Twenty-four years ago this month, I happily told my husband that we were going to be parents. Heidi’s surprise entrance into the world at less than two pounds made me a mother two months earlier than I had planned—during finals of my final semester of college.
Once I walked across that stage to receive my diploma, I didn’t look back.
You see, as a teenager, I told everyone that I would be a lawyer one day. Or a psychologist. Or a teacher. I never told anyone that I’d be a mother. Yeah, I thought I’d be a mom, but I always assumed that my mothering would somehow fall into the cracks left from a busy career in the public eye, where I would change the world.
Never did I ever think that my whole world would revolve around six brown-haired, brown-eyed, beautiful children, one angel baby watching over us—and one blondie with blue eyes thrown in as a bonus at the end.
Never did I ever imagine how incredible my life as their mother would be—how they would teach me and change me.
One by one, these little people entered my life, and one by one, I learned how to mother them, mold them, and love them. I decided that it would be my life’s mission to stay home with them as only I could.
It’s so easy to lose focus and perspective while you’re deep in the trenches of full-time mothering. There’s the first diaper blowout and the first projectile vomiting. There’s endless hours nursing babies and repeated readings of Are You My Mother? There’s worry over classroom placement and schoolyard bullies and broken hearts. There’s t-ball and soccer and piano and church and chores and ____________________. Dirty faces and dirty clothes. Forgotten lunches and endangered species projects. Spelling words and “naughty” words. Sleepless nights with feverish bodies snuggled close and sleepless nights with hormonal bodies late for curfew.
You worry that your kid is disliked, or that you’re too fat or that you don’t even know who you are anymore. You worry that you’re not reading to them enough or you’re not helping with homework enough (or am I helping too much?). You worry that they missed that assignment at school or that they lost that classroom election. You worry that you yelled at them today, that they didn’t practice the piano today, and that you didn’t bathe them before bed.
This list is all-too real, isn’t it?
I have a secret to tell you.
As important as all of these things are each day, failing at one or more of them does not make you a failure as a mother.
Magazines, mothers-in-law, and well-meaning friends will tell you that you should do things a certain way to be a good mother. I read the magazines. I listened to all the advice, but in the end, I learned a valuable lesson. I followed my heart. I made mistakes (some small, some really big that I wish I could go back and change), and in that process, I learned what was right for me and my children. No one has ever mothered my children, and no one can do it better than I can, mistakes and all.
I learned that it was better to hold the sobbing child than try to fix the grievance. I learned that I should leave a sink full of dirty dishes until the assigned child came home from play, instead if doing them myself. I learned that making our house a home wasn’t all about the latest paint colors and latest design trends. I learned that calls from the principal aren’t necessarily the end of the world. I learned that teaching hard work is invaluable, even in today’s society. I learned that my relationship with my child is crucial when they struggle in school. I learned that, as painful as it is to admit it, mothers set the tone for the home, and my attitude toward church attendance, school work, friendships, and failures weighed more heavily on my children’s perceptions than anyone else’s ever could.
Day by day and year by year, I learned how to mother. I learned when to push and when to step back. I learned when to be Mama Bear and when to fade into the background.
It wasn’t all rainbows and picnics. I made some huge mistakes—times where I cried myself to sleep with regret. At those times, I knew I had ruined my children forever. How could they ever rebound from my mistakes? Despite all of that, I’ve learned that mothering isn’t about the guilt and the mistakes. It’s about growth—measured not on a doorframe in the hallway, but in the training and experiences that mold character over months and years and decades. It’s about home—creating a place where they always feel safe and loved and accepted, no matter what is going on in the world just outside your door.
I have another secret to tell you.
Mothers aren’t raising children. A child, at the moment it arrives, creates a mother. And mothers?
Mothers are raising adults.
There is this dirty secret no one tells you as you leave the hospital with your first little bundle of delicious-smelling baby in your arms: Kids grow up and become adults. And they leave home.
No matter how many times you read Love You Forever, you can never be fully prepared for the day that your firstborn (and one day, your lastborn) packs up their stuff and all of your shared memories and after a quick hug, heads out that door to adulthood—laden with the thrill of independence and not a backward glance at your tearstained face and aching heart.
As much as it hurts and as much as you cry and as much as you long for just one more football game or one more concert or one more bike ride, you know that this is the day you’ve labored eighteen or so years to reach.
My second son graduated from high school in May, and my two oldest children are married now, raising families of their own. It doesn’t get easier to see them fly, but I consider my title as their mother my most precious. I wouldn’t trade a single day at home for any six-figure salary or published book or corner office.
The most important, precious, priceless gift a mother gives her children is the selfless sacrifice—day in and day out—of her energy and her time, creating her greatest masterpieces. Now that I’m starting the next phase of mothering, I glimpse in my adult children lessons I taught my adult children when they were young. I see them struggling with the same issues, and I’m proud of the adults they’ve become. There is inexplicable delight in watching your beloved children transform into parents. Now I get to learn how to parent in-laws and spoil grandchildren, and the gift that I gave is coming full circle in the next generation of our family, and it is joyous and wonderful all over again.
For the first time in twenty-four years, I will find myself alone during the school day when school resumes in August. My baby will be in kindergarten, and I still can’t wrap my brain around the idea that . . . I’m done with that first phase of motherhood. I’ve gone back to school to get my master’s degree in education, and although I don’t know exactly where this will take me, I’m excited to find out.
The most valuable advice I could give young moms is this—don’t waste energy wishing for these days to be over, or wishing you were somewhere else doing something “more.” As demanding as your days are, they won’t last forever. Stop and smell their handpicked flowers. Stop and see that puppy in the pet store. Stop and push that swing. Stop and read and snuggle and pray and kiss and hug. You’ll be glad you did.
As I look back along that long road through the trenches of motherhood, I know I made the right decision to stay home with them. I know that I couldn’t have been happier doing anything else, and I would do it again. And again. And again. The most profound truth I learned along the way is this: I didn’t give up myself for them. I became my true self through loving and mothering them.