I have always found motherhood to be a mix of joys and challenges. I could gaze at any one of my newborn babies for hours, marveling at their perfection, and I have been out of my mind with frustration trying to deal with the meltdown of one child, while being hammered with the demands or needs of other children at the same time. If gold is refined by fire, then so are mothers.
But as I have grown in motherhood, my vocation has penetrated and transformed me on a deeper level yet. Most of my life, my image of a loving family has been something rather Pinterest-y – a warm, tasteful home, smiling, beautiful parents, happy children. And my image of myself as a successful mom has been one of smiling pride as I watch my children flourish and do well, maybe even win an award or honor here and there. Of course, that image includes children who meet society’s expectations for success in terms of the way they look, think, and behave.
It is easy to say that you will love your children no matter what when your kids are young, and that you won’t compare them to their peers in their achievements. (I for one, honestly never cared who talked or walked first). But as my kids have gotten older, I have been amazed at just how hard these things have become. My perfect case-in-point is that when my two oldest children were young, they were bright and ready for school. In their earliest years, it seemed like they always won some nice award at the end-of-the-year school ceremony. I didn’t think I overly cared. In fact, I hardly felt like I cared much at all, that is until the first year when neither of them won anything. I was a little horrified to discover that I cared A LOT that they didn’t win. Of course, I didn’t run around making a scene, and I am sure I didn’t say a word to anyone else, but I discovered that it was a lot easier to “not care” what award my kid won as long as he was winning a top award! Ugh, kind of embarrassing.
I wish I could say that was the one and only time I have wrestled with disappointment when I have not been able to puff up with pride at my child’s accomplishments, looks, or charm, but not so. In fact, many times I asked myself in frustration, “Why do I care so much?” One day I was asking myself that exact question while I was looking in disappointment at my son’s very average grades. I felt a familiar frustration that he didn’t study more or try harder to be more competitive in his class. In asking myself why I cared so much, I answered, “It’s for his own good.” But I thought about it more and realized that unlike a lot of his peers, my son didn’t express angst over his workload and/or grades. Would he benefit from additional pressure in those areas? He goes to a competitive school, and so his “average” grades were still strong enough for him to get into a good college, maybe even with some scholarship money. I thought about my question again and about how awesome it would feel for me to watch my son graduate with high honors. I realized that I wanted those high grades for me. I wanted the pride of being the mom of the boy at the top of the heap. I can honestly say that when I was able to see and to admit the true origin of why my son’s grades bothered me, the sting of the report card left. Instead, I was thankful for the moment of interior growth I’d just had and for a healthy, balanced, and smart son.
I’ve had many chances since then to take that reflection further and put it into action. I have become convinced that in the moments of asking myself, “What is my motive? Am I seeking my own fulfillment or the good of my child?” I am undergoing a precious transformation via motherhood – I am learning what it really means to love. I have long heard that the Trinity exists in a continual outpouring of love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, love is about giving. A mother’s love is not measured by the pride she feels at the accomplishments of her children. It is measured by the degree to which she is working for the good for her child, especially when that child is not currently bringing her pride or joy.
I am not a perfect mother, but the more I think like this, the more I am able to distinguish between my own desires to feel proud and satisfied by my children, and what it means to be their mom. That is, to be at their back, patiently guiding, correcting, and advocating for them. In doing so, I’m becoming less the mom who rants and throws up my hands in despair, and more the mom who stands her ground and knows her mission. This is not a mom who needs her kids for her well-being or validation. I want a relationship with my children that brings me joy, but it’s been a huge revolution for me to shift from that as focus, to something that is almost irrelevant, compared to my job of helping my children thrive no matter how much joy they are bringing me at any given moment.
The more I see my vocation in these terms, the more I am convicted that I am learning what it really means to be a mom. This conviction is stronger and deeper than the fleeting, transitory highs I used to crave and by which I gauged my children and myself. I am learning that the origin of love is not in feelings, but in giving, and thus, my story of motherhood is a true love story.