I hope that I’ll be able to look back on this post and remember that all of it ebbs back out — the smooth and the rough moments — and I hope I won’t get too attached to any of it. This is the secret to maternal peace.
BIO: Dr. Mama (Amber Kinser) is a writer, feminist mother, professor, and speaker who lives in Tennessee. Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @DrMamaWit, and see her webpage. Kinser writes for the MamaBlogger365 series each Thursday at the Museum Of Motherhood, Mamapalooza and Mamazina Magazine.