If I do my job right as a mother, my kids — my four sweet boys — will leave me.
They’ll grow up to be successful contributors to society, to find their own paths, to forge their own careers … and to start their own families. And this is what I want for them, really and truly. It’s what I have been training them to do for their entire lives thus far. Everything I have taught them about life, work, and domesticity is in preparation for the days when they’ll be out on their own, as employees and husbands and fathers if that’s what they choose.
So it’s ironic that the very thing I’m teaching them to do, the very thing that measures the success of my mothering, is the thing I fear the most.
I’m afraid that when my sons leave me, they’ll never come back. At least not in the way I need them to.
Daughters, at least in my own limited scope of experience as a daughter myself, do come back. We may break out on our own for a while, discovering who we are, but as we grow into women we realize that our mothers have a shared experience; if nothing else, the experience of just navigating this world as a woman. Mothers have advice to give, and we begin to see it as valuable, especially as we have children of our own. So we come back, because our mothers are like the sun we orbit around.
But boys don’t have questions about blossoming into womanhood that only Mom can answer. Though their lives may draw casual parallels, it’s not the same shared experience. Our sons may have children, but will never see parenting through the unique lens of motherhood. They’ll find a partner who becomes their touchstone, and create a family unit all their own that becomes more important than their family of origin. And that’s as it should be. I know that.
Their orbits will arc further and further away, until I am no longer the bright sunshine at the center of their universe, but rather a faint glow they feel from time to time. They will no longer need my warmth, because they’ll find it elsewhere.
And as much as I hope this happens — because isn’t that the purpose of parenting, to release your children into the world to make their own way? — it utterly breaks my heart at the same time.
What will I do when my boys belong to someone else?
My nine-year-old, my youngest, climbed into my lap the other day, all gangly limbs and knobby knees. I pressed my nose into his hair, trying to get even the faintest whiff of that baby scent that might still be clinging to him somewhere, but all I smelled was his shampoo. “You’ll always be my baby,” I whispered — more to myself than to him, honestly.
“Even when I’m a grownup?” he asked.
And I thought of my mother-in-law, and how if he asked right this minute, she would pull my 43-year-old, six-foot-four-inch husband onto her lap without hesitation, the same way she did when he was still small enough to fit there. I have no doubt.
What will I do when my lap, and my hands, are empty?
Our children need us … sometimes, in the early years, so much that it feels suffocating, cumbersome, never-ending. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in sixteen years of being a mother, it’s this: we need our children even more. We need them to be there, to need us, even if we don’t realize it while we’re busy making sure those needs are met.
I need them to understand how much I need them. How much I’ll always need them, even when they don’t need me the way they do now.
I’m afraid that when they leave, a big part of them will be gone forever. Oh, how I hope it returns, at least once in a while … not out of necessity any more, but to soothe – even if momentarily — the heart of the woman who loved them first.