I’ve been thinking all day about a blog post written by my friend Kyran Pittman, an amazing writer, memoirist and mother of three. In the post Kyran explores the idea of what keeps us going as we age, as the people we have loved and lived for – both our children and others – grow up and go away, get old and die. Kyran asks: What abides?
My children feel like my passion and my purpose, but their childhood will pass, and is passing, like all things. My husband is the love of my life, but our eventual parting is written into our marriage vows. What will one or the other of us live for, then?
There’s truth and wisdom in the refrigerator magnet maxim that what might be remembered 100 years from now is making a difference today in the life of the child. But I think it sometimes gets misused as a license to bury our gifts. To keep from making something that is truly our own. Maybe the difference we make in the life of a child is one made by example and inspiration as well as a nurturing presence. Perhaps our own lives can be object lessons in how to stay full, whatever hardships may–and will–come our way.
While reading Kyran’s words I found myself nodding in agreement while also feeling a little bit “busted”.
Right now my life is so wrapped up in my family and home that it would feel natural, and true, to say I live for and around and through my children. And I like the idea of living a life of service to others – that life is about more than just me and what I want and need, but is also about the people around us. Raising a family is a great way to get outside of yourself, to learn about perspective and patience and discipline and self-denial.
But the kids, the family, can’t be the whole picture. Kyran’s right: eventually children grow up. At some point the people who are most important to you move away or die. Even the activities and hobbies you enjoy may pass by the wayside. Define yourself by what you have right this moment, and when you no longer have those things…well, then what?
I think the key is in realizing that everything is temporary. That our children aren’t ours to keep, and that this intense period of our lives – along with the stresses and wonders it brings – will pass. But the parts of ourselves that we now apply so fervently to our role of “mother” will remain.
And those essential pieces of us will need new outlets…outlets that we would be well-served to begin seeking and nurturing now, even in the thick of motherhood, whether we are natural leaders or thinkers or artists; whether we have outside-the-home jobs or stay home or something in between. It doesn’t have to be a full-time job or even a half-time hobby. It’s more a state of mind; an understanding of our true selves and being in-tune to our inner lives.
Maybe we fence ourselves in too much; we too narrowly define ourselves by the roles we’re playing right now. At my heart, I’m a nurturer, and a creator, and an artist. All of those things play a part in how I experience motherhood, and motherhood plays a part in how I express all of those things. But being a mom isn’t the whole of me, even though it’s the most important role I’m playing right now.
The day is coming, perhaps sooner than I can imagine, when I will no longer have children at home. Maybe then I’ll get a cat. Two cats. Almost certainly I’ll still write. And I hope that I’ll be doing all kinds of new things that I don’t have the time or energy or money for right now.
But underneath it all, I’ll still be me.
I don’t think it’s wrong or misguided to say that motherhood fulfills us. We just have to be careful to remember that we were women and people before we were mothers, and we’ll still be women and people long after our kids take off to start their own adult lives.
In the meantime I try to walk that line between embracing my role as “mother” and letting it completely consume me; letting myself get a little lost in family life without actually losing the person I have always been and always will be. Because I totally agree with Kyran that, in setting up my own life as an example of richness and fullness and fun and joy, I am giving my children an important gift.
Maybe, as I’ve said before, the best kind of mom is the one that’s true to herself.
After all, isn’t that what we would want for our own kids?
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