Reduced to Essentials

May 2nd, 2009

“Mother’s love is peace. It need not be acquired, it need not be deserved. ” ~Erich Fromm
I have been a mother for most of my adult life. I often say that my children are my one great work in this life. Although I take precautions to not live life vicariously, I know that my life is more often a reflection of them than it is of me on many days. Whether through text messages, or my own internal barometer which is always set to how well my least well child is faring, my thoughts are almost always split, between my own priorities and the seemingly  millions of details that make up my growing children’s lives. The details change with the years, but the amount of them remains surprisingly steady.

I know that this isn’t everyone’s experience. My own childhood memories are not full of a mother’s intense loving presence, the kind that my children are at once oblivious to, and simultaneously crave and resent. We develop our mothering style in response to what we got or didn’t get in our own childhood. I raised my children as the anchor at the center of the wheel and so should not be surprised now that with all of their lives at full tilt, I am pulled in multiple directions continuously. As a young mother of four, I was the multi-tasker par excellence, home schooling two grades and changing diapers in the same moment. Unlike other skills that improve with practice, my capacity for multi-tasking diminishes and I sometimes buckle under the weight of the complexity.

Boundary is the line which defines the occupation of mothering. The line between self and other is utterly invisible in the gestation of a child and only becomes less so by degree in their earliest years. It is at once a union deeper than most can imagine before hand, and a responsibility that changes you biologically-from the inside out. Healthy mothering is supposed to draw the boundary between self and other firmly but gently through the years. This is the most ambiguous place in mothering; where to let go, where to hold on. Having the heart and courage to provide roots and give wings is the ultimate test.

All kids inherit both the gifts of their mother’s strengths and the limitations of her weaknesses. The love and the damage go hand in hand. Oscar Wilde once said that ‘Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.’ Such is the path for both mother and child. The mothering relationship, which is revered for its unconditional nature is supposed to be the embodiment of forgiveness. But for most mothers, as for myself, the work of loving/mothering is a practice of juggling, balancing, dropping the ball and finding balance again.

Learning the art of loving unconditionally is the gift and the challenge of mothering. This is the badge of motherhood that is earned with each small moment of generosity and each act of forgiveness. Children spell love T-I-M-E. Giving up our own agenda, listening to the stories of scraped knees and hurt feelings, sharing meals and teaching manners are the daily bread of unconditional love. For me it is a practice of surrender. It is the ultimate meditation, this daily love which reduces everything to essentials and leaves little room for the cumbersome ego.

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