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.
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?