what is motherlove

This week over on HappyChild (a fab new Aussie parenting website featuring the work of many of my wonderful writing friends) Carol Duncan wrote a post titled: Motherhood and Guilt – Are They Inseparable?

I love the way Carol thinks about parenting – and indeed life. She doesn’t spin a ‘perfect world’ tale. She digs deep and with a sense of wonder, awe and philosophical enquiry into the authentic experiences we all face. She’s my kinda gal.

Of course Carol’s abiding love for her children sings loud and clear when she writes about them. Just as her enormous heart shows itself when she delves into other issues. Such as this one.

And so – inspired to get back on the blogging horse (yes I’ve been slack. Blame Twitter ;)) I have used Carol’s Mother Guilt post for this post. Because I’m sure these are the two overarching constants of being a parent: Love and Guilt – usually all rolled into one.

And so…

What is (Mother) Love, Anyway?

It has finally dawned on me that I love my kids. I say ‘dawned on me’ but perhaps what I really mean is that I have accepted that this feeling I have for them is really and truly, unequivocally and without a doubt, love. And it has only taken about nine years for me to come to this conclusion.

I’m not sure if my confusion over my feelings for my kids is because of my misconceptions about motherhood or my delusions about love, but ever since I first became pregnant I have heard a whisper from the teeniest of voices asking me if the feelings I had ticked all the right boxes.

It’s not that I didn’t bond with my kids when they were born. Having read heart-breaking accounts of loving women who looked at their newborns and felt nothing but an emotional void, I know that this is not what happened to me.

But I have often wondered if my euphoria at the birth of both of my kids was largely a result of the powerful hormones which surged through me as they were born. How else do I explain the abrupt shift from my zombified, pethidine-induced stupor during my 21 hour labour with Levi, to a state of divine, lucid clarity the minute this smiling boy was born (yes it’s true, my son was literally born with a smile on his face)?

And when I brought my babies home I, like many new parents, spent a ridiculous amount of time gazing in awe, wonder and amazement at the perfect sleeping human beings who had somehow emerged whole from my person. But were these feelings love?

Sure, I felt protective of my babies. The sense of responsibility was enormous and I was the proud new owner a sinister new level of fear about the infinite dangers which surround a child. But was this love?

I do know that I loved being a mother. During my stay-at-home years I walked on air. I treasured having my two little ones with me all the time. I loved the gentle pace of our days and I alternately revelled in and raged against the challenges parenthood presented. I thrilled to the total experience.

Did this mean that I loved my kids? I don’t know. Perhaps I was merely in love with myself in my incarnation as ‘mother’ and, if so, maybe that exalted feeling extended to my kids because they were the beings who inspired it?

Of course I had heard all the usual descriptions of motherlove, sometimes breathlessly recounted by Hollywood celebrities in the trashy magazines I skimmed as I waited at the supermarket checkout. They came thick and fast:

“I finally realise what’s really important”

“My baby has changed my life.”

“I can’t believe the overwhelming love I feel for this little person.”

“Everything falls into perspective.”

Reading these oft-repeated and therefore increasingly banal (as heartfelt and true as they may have been) musings I found that they did not speak to me. Was that how I felt? Intrinsically motherhood had not changed me. My yearnings and neuroses and big questions about life didn’t change – except now I was a mother with yearnings and neuroses and big questions about life.

I knew that my children were my first priority and that my role was to teach, guide and walk with them through life, but then I knew all that before I had kids. Aren’t these things a given?

And so I had to look at my definition of love. I am ashamed to admit that, even at the ripe old age of 31 when I became a mum for the first time, my idea of love was still influenced by Hollywood love of the boy/girl variety. I think I was waiting for the ‘can’t sleep, can’t eat, can’t-stop-thinking-about-you’ juggernaut which had previously defined romantic love for me, to slap me in the face when I had my kids. So when it didn’t, as much as I was loving motherhood and telling my kids at length that I loved them, I still harboured  some sneaky suspicions that this wasn’t the motherlove I had heard about.

I guess what I had forgotten was the other kinds of love I had felt in my life – the abiding love I have for my mum and siblings; the I-love-the-person-I am-when-I’m-with-you love I feel for my best friend; the deeply satisfying and indulgent love I feel for literature and film; the hard-won love I feel for myself. I had forgotten that all of these feelings were, in fact, love. I also hadn’t realised that I felt all of these things for my kids.

So how did my motherlove epiphany come about? Well it is something I had glimpsed before – when I have ducked out to the shops alone and heard a baby cry, when I catch sight of my kids’ photo while I’m at work.

But, it was on my 40th birthday last year when my sister whisked my kids away as a birthday treat so that I could spend Sunday on the beach devouring the weekend’s newspapers from cover to cover that everything fell into place.

As I sat on the sand I was shocked to discover that I felt oddly bereft. Something was missing.

At that exact moment I realised that I really, truly, unequivocally and without a doubt love my kids. It’s an abiding, for-keeps, grateful, thrilling, satisfying, hard-won love but, most of all, it’s a you-complete-me love – Hollywood notwithstanding.

What does your love for your kids feel like?


Filed under parenting

19 responses to “what is motherlove

  1. See? See why I love social networking? Because yet again you share your thoughts with me and I feel like just a little less of a f*ckup!


  2. My mother love looks a lot like yours. I can sit anywhere in the world with my kids and not have to talk. There is no pretention, no need to perform, and no need to prove anything.

    For me the day my children were born was the day I gave them independence. An independence to grow alongside me. We are still growing, the 4 of us, and neither of us has finished yet.

