As A Mother Grows

This post was originally written in 2012. I have made updates and substantial changes that reflect my own family’s growth, as well as changes in my own experiences and outlook.

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In March of 2011, the arrival of a beautiful little girl, daughter of my youngest son and his wife, made me a grandmother for the first time. A little over a year later we welcomed her younger brother, and a few years after that, another little brother.

About the time of the youngest grandson’s birth my middle son introduced us to his future wife, and our soon to be new grandson, who was five when we met him first. A few years after that we welcomed our now youngest grandson into the family.

Along the way, my oldest son met and married a young lady with three more children who became ours to love and enjoy. So, for those who’ve lost count, we now have eight grandchildren.

We adults tend to reflect on this day about our older moms, perhaps even mothers or grandmothers gone from us now, a picture specific to our grown selves, a mature and experienced mother we see in the now moment. I have been thinking of motherhood, the stages of it, for some time now, reflecting on the changes that happened to me as I had each child, as our family grew up, as they left the nest and grandchildren came along, as I watch my daughters in law and sons with their own families, the mothers who struggle so hard with the demands only a young family faces.

So, I would like to write about the stages of motherhood, and perhaps, for the sake of coherence and the story, I will make assumptions about families that may not match everyone’s experience. That does not mean I value your experience less. Families come in a lot of shapes and sizes these days, from foster families, step children, and those made up of “honorary” mom or grandmother who might have stepped into the role to help  a child in need.

With the first baby comes overwhelming love, awe, fear, joy, and the gushing happiness specific to motherhood. You have had 9 long months to prepare for this precious little miracle God is entrusting to you, and yet you are not ready, you can never really be prepared. How can you be prepared for that first embrace, the soft, sweet skin, the way your heart just stops at the first cry? How can you anticipate  the perfection of the unfocused stare of your baby? The completion of your family, the way your love for your husband, and his for you, is multiplied and increased, the way that three people have become a little universe of love? How can you possibly imagine the utter weariness of night upon night without sleep? The fear at the first cough or hiccup? The inner warrior woman you never knew existed who is ready to leap into action at any threat to that child? The hopes, the dreams, the plans you and your husband share as you hold that little part of you?

And so a family grows, and so does a mother. She learns that a cry is not a notice of imminent harm to her child, that a sneeze does not require a call to the doctor, that she can indeed care for a family, go to work, pick up the laundry, and live with spots on her clothes, all on four hours of sleep on a good day. Perhaps a year or two down the road, she is blessed with another child, and the cycle of life and love continues.

The little family again finds that love’s multiplicative power is infinite. The second and third children arrive with a little less fear, but just as much love. This time, Mom knows what she is in for, and she knows that she also has this first little one to care for, as well as a new baby. Now she has gained confidence, emotionally, and physically.mother and kids clip art She is able to carry a toddler in one arm and a baby in the other, with a diaper bag, purse, and a bag of groceries, all while using a foot to block the dog and open the door. Home life has a routine, and things are not perfect, but very good…and that is fine. Each additional child is a perfect blessing, adding much to the family, each special and needed and loved.

The school years start, and the real juggle begins. School clothes, homework, lunches, field trips, friends, hurt feelings, report cards. Mom learns to be a tutor, a defender, a referee, and an advocate. She must stand strong, proud and sometimes alone, in defense of what is right, which often differs from what is wanted. All of these demands are like Mom boot camp. Hopefully, they have partially prepared her for the teen age years. Nothing short of direct intervention by God could truly prepare a mother for those years, never mind that she herself actually once was a teenager, in a time and land far, far away.

And so, with the years and experiences, the mother has grown, matured, become someone who is so strong, so powerful, she can withstand the whine of a young lady who is sure she is the only one who doesn’t have a snakeskin belly ring, and the indignant glare of the young man who doesn’t get to take the family car out on Saturday night. She sleeps lightly, if at all, when her children are out, knowing the dangers that await them, the terrible choices she can prepare them for, but never make for them. She rejoices at their triumphs, and agonizes at their pain. She knows she must let them pull away, make mistakes, fall and hurt themselves, just as they did when they took their first steps. But, oh, how that hurts.

Her fierce and abiding love has been tempered, strengthened, deepened and that depth is endless, that strength a force that stands in the face of every challenge, hurt, struggle, and threat.

