I always knew I wanted to be a mom.
Though I was never particularly maternal (I was a downright horrible babysitter), I imagined that somehow when I became a mother myself I would also become maternal. I would be like the other mothers I saw, gobbling up babies with sloppy kisses and swooning over chunky toddler legs. I assumed that I would somehow, magically, become a woman who enjoyed baby talk and playing patty cake. I would come up with adorable pet names for my children and I would never yell.
After all, isn’t that what being a mother is all about?
That’s the image of motherhood I’ve held in my head for…well…since forever. This is the idea of what it means to be a mother, to be maternal, that is fed to us from very early on. It gets ingrained in our personal and collective psyche so much that it is almost impossible to not feel inadequate if we aren’t getting googly-eyed over babies and have exploding ovaries at the sight of a newborn.
Not only is this image deeply embedded in our society, but I see what motherhood looks like for other women. I see them coo at the babies and shower them with kisses. I see women gobble up their children for snuggles. I know mothers who co-sleep and nurse their children for years. I hear mothers talk to their children patiently and calmly.
I watch all of this, and I wonder: Is there something wrong with me? Why am I not more maternal? Am I missing the mom gene?
I hate baby talk and I’m not overly affectionate. After a couple minutes of snuggles, I squirm away for some personal space. I’m impatient and I yell — a lot. I didn’t co-sleep, and I breastfed for a hot minute before buying cases of Enfamil.
Sometimes I watch these other mothers cooing over their babies and snuggling them without a trace of discomfort at the lack of personal space, and I wish I were more like them. I wish I had their calm patience, that the affection came more naturally. I wonder why I don’t get mushy over babies and why, instead of exploding, my ovaries stay clamped shut at the sight of even the cutest baby.
I spend the majority of my waking hours contemplating whether I am a good enough mother. I watch other mothers and read about mothering. I wish I could be more of this or more of that. I wonder if there is something wrong with me because I’m not…well…maternal.
But what we mothers need to remind ourselves — what I need to remind myself again and again and again — is that there is no “right” way to be a good mother. There is no mom gene. Motherhood looks different for everyone, and being maternal — whatever that even means — isn’t a prerequisite for good mothering.
In the past, whenever I considered the question of whether I am being the best mother I can be, it has always been with some preconceived notion of what it means to be maternal and in comparison to the way other women mother their children — not the kind of mother I am to my own children.
I used to think I was missing the mom gene, that I was somehow deficient or defective in the way that I mothered. I was too much of this, not enough of that. Except that all of this wondering and evaluating and comparing was based on the way other woman mothered, not the way that I mothered. And my kids didn’t have those other woman as mothers; they had me.
Sure, I might not be as patient or affectionate or whatever as other mothers, but the ways other women mother doesn’t really matter because those other women aren’t my children’s mom – I am. I might be too much of this or too little of that, but I love my children fiercely and whole-heartedly. I might not snuggle and gush over my children, but I’m their biggest fan and strongest protector (along with my husband, of course). My children are happy and comfortable — and a large part of the reason they are happy children is because I mother them in a way that is comfortable for me.
Of course, there are things I could improve on, and I fall short of my very high expectations every day. But there are also plenty of ways in which I am totally rocking this motherhood thing — at least in the ways that motherhood looks to me.
So yes, I might be missing the mom gene and that’s okay, because there is no mom gene.
Unless, of course, you’re talking about the other kind — you know, mom jeans.
In which case, I don’t have those either.