Monday, March 29, 2010

Weekly Reflection (week 13): Mother

What does kind of mother do I aspire to become?

isn't this apron great? it is from GreatGoods on Check out her other beautiful prints and designs.

I suppose if I were being more precise, this topic is not really a reflection but an ongoing investigation. In order to be the mother I want to be - to define in the first place what that may be - I have to understand how I was mothered.

Relationships between daughters and mothers is a sticky one. Past wounds, hopes, and fears are all too easily and mindlessly gifted to our children. Talking with a group of my women friends, we got onto the topic of mothers' expectations and demands upon daughters and how we were fearful of perpetuating the cycle of inappropriate boundaries. Okay, so that's my spin on it - inappropriate boundaries: placing upon our children emotional demands that are not theirs to shoulder. The work of my adult life has been to create and maintain healthy boundaries. I was making pretty decent progress so the Universe decided to thrown in a challenge: I became a mother.

A magazine article posed the question: when did you first recognize yourself as a mother? I've been pondering this question. Certainly the first time Cowgirl threw up on me and I didn't care - in fact, I was proud of my instincts and catching prowess, not a drop spilled! - I thought to myself "I really am a mother now!" And the feelings of intense protectiveness and the sensation of falling in love with my daughter while we were bonding in China are definitely stand out moments in my life. But the moment I understood myself to be a mother (and maybe parent is more appropriate term, I cannot speak for what my husband has felt) and the moment I began to understand my mother and what she must have gone through, was the first time I had to be apart from Cowgirl.

In the world of adoption, attachment and bonding are The Issues that occupy the new parent. It's all you read about, think about and try to enact in those first moments, days, weeks and months. It is presented as a fragile baby bird that must be kept warm, safe and secure at all costs. So when I had to take an unplanned trip away from home barely a month after birthing our family, I was overwrought.

We had been home from China barely 2 weeks when my father somewhat unexpectedly passed away. Clue number one that things had changed for me was my reaction the morning my mother called me to let me know the ambulance had just taken him to the hospital and that things didn't look good. Cowgirl and I had been getting ready for our weekly trip to the zoo when the call came in. After hanging up the phone, I was pretty shaken but I felt an overwhelming compulsion to spend the morning with my daughter at the zoo. Life goes on, she is my focus and it was a beautiful day. It was a bittersweet outing, more for my benefit than hers.

When time came for the funeral, it was decided I would go alone rather than risk disrupting Cowgirl's acclimation to her new home. I had an early morning flight and left while she was sleeping. I crept into her room to kiss her goodbye and dissolved into tears once I got to my car. I think I actually heard John Denver singing "I'm Leaving on a Jet Plane." I cannot accurately express how I felt other than total wretchedness. My guilt over leaving her consumed any grief I might have felt over the loss of my father.

Of course she survived the separation much better than I did. I had been so mindful of her need for me - to be there to mother her - but in my absence I became aware of my need for her.

What is this need? I am chewing on this idea and what I have so far is this: our children help us to complete a cycle. As I parent, I am coming to face with my past and how I was parented. I am also discovering a new place of understanding and maybe even forgiveness for the mistakes of my parents. I recognize now that my mother did not have the models of healthy relationships or family to draw upon. Her parents divorced when she was young and she was sent to live with her grandparents. Separated from her brothers and her parents, she had to raise herself. Both her parents died before she met my father and so even our relationship - adult child and parent - is an uncharted one for her.

Both of my parents grew up during the depression and their attention was consumed with basic survival. There was little energy or time available for deeper reflection. As the saying goes, they did the best they could with what they had available to them, and that included limited emotional resources.

I have the luxury of time and resources for self reflection. The trust and love my child gives me is healing, but it is not her task to heal me. She is the inspiration and source of my return to wholeness but I must do the work. The gifts my mother lavished upon me include a strong sense of independence, a passion for learning, stubborn determination, a belief in expressing my voice and an unflinching commitment to those I love. Raising my daughter, I am finally learning to use and embrace those gifts. My hope is to pass these on to my daughter free of any strings or unnecessary emotional baggage.

Yes, being loved by my daughter heals some pretty deep wounds from feeling unworthy. In continuing to understand and heal myself, my prayer as a mother is that my daughter will never question her worth.

(The image of my daughter writing on my chest and the issue of self worth were inspired by Tracy Clark's I Am Enough Self Kindness Collaborative and Brené Brown's blog Ordinary Courage.


  1. So beautiful and wise, Lis, I love this post.

  2. This was beautifully stirring... thank you so much for sharing!

  3. Beautiful post! I LOVE that picture of your daughter writing on you. Really really touching...

  4. Hello Lis. I am very moved reading your words and your symbolic imagery.

    I just wanted to share something with you .. I decorate the inside of my little poetry journal to help some feelings. What needs holding ..

    I love your wisdom. I found the same and I also had the same desire not to pass on my wounding.

    So much wisdom here. Thankyou for sharing.
    P.S. I love your aprons.

  5. this is so beautifully thought out and worded. I'm tearing up, you have put my many thoughts and hopes for my daughter into words. Thank you.

  6. This is so beautiful! hank you for sharing and making me meditate even more on my mothering.

  7. Thanks so much for your honesty, Lis. The boundaries issue is one that I've struggled with for many years - my oldest son is 16 now! As a mother what has always been important to me is giving my sons opportunities and encouraging them to find and express themselves. It was only recently that I realised in doing so I was nevertheless passing onto them my own wounds - based on the absence of this sort of encouragement in my own upbringing. Getting that balance right is so difficult and none of us operates in a vacuum. All we can do is try to do our best, and hope we'll be forgiven for the times we messed up!

  8. This is a lovely, honest post, touching.
    I am offering an online e-retreat all about mothering. I'd love for you to check it out- and I am giving away a spot in the group here

  9. this is such a beautiful post lis, and i know it's not the first time i have commented saying that you have written something here that cowgirl will be able to look back upon and read and know and hear and see how wonderful her mother is and how loved she is. that is something special and sacred.

    i also loved how, despite obvious pain, you have chosen to see also the gifts given to you by your mother. this is something i think i have allowed myself to forget, and reading this post has given me some food for thought too, so i thank you for that.