The world shifts when your first child is placed in your arms. There is no telling the expedition that awaits you, and although the experience of motherhood is as similar as it is global, no one, no one, can predict the kind of person it will have you become. No one can sit your big, round belly down and tell you how it will change you. Sure, they can tell you about the love. Sure, they can tell you that life will never be the same. Sure, they can tell you that everything becomes so very full. But no one knows what the love and the changed life and the fullness will actually do to you. Not really.
I read this quote a long, long, time ago and I have always believed it to be true.
“Your children are not your children.
They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you.
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For thir souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the make upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness.
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He also loves the bow that is stable.”
– Khalil Gibran
If you were to have told me a year ago that motherhood would change me, I would have nodded along and thought to myself, Well of COURSE it will. Whaddaya think I live under a rock? If you were to have told me a year ago that it would change me into a mother who grips, I would have nodded along (because I’m socially sweet) but thought, Well of COURSE it won’t. Whaddaya think I have nothing else in my life? Besides, I already know that my child doesn’t belong to me. Not really. I already know that I don’t own her. I’m just the base. I’m just the place she grows up in and away from and to which she scurries back when she needs. So mister just quit your predictions and be on your way.
Since having grown a baby inside me, since birthing her, and since learning every inch of her, the story is terribly different. I have to fight myself on a daily basis to remember these things I once believed. I have to force myself to loosen my grip, to remember she’s not mine, to open a space for the world to know her like I do. And it’s a battle. Every day, it’s a battle. Because the truth is, the love I feel is so overpowering that it does strange things to me. It makes me feel like I don’t want to be separated from her. It makes it near impossible to allow anything to distress or disturb her. It makes my protection of her fierce and consuming. It makes me feel like I don’t want to miss out on her.
Even on the bad days.
And although there’s not much I know, I know enough to realize that that isn’t really love.
Yes, the beginning of it is love. The core of it is love. Of course it is. But the thing about love is that when it hits you hard, it opens you up to an onslaught of other emotions. Suddenly, I am vulnerable to that love. Suddenly I don’t want to leave that love. Suddenly I fear something hurting her. Or taking her. Suddenly I don’t want to be deprived of her. Suddenly I realize I have everything to lose should she go. And it’s a scary feeling. It’s beautiful and bounding and incredible, but it’s scary. So I grip. I grasp. I protect. I control. I fear but I love. I fear because I love. It gets tricky. For me, anyway. The business of hard loving gets all hazy and it’s incredibly difficult to see clearly.
But I see clearly enough to know that those things aren’t love. They are the result of the love I feel, they are my reaction to the love, but not love itself. Those things have nothing to do with her and everything to do with me. I don’t want to be without her. I want her to love me the most. I want to be the most important one to her. I want to be the one she needs and wants and holds onto. It’s ridiculous, I know, but it’s the truth. And there is a part of me, deep down, that suspects other mothers feel like this too. I’m sure even extended family have these thoughts – they want to be the favourite uncle, they want to be the favourite grandparent, they want to have a special bond and recognise a part of themselves in this new life. And of course they do. That’s what babies do to people. They are precious and beautiful and angelic and those who look upon them, want to be loved by them as well. They want to be able to cause a smile. They want to be able to spark a laugh. They want to be able to settle and calm them. They want to know that they have something special with this little person – that they are important some way.
Just like me.
But I’ve sat down and taken a long enough look at myself to realize that that’s not actually love.
Because I also believe that the tighter we grip and the more we need, the more it’s fueled by the wrong kind of stuff. Love becomes overshadowed by insecurity and selfishness and fear and control, and as we cling on, white knuckled and breathless, we only move farther away from the love we are fighting so hard to capture. And more than anything, I want to love my children. I do not want to grip them. They will grow up loving whom they please. They will grow up bonding with whomever fits them. They will grow up having their own troubles and their own challenges which must be fought by them alone. I know all this. I know these things are true. But it’s one thing to know and another thing to practice.
Maybe that’s the voyage of parenthood after all. Maybe all mothers have to face loosening the ownership of their children and the letting go of them. Maybe true loving is jumping in and opening wide open, unshaken and undisturbed, despite what’s ahead, despite the lack of control, despite the giving up. Because your love never really goes anywhere, does it? They may go, the ones who spark your love, but the love itself doesn’t. And that’s okay. That’s the nature of mothering and the nature of loving so much. That’s the risk we take. It has to be okay, because that’s just the way it is, isn’t it?
“They come through you but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”