This post was written in 2012. I have made some additions, but left the bulk of the post intact. For clarity, since my changes involve people and time, the additions are in italics.
This has been a very special year in our family, this past year since Mother’s Day 2011. First, we had a beloved addition to our family in May 2011, Sarah Isabella. She arrived several months early, and many of you Treepers prayed for her and her mother after her birth. Then, in March of this year, the arrival of Sadie made me a grandmother for the first time. These two births, as well as some challenges other friends and family members have faced being mothers has made me think a great deal about motherhood, and the unique challenges it brings.
A recent conversation with another mother whose children are now adults added more perspective. Last year, I did a post about the history of Mother’s Day. Most people think about their mother or grandmother, or perhaps a favorite aunt, when the topic is Mother’s Day. We adults tend to think of our mature mothers, or perhaps even an elderly mom.
Because two young mothers have been in my thoughts and prayers this year, as well as my heart, I thought about writing something to honor those young women, the mothers who struggle so hard with the demands only a young family faces. A recent conversation inspired me to take it a little further. So, I would like to write about the stages of motherhood, and perhaps, for the sake of coherence and the story, I will make assumptions about families that may not match everyone’s experience. That does not mean I value your experience less.
With the first baby comes overwhelming love, awe, fear, joy, and the gushing happiness specific to motherhood. You have had 9 long months to prepare for this precious little miracle God is entrusting to you, and yet you are not ready, you can never really be prepared. How can you be prepared for that first embrace, the soft, sweet skin, the way your heart just stops at the first cry? How can you anticipate the perfection of the unfocused stare of your baby? The completion of your family, the way your love for your husband, and his for you, is multiplied and increased, the way that three people have become a little universe of love? How can you possibly imagine the utter weariness of night upon night without sleep? The fear at the first cough or hiccup? The inner warrior woman you never knew existed who is ready to leap into action at any threat to that child? The hopes, the dreams, the plans you and your husband share as you hold that little part of you?
And so a family grows, and so does a mother. She learns that a cry is not a notice of imminent harm to her child, that a sneeze does not require a call to the doctor, that she can indeed care for a family, go to work, pick up the laundry, and live with spots on her clothes, all on four hours of sleep on a good day. Perhaps a year or two down the road, she is blessed with another child, and the cycle of life and love continues.
The little family again finds that love’s multiplicative power is infinite. The second child arrives with a little less fear, but just as much love. This time, Mom knows what she is in for, and she knows that she also has this first little one to care for, as well as the new baby. Now she has gained confidence, emotionally, and physically. She is able to carry a toddler in one arm and a baby in the other, with a diaper bag, purse, and a bag of groceries, all while using a foot to block the dog and open the door. Home life has a routine, and things are not perfect, but very good…and that is fine. Each additional child is a perfect blessing, adding much to the family, each special and needed and loved.
The school years start, and the real juggle begins. School clothes, homework, lunches, field trips, friends, hurt feelings, report cards. Mom learns to be a tutor, a defender, a referee, and an advocate. She must stand strong, proud and often alone, in defense of what is right, which often differs from what is wanted. All of these demands are like Mom boot camp. Hopefully, they have partially prepared her for the teen age years. Nothing short of direct intervention by God could actually prepare a mother for those years, never mind that she herself actually once was a teenager, in a time and land far, far away.
And so, with the years and experiences, the mother has grown, matured, become someone who is so strong, so powerful, she can withstand the whine of a young lady who is sure she is the only one who doesn’t have a snakeskin belly ring, and the indignant glare of the young man who doesn’t get to take the family car out on Saturday night. She sleeps lightly, if at all, when her children are out, knowing the dangers that await them, the terrible choices she can prepare them for, but never make for them. She rejoices at their triumphs, and agonizes at their pain. She knows she must let them pull away, make mistakes, fall and hurt themselves, just as they did when they took their first steps. But, oh, how that hurts.
One fine day, she sits at the front of the church with tears in her eyes as her child makes the vows that will found a new family. This child of hers is now grown, and she thought she would sigh in relief at the easing of responsibility, the freedom she now has. But she has learned a new lesson, a very hard lesson getting to this point. Her sons and daughters must make their own way in a sometimes cruel world, and she knows that now, the less she does for them, the stronger they are. She must let them take the hard knocks, the heartbreak, possibly even the despair. To interfere would be to weaken them, and that she will not do. She must learn when she is truly needed, as a mother will always be needed, and when she can only pray.
Then comes the day when she hears the most magical words in all of the world. “Mom, we’re going to have a baby.” Or perhaps, as in our family, wonderful new children to love come along with their beautiful mothers who marry into the family. More children to love, children who you weren’t able to hold as a babe, children who already belong to other grandparents as well. Love has brought more wonderful young people into your family. And the cycle starts again, for a new mother, and an older mother. One who must learn to nurture and care, and one to hold, and to let go.
The world turns, the seasons change, the children grow up. A new generation is born, and the same responsibilities must be met. One thing holds it all together, one thing makes it all possible. Love. It takes a whole lot more than love to raise a family, but it all starts there. Love is the essential spark that starts the fire. Love is the foundation, and it never gets used up, or broken, or tarnished. Love shines brightly with an eternal light. It crosses generations, and it breaches the gap between this world and the next. For each of us who have lost our mother, our grandmother, or a beloved mother in law have seen that light, felt the warmth of love long after the loved one is gone.
For the gifts of my own eight grandchildren my heart swells with love and joy, pride and happiness. My prayers will be with you for all eternity, bound together with you through the Communion of Saints. May you know the love of God that keeps you all of your lives.
Second update, May 12, 2019. It’s really awesome to be a grandmother, and, to my surprise, a little more difficult than I anticipated. Sure, I am leaving the middle of the night feedings, the real juggling of school, soccer, doctor visits, work, and all the many other demands to my kids, but still…
Age and experience have left me with a heart full of hope and some trepidation as I watch my grandchildren grow up in this fast spinning world. It seems to me that when I was a child, and even when my kids were young, there was time to be just a kid. Time to play dodge ball and jump rope, time to ride our bikes until the sun set and moms throughout the neighborhood insistently called from porches as bathwater was running.
The world now seems less about play and childhood and more about scheduling and expectations. And so I would like to say to our young mothers, don’t let that happen. Take the time that will never come back and be sure that your kids get to be kids and your family gets to savor this time.
In a world demanding accomplishments and measurements, I am telling you that childhood and playing matter just as much. Let them stomp through mudpuddles. Let them catch toads and worms and peek at the eggs in birds’ nests. Let them stay up late on a school night to cuddle with you and talk about their world every so often. Don’t loose spontaniety and creativity for the marking off of accomplishments.
The Treehouse wishes all of our mothers a happy and blessed day. We hope you are enjoying the company of family and friends, and that you will perhaps take a moment and share a special memory or two of a beloved woman in your life, or tell a tale or two about your own children.