You Think Mothering Might Break You, But You’re Wrong

Today it nearly broke me—trying to mother.

I was not exceptional.

It was not my most shining performance of mothering while also being a mother.

But then my 5yo begged me to cuddle her. And she wasn’t sweet about it. She was angry and crying and, frankly, pretty rude. And I looked at her face, and I wanted to win. I wanted to teach her a lesson about cause and effect.

Cause: You act like a 5yo shit all day and say things that hurt my feelings because you’re testing limits and learning to express emotions and opinions.

Effect: I deny you your nighttime snuggle.

Translation: I don’t give you my love. I show you the err of your human ways by leaving you alone in your bed to cry and feel the 5yo interpretation of a) my mother is cruel, mostly because b) she doesn’t love me.

I looked at my 5yo’s face and my stubborn will (also inherited by said daughter) urged me to flee, desperate to protect me from all this messy mothering discomfort. I craved space between me and her. To rebuke her childish display of demanding more of me. More. Always more. I felt her clawing through my wall of defenses—energetically, physically, emotionally.

I closed my eyes. I took a deep breath. I brought my attention to my thoughts.

“I know you don’t WANT to, but also WHY NOT, Gervase?” I could hear my truer self gently prodding.

“Who do you want to bring to this situation?”

I looked at her face. Chin quivering. Angry tears.

“Okay,” I said quietly, laying down in her twin bed cramped with 18 tiny stuffed animals and 3 decorative pillows. 

There is realistically no way for a grown woman and small child to lay side by side in a twin bed and still maintain personal space. The 5yo inherently knows this. Soon our noses were touching and I could smell her sweet breath on my cheeks. I kissed her forehead and laid there in the dark under her bed canopy in stillness, as I felt my heartbeat slow and my tense body soften.

I felt the current of energy traveling from her body, into mine and circling back around into her—cocooning us, now that my defensive wall was down. I think they call that connection. I waited until our breathing and heart beating was in sync. And in that moment, I suddenly recognized, I was mothering her and not just performing my role as her mother. There is a difference.

“Good days and bad days - I’ll love you forever,” I whispered.

Her eyelids became heavy and she nuzzled her whole face into my neck so my chin was above her head. She was so warm and soft.

I love her so, so much.

I love being her mother and I love mothering her, and still sometimes it feels like it might break me.

Sometimes I feel maybe I am not up to this test.

Maybe I will, despite every single attempt, repeat my mother’s cycle of being a mother but not mothering.

Or maybe . . . my truer self shakes me, I won’t.

Maybe - parenting is a blurry microcosm of good days and bad days. Giving when I feel I’ve got nothing left to give, by waving the white flag and lowering the bridge.

And maybe that’s the real difference between mothering and being a mother.

Because I can say from personal experience, not all mothers need to or will choose to mother. And that’s okay. I think growing up yearning for more from my mother shaped me into the kind of mother I am.

The kind who fights this good fight every damn day, without making that my kid’s fault.

Baby girl, my hope is that you feel my mothering in your bones. You know it in your soul, long after our season of nighttime snuggles has ended. I pray you never grow up to think you were not enough or are fundamentally flawed just because I had to work at it—this mothering thing. Because I love this work. It’s my favorite. And you are my greatest teacher.

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