When my first child was born 45 years ago, I was swept away by my love for her. People had told me about the difficulties of a new baby, but few had whispered of the wonder. I was astounded by the immense love I felt for her, amazed at my utter devotion. It was as if I were in love for the first time; life before her now seemed meaningless and unimportant in retrospect.
I feel as strongly today as I did nearly 45 years ago that the inherent integrity of motherhood is something that should be honored and celebrated by the culture and that we sell ourselves short as women when we see motherhood as oppressive. It’s the lack of social supports that make motherhood oppressive, not children. And, yet I know, that it’s different for everyone.
THERE FROM THE BEGINNING
As a young mother, I knew I was investing in the character and peace of mind of an individual and ultimately in the future of our species. How could I begrudge my children that they go gently through the night? To hurry them off to weaning might reduce the range of human emotions that they could experience. In infancy, one’s program is planned, the foundation is laid, the stage is set. The more supportive, satisfying, and comfortable one’s beginning is, the more one trusts the universe and the more one can become.
There were days and moments when my children were growing up that this conviction waivered. I would think, then, that maybe I should be allowed to sleep through the night, maybe my husband and I should be able to spend more time together, maybe I really should get more done. When I was thinking like that, looking at what should happen rather than what was actually happening, I would try to enforce my will on the family. I became irritated and short with the family, and we would all end up grumpy.
MOTHERING AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE
After some time, I realized that as the mother I set the mood of the house. So I have to stay aware. I have to manage my mood and not impose it on others. But, more importantly, when I begin to accept things as they are—not as I think they should be—and no longer take responsibility for things outside of my control, I cheer up. I’m nicer to everyone, and all of a sudden the days begin to run smoothly again, and I can’t remember if the kids got better because I feel better or if I feel better because the kids got better.
This balancing act of figuring it out as we go along is what parenting is all about, and it teaches us to trust our own inherent wisdom. The baby gives us the courage and self-confidence to ask hard questions and to make informed choices that sometimes require us to go against the crowd. The baby makes us want to get it right. Such choices as expressing anger honestly in the home and giving up spanking take much effort but can transform our lives. There is hardly any greater spiritual practice than consciously meeting the challenges of mothering.
I didn’t set out to change the world; I just wanted to change my world. My children showed me a new way of seeing that world, and I followed them. I didn’t aim to do things differently. I just responded to their needs. The “right way” is reinvented with each new baby. Nature means for us to be led by the baby, which is why it makes the baby irresistible.
THE REFUGE OF FAMILY
This hasn’t changed in 45 years. The baby is and always will be irresistible. It’s reassuring to remember that there is an inherent wisdom in nature far superior to our human cleverness. This we can trust at any time or in any place.
What I would say to the mom I was 45 years ago? I would reassure her that she is a good mother, that she is doing a good job. I would ask her if she is expecting too much of herself. I would encourage her to be gentler on herself and her children.
What really is important at any time is how my family is doing. I can change the world a little, perhaps, but it is a mystery much bigger than myself or my good intentions. My family is also a mystery, but it is a universe that I can inexorably affect by my presence. When the world troubles me, I come home to my family, and I am soothed.
About Peggy O’Mara. I am an independent journalist who edits and publishes peggyomara.com. I was the editor and publisher of Mothering magazine for over 30 years. My books include Having a Baby Naturally, Natural Family Living, The Way Back Home and A Quiet Place. I have conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, Hollyhock and Bioneers. I am the mother of four and grandmother of three. Please sign up for my free newsletter with the latest posts on parenting, activism, and healthy living.