When my friends without kids tell me they're "so busy," I have to laugh
quietly to myself. Juggling two children, two mortgages, and two jobs, I
have to run fast just to stand still. It all often seems like an
incredible grind. I drop into bed exhausted, and then rev up the engines
yet again when the alarm goes off in the morning. I feel a growing need
for some sense of perspective. Otherwise, what's the point? No doubt, I
love my children SO MUCH. But what IS the point? Just a grind until
they're launched themselves? And then when my daughter becomes a mom
herself, she just gets to go through it all over again?
You ask some very powerful questions, and in response, we'd like to
offer this short piece from our book, Mother Nurture.
[Adapted from Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in Body, Mind,
and Intimate Relationships, by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, Lac.,
Ricki Pollycove, M.D. Copyright © 2002. Reprinted by arrangement with
Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Putnam Inc.]
Motherhood is a long journey, a marathon, not a sprint.
It begins before your first child is born: that incredible moment when
you know you've conceived a new being, the long pregnancy, fixing up the
baby's room, finally the birth itself, and then the little breathing
bundle, the life delivered into your arms. The details differ a bit if
you've adopted a child, but the essentials are the same: anticipation,
nervousness, and an extraordinary love.
Some parts are a blur and others a long slow grind. Feeding, diapers,
long nights with the baby, the first steps, the first words, the first
everything. Tantrums, story time, bouncing a ball, wiping a chin, high
chairs, tiny chairs, wiping crayons off chairs. Day care, nursery
school, the first day of first grade, watching that sturdy back trudge
down the hall to class.
Camps, Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, bullies, buddies, soccer games, Little
League, balls caught, dropped, kicked, and lost. Chores, bedtimes,
discipline, angry words and loving forgiveness.
The grades tick by, good teachers and bad, science fairs and spelling
lists, too much homework or not enough, that great moment when your
child knows the answer to a question and you don't.
Somewhere in there your youngest turns eight or ten and you think, It's
half over, where has the time gone? Middle school, high school, pimples
and makeup and dating and fingernails chewed after midnight until you
hear a step at the door. Strange music and stranger friends, coltish and
gawky, solemn and wise. All the while, the birthdays have ticked by,
some with numbers that echo: one, two, six, ten, thirteen, sixteen. Then
the eighteenth: what now?
The marathon doesn't end there, though it becomes more meandering and
less consuming. Loans that are really gifts, advice that is rejected
loudly and followed quietly, graduations, postcards from Mexico or Maui,
the bittersweet joy of watching your child walk down a wedding aisle, a
downpayment with your name on it. If your children have kids, your
journey takes on a second sort of mothering.
You age and your children don't seem to. There comes that time when the
trajectory of your life is clearly falling back to earth as your
children's ascends. You drift into old age and there is a subtle shift
of care and power. And then the final moments come, your veined and aged
hands in the strong ones of your children, squeezing, a kiss, a final
blessing, a farewell, an ending to the path you walked as a mother, and
the beginning of a mysterious new one.
It's a long, long road. You have to pace yourself down it, not racing
like it's a hundred-yard dash. You have to set aside time to catch your
breath - and admire the view! You need good companions, like a loving
and supportive partner, and the company of other mothers. You need to
keep replenishing yourself with good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and
enjoyable activities. You need realistic expectations for yourself. And
faith and hope that the months and years ahead will give you more
chances to get things right.
If you regarded motherhood as a long marathon, spanning twenty years or
more, how might you shift the demands you place on yourself? How might
you assert yourself to get more help from others? How might you take
better care of your body? Or better nourish your inner being? Or simply
be nicer to yourself?
When you start taking the long view about the incredible and profound
matter of bearing and rearing children, it starts to make more sense,
the daily hassles are less irritating, you're likely to take better care
of yourself - and the journey becomes less stressful, more meaningful,
and more rewarding!
(Rick Hanson is a clinical psychologist,
Jan Hanson is an acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a
daughter and son, ages 12 and 14. With Ricki Pollycove, M.D., they
are the authors of Mother Nurture: A Mother's Guide to Health in
Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships, published by Penguin. You
can see their website at www.nurturemom.com or email them with
questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org; unfortunately, a
personal reply may not always be possible.)