It was a hard day. As I tucked you in, kissing your tear-streaked cheek with an intensity that nearly matched that of your meltdown, I stood and sucked in an exaggerated breath. Counting to four then holding for four, like I read to do. I exhaled, but held the tears filling my own eyes and threatening to spill down my cheeks. I affirmed that I love you, then paused at the door just long enough to blow and catch a kiss, not waiting to pocket extras.
I needed a moment alone to hear my thoughts, but despite my hasty escape, they’d remain with you. Our connection is my joy and you are my light; brightening everything you touch, illuminating my experience of the world, and stretching me beyond my capacity. Being your mother has challenged and expanded me in the most exquisite ways. Although I didn’t know what it could feel like, I anticipated connection. The certain love I would have for you. But I couldn’t anticipate moments of disconnection. Moments that, despite my love for you, would feel so uncertain. Moments that all relationships have, but are rarely described between a mother and her child.
It is unfavorable to remark on the lows of motherhood, for fear that we expose ourselves and our humanity, and obscure the narrow cultural ideal of what a “good” mother should be.
I remember a conversation at a weary breakfast with friends in your first year, at which I proclaimed that I’d excel at motherhood. I said this with conviction, as though there’s a definite way to do that. I would not just be a good mom. I would be an exceptionally good mom. So in love with you, I knew you deserved the best of everything from the start. Something I, far from home with distanced — if not strained — familial relationships and few immediate models of motherhood before me, felt ill-equipped to provide.
On the cusp of perfectionism recovery, but still deeply entrenched in its tendencies, I left no space for uncertainty. In my childhood, I grew accustomed to pleasing and perfecting — and though it occasionally saved me from the ache of shame, it hindered my ability to trust myself, my discernment and especially my feelings.
To cope in new motherhood, I instinctively sought knowledge; devouring books, articles, and opinions of experts and others who seemed to have it figured out. Something certain that I could cling to amidst the unknown. My constant consumption left me weary and numb. It filled my head with so many voices that I felt further from my own than ever before, and despite my best efforts and know-it-all posture, the only thing I felt certain of was that I was definitely not excelling at this.
In my darkest days, I felt embarrassed by this memory and the cluelessness of that brand-new mother. Now, I smile with compassion at my hopeful, unwavering devotion to you, and my idealism in the beginning of the most substantial transition of my life.
There is no preparation for the gravity of the transition into parenthood. No parenting class that delves beyond how to care for a baby, to the depths of navigating how to care for yourself. No way to anticipate the incredible love and profound beauty, or the raw vulnerability and relentless responsibility of parenting.
It is both light and dark. Simple and hard. Certain and uncertain. The experience is not one we can control, or perfect, or even protect.
Parenthood unveils every hidden hurt and imperceptibly stirs anything left unattended inside us, challenging us to unpack our stories and our relationships. It requires us to surrender to dynamics we cannot fully understand, lay down our emotional armor and really show up.
Our relationships within our first families are the context for all relationships thereafter. The reality of just how greatly this truth impacts our functioning in the family we create is often not perceivable until we are living it. We are either caught repeating patterns of behavior in relationships that do not serve us or our families, or vowing to do it differently.
The difficult, unrealized certainty that bombards us as we stumble into parenthood is that despite what our children deserve, we can only give them who we are. We must do our own work to heal our minds, hearts and relationships, so that we can model worthiness, connectedness and emotional intelligence to our children. It is an arduous, uncomfortable process. It is a process that is as messy and imperfect as we are, and it is the most impactful way we can care for ourselves and our babies. It may be the most important, courageous work of parenthood and life, and its influence will have continuing effects, beyond our homes and this moment in time.
The work I am doing is for me, but it is because of you. Your existence has inspired me to shine my own light, to show up imperfectly, connect and heal. To choose kindness, curiosity and empathy, even on the hard days.
I don’t know what I am doing. I don’t know that I am excelling at this, or that there is even a way. I know that I am doing the best I can with what I have. I know that I will continue to do the work necessary to take care of myself, so that I am whole and best able to take care of you and your sister.
I know that my greatest desire for your life is that you feel loved and safe. That you always know that you belong with me, in this family and in our home. That our relationship matters and that you matter, so much, to me. That you feel truly seen and heard and completely valued for who you are, and that one day when you enter parenthood — or any heavy transition — you feel so assured in yourself, in your inherent worthiness as a person, that you excel as you define it. That rather than be limited by my flaws, you are raised through my growth, so that wherever my capacity peaks, yours begins.
Tomorrow is a new day, sweet son. Shine your beautiful light.