Children, despite all the odds, grow up and leave the nest. Out they go into a world mom can’t control or fix for them, and her toughest, hardest times come along with the joy and the pride.

Perhaps one fine day, she sits at the front of the church with tears in her eyes as her child makes the vows that will found a new family. This child of hers is now grown, and she thought she would sigh in relief at the easing of responsibility, the freedom she now has. But she has learned a new lesson, a very hard lesson getting to this point. Her sons and daughters must make their own way in a sometimes cruel world, and she knows that now, the less she does for them, the stronger they are. She must let them take the hard knocks, the heartbreak, possibly even the despair. To interfere would be to weaken them, and that she must not do. She must learn when she is truly needed, as a mother will always be needed, and when she can only pray, and hope, and encourage, and love…always love.

Then comes the day when she hears the most magical words in all of the world. “Mom, we’re going to have a baby.” Or perhaps, as in our family, wonderful new children to love come along with their mothers who marry into the family. More children to love, children you weren’t able to hold as a babe. Love has brought more wonderful young people into your family. And the cycle starts again, for a new mother, and an older mother. One who must learn to nurture and care, one to hold close her babies, and one to let go her grown children and love with looser bonds, those of a doting grandmother. Mistakes are made by every mother, in every cycle of life, but still, those kids manage to grow and thrive and be wonderful and awesome, and the family is bound together, partly, strongly, eternally, by the sacrifice and joy of a mother’s love.

The world turns, the seasons change, the children grow up. A new generation is born, and the same responsibilities must be met. One thing helps hold it all together,  one thing makes it all possible. Love. It takes a whole lot more than love to raise a family, but it all starts there. Love is the essential spark that starts the fire. Love is the foundation, and it never gets used up, or broken, or tarnished. Love shines brightly with an eternal light. It crosses generations, and it breaches the gap between this world and the next. For each of us who have lost our mother, our grandmother, or a beloved mother in law have seen that light, felt the warmth of that love long after the loved one is gone.

For the gifts of my own eight grandchildren my heart swells with love and joy, pride and happiness, and especially gratitude. My prayers will be with you all of your lives, bound together with you through the Communion of Saints. May you know the love of God that keeps you all of your lives.

It’s awesome to be a grandmother, but to my surprise, a little more difficult than anticipated.  Sure, I’m leaving to my kids the middle of the night feedings, the real juggling of school, dance classes and wrestling or football practice, doctor visits,  work, shopping, church, and all the other many demands, but still…

Age and experience have left me with a heart full of hope, and some trepidation, as I watch my grandchildren grow up in this fast spinning world. It seems to me that when I was a child, and even later as my kids grew up, there was time to just be a kid. Time to play dodge ball and jump rope, time to ride our bikes and play barefoot in the warm summer dirt and grass until the sun set and moms throughout the neighborhood insistently called from porches as light faded and bath water filled the tubs.

The world now seems less about play and childhood and more about scheduling and expectations. So, I would like to say to our young mothers, don’t let that happen. Remember, you are in control here, take the time that will never come back and be sure that your kids get to be kids and your family gets to savor this time, seize moments of quiet and peace and belonging to each other without the jangle and intrusion of the modern world. Don’t wait for vacation or breaks or special occasions. Do it now. Take a moment or two, and just enjoy each other and today.

In a world demanding accomplishments and measurements, I am telling you that childhood and playing matter just as much. Hugs and giggles and snuggling on lazy Saturday mornings matter just as much. Let your kids stomp through mud puddles. Let them catch toads and worms and lightning bugs and peek at the eggs in a bird’s nest. Let them stay up late on a school night to talk to you about their world and their hurts and hopes every so often, at times they know you created just for them. Don’t lose spontaneity and creativity and just plain fun for the crossing off of accomplishments.

The Treehouse wishes all of our mothers a happy and blessed day. We hope you are enjoying the company of family and friends, and that you will perhaps take a moment and share a special memory or two of a beloved woman in your life, or tell a tale or two about your own children.

I would also like to wish my own daughters in law a Happy Mothers Day. You are the best mothers in the world and I am so grateful and blessed that my grandchildren have you for their mother. I hope your day is filled with love and hugs and messy kisses.

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