Saturday, May 06, 2006

Musings on Motherhood

This is my contribution to the Blog Collaboration organized by Kara. In my several drafts of this, I was aiming for light and funny with a message. However, in each and every attempt, what appeared was an essay, so, with my deadline looming and "light and funny" nowhere in sight, I bowed to the inevitable. Hereafter follows some of my musings on motherhood - hope you enjoy them! My job, for the last ten or more years, has been mothering other people's children. I am a mother, noun, and I mother, verb, professionally. Being as how I mother both inside and outside of my personal motherhood, and have "co-mothered" dozens of children with very different women, each with their own style, I've done a fair bit of musing on the notion of 'mother'. What makes a mother? The most obvious answer is "your child", but that scarcely satisfies. Too simplistic! "Anyone can have a child" we say, dismissively, though that statement in itself is too simplistic: As anyone who's ever struggled with infertility knows, this is simply not true. Regardless of how a child enters your life, though, it is not simply the mere fact of the child that makes a parent. That's too passive, too facile; it misses the layers of interaction and angst, emotions and bonding of the relationship. When asked what I do for a living, I sometimes describe myself as "a back-up mom". It's as good a description as any, I think. Part teacher, part nurse, part psychologist, part coach, part cheerleader, part maid - that's all me in my job. It is also, of course, any mother. Note that the description is not substitute mom. The difference may not be immediately apparent, but it's critical, I think. The child's mom is always the mom, whether she's with the child, sleeping in a room down the hall, or in an office across town. I do not replace mom, I supplement her. (Like vitamins!) Sometimes the mothers worry about this, worry about being replaced, about being less than central to their tot's life, but it is needless. Yes, I am attached to your child, and your child is attached to me - this is what we want, for your peace of mind and the child's emotional health - but I am never going to replace the mom. Your child knows the difference: there is only one Mommy. So what does make a mother? The possibilities are many: childbirth, adoption, instinct, an effort of will, a decision, a pivotal event or crisis, a dawning awareness, a gradual morphing. We adults can - and do! - muse on the nature and definition of this most significant relationship. The child doesn't muse. Whatever it is that makes a mom, the child knows. I have never seen any indication that the child's relationship with me detracts, impedes, or even impinges upon his/her relationship with Mom. I nourish, I comfort, I challenge, I teach, I soothe. I blow raspberries on fat tummies and push little bottoms in swings. I declare "I just love you to bits!" while raining kisses on peach-soft cheeks, and yet still they know. "This is the 'not-mom' who loves me." Before the child is born, when we consider becoming a parent, our focus is on our own desires, our intentions, our hopes. The child is the focus of all these things, and yet oddly peripheral to them at the same time. Because we are not yet parents, the reality of the child, its distinction from us, its existence as a person in its own right, has not yet hit home with us. In many ways, we only learn this gradually, as the child is born, grows, matures and establishes him/herself over the years. In the very early stages, it is easy to see the child as a passive recipient of all it experiences. And yet... It is not long into its life that the child knows its parents. A child is born with the capacity for relationship, and the first relationships formed are with mother and father. The child knows mommy as distinct from all the millions of not-mommies. Whatever process you as a woman need to become your child's mother, your child needs no such process. From the moment of his/her dawning conscious awareness, "mom" is you, and no other. You and your child, together, are complicit in creating you as 'mother'. Perhaps what makes you a mother is, after all, your child.


Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I don't know what it is, but the child certainly knows: I remember a lovely little boy, fostered by my mother one time. He was just three, and was with us because his (single) mother had gone out one night leaving him & his baby sister alone in the house, when a fire started. he saved himself & his siter, but obviously the authorities became involved and the children were removed while housing/reports etc were sorted out.

He (and his sister) were with us for about three months & he was well settled in with family life when his mother finally showed up for a visit. I have never seen such a look of joy on a childs face when he saw her (it was a surprise to him because she hadn't turned up for previous visits). The most amazing smile appeared & he literally bounded down the stair yelling "mummy!"

You'd think that after a qustionable level of interest & nurture from the mother, plus three months living with us, his bond with his mother woudl start to fail, but apparently not.

(She did get them back BTW - I often wonder if she kept them, and how he views her now...... )

5/06/2006 11:04:00 a.m.  
Blogger Kristen said...

Great essay, Mary P. My stepkids' mom essentially abandoned them, but no one else, no matter how many mother figures they have in their lives, will ever be mom to them. I actually think it's unfortunate in their case, because the picture they end up with of what a "mom" is supposed to be must now be so skewed and emotionally fraught.

5/06/2006 12:53:00 p.m.  
Blogger Misfit Hausfrau said...

I think you are dead-on, Mary. I love how you refer to yourself--a supplemental (or back-up) mom.

5/06/2006 01:13:00 p.m.  
Blogger Granny said...

From my own experience, I agree - you're right on.

Great post.

5/06/2006 01:48:00 p.m.  
Blogger Jenorama said...

Lovely post-- and mrs. aginoth's comment just about broke my heart.

Hey, what is the weather going to be like in your neck of the woods this week?

5/06/2006 03:41:00 p.m.  
Blogger mo-wo said...

I certtainly see myself in the hazed confusion of how the childless expect motherhood to be. I have a hundred examples of how I thought I was preparing for motherhood and was so off the mark with that self-centred perceptions of child raising.

It is all you say.

And, what you say does spring to my mind that as mothers' day approaches a special acknowledgement need go out to those who do what you do. Simultaneously the understudy and the DIVA of motherhood for many families; many wishes for a happy day to every childcare provider and Mom out there!

5/07/2006 09:52:00 a.m.  
Blogger Andie D. said...

Wow Mary, you've got it down. And I love how you recognize that there is an attachment:

"...this is what we want, for your peace of mind and the child's emotional health."

I wouldn't want it any other way.

5/07/2006 12:36:00 p.m.  
Blogger Mamacita Tina said...

Thank you for the reflective essay. I agree that it is our children that make us mothers. The kind of mother we become, is up to each individual and her circumstances.

5/07/2006 02:53:00 p.m.  
Blogger Lady M said...

Thank you for your lovely essay, Mary P!

5/08/2006 11:22:00 a.m.  
Blogger LoryKC said...

Beautiful, Mary!

I've done a lot of babysitting in my life but there was one summer when I was helping some friends with their daughters.
The mom was busy with her residency training at an army hospital (days and many nights) and dad was busy with National Guard training during the day. Another mutual friend worked as their nanny but when she'd take weeks off to visit family, I'd fill in. A couple of times, the youngest daughter would call me "Mommy." She did it once or twice in front of her dad and he got a wide-eyed, guilt-ridden look on his face.
I told him she wasn't confused though. When mom walked through that door, baby girl knew just who she was!
She knew my name but sometimes when something urgent came up (urgent things tend to come up when you're 1), you yell "Mommy!" knowing that someone will help you!

5/08/2006 02:13:00 p.m.  
Blogger Granny said...

Thought that was you commenting on table manners over on BB.

What a crock.

5/08/2006 04:55:00 p.m.  
Anonymous kep said...

Oh, this is such a fabulous post. Really, I want to copy most of what you say and give it to my daycare parents and say, "Here, I can't be so eloquent, but this is what I wanted to tell you."

5/08/2006 08:01:00 p.m.  
Anonymous sherry said...

I really enjoyed reading this. I definitely like your perspective.

5/12/2006 04:45:00 p.m.  

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