An intense lesson in living, shocking enough to make sure you never live casually again. The first time you hold your newborn against your naked self, you are tired and slightly traumatised, yet strangely alive with passion and resolve. You will never live life in quite the same way again.
The over used notion of “intentionality’ does not begin to do this justice.
This is how so many women heard their first call to live life more fully. One small new life made you a mother, it gave you a vocation. You said would never be the same again and what you meant was you would live your life more fiercely now because of that little someone else. Suddenly the possibilities for joy increased, the opportunities for growth multiplied but isn’t this also true: so did the opportunities to be flung into wild living panic at a moments notice, to lie awake sleepless in unexplainable despair.
We learn some of the most beautiful lessons of our lives there between the night feeds and the groggy mornings trying to find a pair of socks that match, persuading the little ones out of the door amidst arguments about why you can’t take your comfort blanket to nursery with you, why you can’t wear the fairy princess costume to school. Didn’t we feel out done by first dates and Facebook fall-outs and teenagers who believed they were too fat or too thin? Didn’t we lose the plot over course work deadlines not met and lost bus passes, parties with alcohol and learning to drive? But somewhere, somehow we found the right words and when that failed we found the right silence. We showed up and we showed love beyond a simple hug and kiss. We were creative, resourceful and inspiring but mainly lost and always out of our depth.
Behind the closed doors of our family homes, amongst piles of discarded toys and the bags of outgrown clothes that never made it to the charity shop, we did the hard work of becoming more human and helping our children do the same. Overdue library books under the bed, longed for pets that need to be fed, a half empty fridge and still we put food on the table everyday, because kids are hungry beasts and who knew how much pleasure can be found in sitting round a table at the end of the day. Our plates were full and so were our lives. Achievement, success, hidden talents and reserves of strength found in surprising places at surprising times, but never more so than now.
I don’t want any mother to feel defined or confined by narrow definitions of what it is to parent as women or for any man to feel his contribution is diminished. I don’t want anyone to be excluded because they chose not to mother or didn’t have the opportunity to mother even when it was something they longed for with all their heart.
I only want to say that there is a quality in mothering that makes you come alive and small lesson in living that we should be sharing with the world.
Our world needs more resilience, more resourcefulness, more hope. “Live life like a mother,” I keep whispering to myself as I pick my way through the complexities of a too anxious life. Write like a mother, teach like a mother, love like a mother, grieve like a mother. The world could do worse that practise a little more of this good love, this forbearance of the hard things, for the sake of those who need our care.
Here are some of the things that motherhood taught me. This is how I live life like a mother.
Choose your battles
I wasn’t giving into them, spoiling them, pandering to them, I was choosing my battles. Choosing your battles means accepting that there is plenty wrong in this world and you are not big enough to change it all today. One small step at a time is the way to proceed, by choosing the things that matter the most.
Be a grown up
A time comes when we are just too old to tantrum and throw the toys out of the pram every time things don’t go to plan. I still remember where I was when I realised I was the grown up in my family situation and that my children were looking to me, to draw the boundaries, make the decisions, extend the care and make their world safe. They weren’t being demanding, they were just being children and suddenly I wanted them to enjoy this part of childhood. I wanted to create an age appropriate environment where the balance of safety and challenge fell on the side of safety. Be the grown up to the people in life who are in need of this type of care.
Give others the freedom to be themselves
I always imagined that my first child would be a well behaved, gentle spirited girl, academically precocious and musically gifted. But my first child was not this and eventually I learn to stop trying to turn him into the fabled person I wanted him to be. Ultimately you cannot control another human being. You cannot dictate their beliefs , preferences or behaviours. As your children get older they will make choices that you feel you did not raise them to make, choices that you think are wrong. Sometimes you have to let them. In this world too many relationships are marred by manipulation and the desire to control. Find another way to play a part in the lives of the people you love. Control is never good.
Practise the art of imperfection
Life is messy. Children will only make it messier but once you’ve found a way to be comfortable with this you increase your ability to do well in other areas of life. Things go wrong. Mistakes are made. Learn a little resilience and give yourself a break. Your role is not to work hard to hide your imperfections from the world. Your role is to find a way of living that embraces mess and gets on anyway. It is very tiring putting on a show to the world that everything is OK when often it is not. It’s very isolating to suggest to other people that you have it together when you do not. Live authentically, wear your imperfections with ease and help others to do the same.
Children need discipline and sometimes love has to be tough but how often did we make everyone’s life much harder with misplaced tough love. A battle with a toddler is rarely about who is right. You are almost certainly right but this is probably not the best time to making your point. I am convinced that its better to be kind than to be right and I’m willing to risk making a wrong call if necessary. So often we thought our zero tolerance approach would pay us dividends in the future and it only made the situation more intransigent. If in doubt, be kind.
Despite the challenges, parenting should be fun, more love and joy that anything else. And this is true of life. I can not except that life is a drudge, a brief period lived in miserable suffering. I’m not a natural optimist, I’m just someone who has decided I need to live in pursuit of good things, rather than living to struggle with bad things. My children ultimately make this easier. They give me plenty of reasons to be glad. When seasons of life bring trouble I go in pursuit of beauty and joy more fiercely than before.
What has being a parent taught you about living life well?