My Motherhood Essay
A blogger that I read recently hosted a call for motherhood essays and I got to wondering what my essay would look like. Here’s the result.
My picture of motherhood was formed early by my own mother. She wasn’t a perfect mother but then, I don’t believe in perfect mothers. She was, however, a terrific mother. She loved us. She prayed for and with us. She taught us. She knew how to have fun. She knew when to say no. She scolded us and she apologized when she was wrong. I imagined that I would be the kind of mother she was – the juggler of five children’s needs, the person who could fix broken things, the one with most of the answers.
Then Tom and I got married and within a few short months decided we were ready to start a family. We made our plans – when we wanted that baby to arrive and how it would fit into our plans. I had some vague notions of how many children I wanted and even how often I wanted to have a baby. I don’t know what kind of a mother I would have been if my life had worked out according to those plans. But I didn’t get the chance to find out.
What Tom and I quickly learned, and have continued to learn over and over, is that our plans counted for exactly nothing when it came to having a child. After two years of no success, we discovered that indeed we were going to have a baby. At this point we weren’t worried about how a child would fit into our life – or even how we would pay for this baby. It was a miracle and everything else would just have to work itself out. I tried not to get too excited – it seemed too good to be true. But I do remember talking to Heavenly Father and telling Him how grateful I was for this experience and that I would do my best to appreciate and love our new child and it would be o.k. if we didn’t have anymore because I recognized how great a blessing this one was. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that …
Anyway, Spencer arrived and I began to learn how to be a mother. Some things were easy. As the oldest of five I was experienced in the ways of diapering, feeding, bathing, dressing. Spencer was a cheery and easy baby and we quickly settled into a happy routine. As he grew, I learned to adjust and adapt. I was being the kind of mom I had pictured. But no other babies came along. Spencer was growing up as a single child and that bothered me. First – I didn’t know how to be the mom of one child. And I didn’t want to learn. Second – Tom and I love having siblings and we wanted that experience for our child.
Whether I liked it or not, motherhood and infertility were becoming intertwined. I didn’t want this to be a defining part of my life. I wanted to be true to that talk I had had with God. Tom and I looked into adoption. We took some classes. Then we moved. Then we were unemployed. When we were financially stable again, Spencer was nine years old. It was fish or cut bait time. We jumped into adoption and found ourselves with two more children before Spencer’s tenth birthday.
Here’s where motherhood took a dramatic turn for me. I’m walking a path that I never imagined I would take. My children, who should have been loved and cherished from the moment they arrived in this world, have instead experienced the pain of neglect and loss of their birth family. My motherhood experience now includes education in areas I never gave a thought to before. I never knew how important the attachment cycle was until I began parenting a child who hadn’t experienced a healthy attachment. I didn’t know that attachment affects brain development. I didn’t know that those loving corrections I had unthinkingly made with Spencer as he was learning to talk were so important. Not until I had Andrew who couldn’t talk clearly at five years old because no one had done that simple thing with him. So many things that I had done unthinkingly with Spencer – that hadn’t been done consistently with Andrew and Haley. It’s pretty hard to make up for those lost years. On bad days I think it is impossible and on good days I remember the Atonement of Jesus Christ and keep praying for healing.
Motherhood invokes a lot of conflicting feelings for me. Spencer has grown up to be a great kid. The things I learned from my mom have been invaluable to me in being his parent. It’s been rewarding to be his parent. I like the person he is becoming. Haley too, is enjoyable to parent. She has healed in significant ways from the hurts of her babyhood and it is rewarding to see her becoming thoughtful of others and learning to be more independent and responsible. If I had only raised these two children, I would think I was a pretty awesome parent.
But I’m also raising a child who was significantly impacted by his early years. He struggles with such basic things as trust. For so many years he needed to be in charge of EVERYTHING. At five he would tell me how to drive and how to cook and how to get places and how to shop. REALLY annoying. I discovered how much pride I was carrying around, when this little kid could get me all offended. Note to self: learn to laugh! He struggles with emotional immaturity and a lack of impulse control and impaired higher level thinking and on top of all that a biological brain impairment in the form of a mood disorder.
Typing all that makes me feel compassion for him. But the reality of parenting him is so frustrating and maddening. You can’t imagine how thwarted you feel when your child cannot learn from his experiences. Or how angry you can be when you discover that once again your drawers have been rifled in his search for candy or treats. Or how tired you are after the two hour melt down that occurred because you asked him to unload the dishwasher (and don’t get me started on homework!) My motherhood experience has revealed to me all sorts of personal flaws. I’m not nearly as patient as I always thought I was. The command to forgive always is REALLY hard – especially when I’m asked to forgive multiple times a day. I can get so much angrier than I ever wanted to be. I can’t do it all – I have to have help – and sometimes that help has come in the form of drugs for myself. I struggle to hold on to hope. I struggle with casting out fear. On bad days I feel trapped in unhappiness and on good days I resolve to try something new, that surely there has to be a solution out there that I haven’t tried.
The reality is, though, that motherhood for me has become a refining fire and I’m still in the furnace and I probably won’t be getting out any time soon. I practice looking for things to be happy about and hope that I will get better at it. I call my mom and cry on her shoulder and listen to her encouragement and good advice and try again. I still haven’t quite resigned myself to the fact that my expectations of motherhood have been so different from my reality, though I keep working on that!! I fervently hope that on the other side of this hard place I can be pleased with what I did do and what I did learn and what relationships I did forge with my children. Motherhood has been the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I am counting on the fact that it is probably the most significant thing I will do with my life and that it will matter – at least to the three souls that God entrusted to me.