Motherhood Is 1,000 Tiny Break Ups

by Mary Katherine
Originally Published: 

I never wanted to be that mom.

The one who laments that every childhood phase is happening too quickly. Who waxes nostalgic with every single milestone. The hot, blubbering mess at preschool graduation? I’m not her.

But dammit, nobody warned me about these little break ups.

It was a blue sky day in Hilton Head, South Carolina. My little family headed to the beach, towing Nugget along in his Radio Flyer. We were Instagram worthy, I’m not even gonna lie. A perfect picture.

As we arrived, I unbuckled my son and lifted him from the wagon.

And in that perfectly picturesque moment, my little man yanked his arms away from me and leaned back.

“No!” He protested.

Baffled, I paused. Then I reached again to lift him up.

“No!” He squirmed as I pulled him out of his seat. “Get down!”

I sat my little buddy down on the sand and reached for his hand with my finger. (Maybe he didn’t want be held?)

“No, mama!” Nugget declared, turning toward his father. He toddled away, reached for my husband’s hand and turned back with a wave.


My son wanted me to stay behind. He wanted to be alone with his daddy. It was actually pretty sweet.

So why, then, did my heart ache?

It was a shadow of former heartbreaks, but the feeling was nonetheless familiar. The forced space. The verbal dismissal. It was the first time as a mother that my child actually rejected my company.

Hello, Break Up. We meet again.

I waved my boys along and sat on a towel to pretend-read a magazine. I pulled my sunglasses down and my magazine up. Nobody was gonna see me cry.

I’m not that mom, remember?

My husband and son played in the waves. Nugget picked up some shells, ate a little sand, and returned to the wagon for a cruise beside the dunes.

But I wasn’t in the present. My mind was racing away from me. I was seeing, for the first time, a heart-breaking peek of what motherhood had in store: 1,000 tiny break ups.

I saw my son shooing me away from the bus stop. “Mom, I know where to go. Can you just wait here today?”

I saw him picking out his own clothes: a ninja turtle t-shirt and mix-matched socks. “Mom, I can dress myself. I don’t need your help anymore, okay?”

I saw a dejected basketball player on the ride home from a middle school game. “Mom, I’d really like it if you didn’t cheer so loud. The other guys make fun of me.”

First cars and first dates and high school graduation. A college bumper sticker on a trunk packed full of blue jeans and tennis shoes.

“Don’t worry mom. I’ll be home by Christmas.”

I could practically feel that little Nugget wave.


I know now that parenting is the process of raising someone up just to let them go. And maybe it’s a small grace that it doesn’t happen all at once. I don’t think my heart could take it.It’s a mother’s highest hope that her children find happiness in this world. That they grow in confidence toward a life of independence and fulfillment.

But that doesn’t stop the process from hurting.

My son will never need me more than the day he was born. And tomorrow, if I’m doing my job, he will need me a little less. There lie a thousand tiny break ups between now and the day my son is fully grown.

And I do believe I will allow myself to feel some of this sadness.

Because, if I’m being entirely honest, maybe I am “that mom”.

And this childhood thing is happening way too fast.

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