    Thanks for you words, I think I might just have to share this with some other mother friends…

    • Oh wow Pip – I love that idea of growing alongside one another. Love it! That’s really a wonderful way to look at parenting isn’t it? You have inspired me with that idea. Thank you. x

  3. Annie

    Wow Jayne … it is almost like you reached into my heart and pulled out my feelings and dropped them into your blog post. I however could not have written them down so beautifully. xx

  4. Totally gorgeous post.

    To be honest, I’d never thought about it like that. And then I read the above post and I did. And it is all true true true and same same same.

    The feelings in my case, having a first child born with a disability were, I thought, strongly skewed to feelings of responsibility. But as I sit typing with her snoring right next to me and glance over, I know it is so much more than that. When I look in both her brothers eyes and get lost in time (I am so not kidding), it is much much more than that. It is exactly as you describe it – ‘abiding, for-keeps, grateful, thrilling, satisfying, hard-won love’.

    Do they complete me? Perhaps I’ll know for sure in a few years when I sit alone on a beach too, but for now, it sure as hell feels complete.

    Thanks again for a lovely post, and one that leads me to exactly where I am – in love.

    • What a beautiful comment. I love the fact that you didn’t know you thought about it like that until you read it. For a writer there really is no greater compliment. Thank you. xx And your little ones sound amazing.

  5. I love what you’ve written here. My feelings about motherly love are complex and complicated on one level, and so simple on another. The worst part of mother love is knowing that you’re preparing them to leave you and that the best way to show your love is to give them everything they need to do just that. What other love demands that of you?

    • “complex, complicated and simple” – absolutely. And wow – yes. What other love asks you to prepare them to leave? I agree that we are doing exactly that. With luck, though, the love never leaves. 🙂

  6. I had a pretty brutal introduction to motherhood and motherlove, as you know. I’m not sure what it would have been like, and I know I’ll always wonder, but seeing her perfect yet still body emerge from mine, I knew without a shadow of a doubt it was pure and complete love. Seeing her coffin lowered in to the ground absolutely confirmed that. Here was the little being I had nurtured for nine months that I would do absolutely anything for, yet it was already too late. It was like wanting to scratch my skin off, pull all of my hair out, claw at my eyes sort of desperation to mother her and love her but no amount of willing and hoping was going to do any good. Soul-destroying, really.
    So with Angus here, it is a stop-me-in-my-tracks kind of love. It scares me, really. I literally love him so much it scares me. I don’t know if that is normal or if that is because I have seen what it looks like on the other side, but I feel like I am exploding with love for him and I get breathless at the very thought of being away from him.
    I’m still very new at this though. So I thank you for this post as a glimpse of what my days ahead might look like.
    Gorgeous. Your kids are so very lucky.

    • Sally, wow. I so love when you write about Hope and how it feels to love her. And now, your Angus-love, so inextricably combined with your Hope-love. Incredible. Your children are also very very lucky. xxx

  7. Denyse Whelan

    Words are wonders that spread messages from our hearts & minds to others – thank you for such a beautifully written piece on ‘mother love’.
    I became a mother at 21 to a daughter who will be 40 next year. I could not believe the feelings which overwhelmed me as I stared at her during our first morning together. This was “falling in love” but not like I did with my husband, it was a more protective and caring love. She was to be our only child for the next 7 and 1/2 years and she was “the centre” of our world as we’d been led to believe I couldn’t have more kids. When our surprise son was born (31+yrs ago) he had been so longed for & dreamt about but I took days to warm to him…then as I began to successfully breastfeed I fell head over heels.
    In the decades of parenting there have been many times I’d say that I may not have “liked” my kids due to their growing up years & choices made but I never stopped having that intangible feeling of love.
    Now both have children of their own and the love I have for those beautiful grandchildren is on another level again – it’s innocent, without strings & they give back as much they’re given.
    I am a very lucky woman.

    • Oh Denise. Thank you so much for sharing your motherlove story. I really love hearing from parents who are further down the track – to hear of loving but sometimes not liking our kids. And then to hear about the all new love for grandkids. *sigh* what a trip hey?

      Thank you. x

  8. Sue (Just_Leithal)

    I loved reading this. So beautifully expressed.

    I recognised it was love from day one and I have to admit it was a little scary, the intensity of the feeling. After our first was born I remember asking my Mum (who had 7 ) how it would be possible to love more than one child, the feeling was so all encompassing. It still amazes me that indeed we do have the capacity to have this same powerful love for each of our children.

  9. Jayne I completely agree with what you have written here. I, too, knew that I loved my children but it’s times like when I can’t hear their little laughs, or when I’m away for business for a day or two, or like last night when one was ill and I was checking him through the night, that I realise how much I love my boys – in that truly, madly, deeply way.

    I don’t define myself singly as a mother, but it is one of the many roles I play in life, and it has added a new dimension to that life.


  10. Jayne, reading this has brought tears to my eyes, because I understand so completely.

    If I was honest, the times I feel the most love for my boys is when I’m without them (which is hardly ever!) and when I see them in pain or fearful of something or experiencing anxiety or apprehension. Then it’s like my heart has been squeezed – I’ve always referred to it as “the pain” – because it’s like they’ve just grabbed at my heart and it brings emotions to the surface. I’ve also felt that for my parents too. If they have been in pain or threatened by something, I feel “the pain”. Seeing Hubby once with tubes up his nose after a medical procedure I also felt “the pain”. I want to grab them and hold them and never let them go.

    Gorgeous post. xxx

  11. Such a beautifully articulated piece. ‘Motherlove’ is something that most of us struggle to understand, yet alone write about so eloquently.

    I read this for the first time last night. It made me go and look at my sleeping boy whilst I had my sleeping girl curled up in my arms.

    That was a pure ‘Motherlove’ moment for me x

  12. Yep, yep, totally get it. Cannot even describe how much I love my kids, and how much I yearn for them when I’m not with them.

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