I think the thing that has surprised me most about motherhood has been how fulfilling I find it. Perhaps it was my natural pessimism, or the fact that I work with beleaguered parents on a daily basis at the Family Resource Center, but I have been quite shocked by how much I love being a mom. When we decided to start trying to have a baby, we got a lot of that “Oh, just wait! Your life is going to end!” kind of attitude from folks we told. “Stock up on sleep now!” they’d say, as if that were even possible. Well, for those of you who haven’t taken the leap yet into parenting, I’m here to say, it could just be awesome. Sure, it’s difficult, but it’s also really, really great. Coming from the lifelong perspective that things that are difficult are probably more worthwhile than things that are easy, the fact that parenting would be hard never deterred me or surprised me. So, if you too enjoy a challenge, parenting can be quite amazing. It doesn’t have to mean the end of your social life, or your creative endeavors. Yes, everything changes, and change can be uncomfortable. But there is the chance that it could be change that you really needed, and that deepens your life greatly. At least that is how I have found it.
I have been so caught off guard by my overwhelmingly positive feelings towards motherhood that I have even wondered if maybe something was wrong with me! Always looking out for the shadow side, I asked my therapist, “Am I repressing any ambivalence about being a parent?”, sure that this much joy had to be pathological. In this age of parenting memoirs that are filled with wry reflections of lives taken over by kids, I felt almost embarrassed of how much I was loving this. Can I still be a feminist and love mothering? I love this baby to an obscene amount. I have been back at work 3 days a week for 4 1/2 months now, and not one day do I feel that relief of being away from the baby. I still miss her keenly, wishing I could spend every second with her. It is only now, nearly 8 months in, that I even enjoy something fun that I do on my own — up until this point even something great like going out with a friend for a pedicure felt like a kind of penance.
Having a kid is like falling in love — just as scary, amazing, heart-opening and all-encompassing. But I have never fallen in love and had it change me this instantly and totally. Usually love takes awhile to actually do that deep inner change, but with parenting it has been instant and absolute. I am forever different, and continually shocked by how wonderful it is. I think a lot of the reason I love it so much is that in my line of work as a therapist, I basically re-parent people who were neglected and/or abused the first time around. I can never really meet their needs, I can only try to help them heal their own wounds and move forward. When you are a mom, you get the instant gratification of the baby needing something and you providing exactly that thing to make them content. It feels amazing to know that every time I get it right somehow, I am creating a feedback loop in her brain that says “I can get my needs met. I am loved and cared for. Relationships are good things.” Life will throw so much at my daughter, but I am so glad to be giving her this early lesson, so at least she can face her struggles with an open heart, not starting from a place of lack of love.
Our bond is so incredible that I am scared to trust it, and terrified that I will lose it somehow. But I am deciding not to focus on how it will all change when she is 13, and to love her fully anyway. I do not think it will make it any easier when she hits the stage of rebellion if I have not let myself love her full-out, holding back in order to stave off pain. The longer I live the more I believe that if it is possible, it is better to live life with a heart as wide open as can be, feeling the hurts as much as the joy, ever-expanding your capacity for feeling, saying yes to all of it all of the time. It is not a reality to live this way every second — with every expansion comes a contraction, but through parenting I am giving myself more fully to the beautiful chasm of love that is this time with my baby girl.