So here I am. It's been at least 14 years since I wrote Missing In Action. My oldest, who launched me into motherhood, the one who kicked off my experience of motherhood by having a brain hemorrhage soon after her birth... that one.... Leighann.... is now 24. Laura is 23 and Daniel is 19. They are kind, thoughtful, funny, and loving young adults, and I feel as though I could brag about them all day long. What is especially wonderful is that I have unique and special relationships with each one of them, and they have such loving and special relationships with each other. Such a great thing to see and feel. The joy I feel when I'm with them is indescribable. If only I could do this feeling justice in words, I would. But I can't. As I've told my three children more than once, they taught me what it means to love. I thought I knew "love" before them, but they added a depth and dimension to love that I had not known before them. I understand love more fully since having them, and I am forever grateful for that. My family is solid. And we made that happen together.
This leads me to think that despite my own issues during the time when they were young, I didn't "ruin them," and I didn't "scar them" as I often hear mothers fearing. But the truth is that I did write this book at a time when I was really struggling. In the book I described it as though a tidal wave hit me, and I was just an average swimmer. I did tumble about underwater as the turbulence of the wave seemed to give me no relief. Often I thought I would drown, but somehow I kept coming up to the surface for air. Eventually the turbulence did give way to much smaller, calmer waves until the water was eventually still, or as still as water can be in an ocean. Missing In Action served as an outlet for my experience of letting go of the life I had before children, the intrapsychic experience churning within me. It was an attempt to process lots of change in what felt like an unfamiliar person; I didn't recognize myself. My pen to paper was an effective way to help me recognize, think through, question, research, and share with others the feelings attached to a phenomenon I described as "losing my sense of self" during a major life transition that I joyfully anticipated. This irony was both confusing and hard on me.
But here we are today. So many years later and yet the memories can easily come flooding back, especially when my kids are around. I enjoy the conversations that revolve around their childhood. Interesting what I remember and what they remember. What I think was stressful and what they think was insignificant; what I think is almost unforgivable, and what they think is hilarious. How can the same event be remembered so differently? Age difference? Brain development? I don't know. But what I do know is that they have many more fond memories than anything else. And what about their memories of me when I was having a rough day, you wonder? Well, they laugh now. In fact, I'm roasted at almost every holiday gathering as they retell stories from the past, making fun of me along the way. This doesn't bother me. In fact, through those stories I learned that they were not as afraid as I thought they might have been. Nor were they traumatized by anything I did, didn't do, say, or didn't say. They loved me. That's what I hear. They needed me. They were happy, and they took all my moods in stride. I was a good parent. I showed up every day despite circumstances and worked hard. And I loved them fiercely.
To paraphrase from my book and reinforce something very important for you to hear: women can be good, loving, and devoted mothers despite their ups and downs, despite their conflicting feelings, despite that gnawing negative self-talk that makes them doubt everything they do and say, despite all the insecurities that can mount over time, mothers are an amazing, hardworking breed, full of good intentions and the willingness to do what it takes to make their children happy, healthy, and safe. In other words, moms show up in spite of the anxiety, overwhelm, depression, fatigue, or angst that occasionally grips them. As powerful as these feelings are, mom stays.
Mothers have an enormous job, and this never really ends as I find myself still thoroughly invested in my children's lives. I want the best for them, and continue to guide them in all the ways I can so that they might achieve what they want in life. This goal has remained the same despite the passage of time. I will continue to do what it takes to ensure their happiness, health, and safety even though I realize much of this is now beyond me and fully in their own hands.
I see my children often and always acknowledge how much motherhood changed me. I may have started out on this journey unsure of myself, uncomfortable in this role, out of sorts, or however else I might describe it, but motherhood did change me. My children changed me. With each smile and every hug I transformed a little bit. Through every question they asked and each lesson I taught, I became more. I didn't know it was happening at the time, of course, because I was too busy to pay attention. And maybe I was too overwhelmed to see that I wasn't so much "missing from my life" as I was "stretching my life." I laugh when I see the paragraph in my book where I talk about The Mother Maid. Although I know I felt that at the time, truth is, I should have talked more about The Mother Made.
We are not born mothers. We become mothers in an instant, whether you think of that instant happening at conception or at the time of birth, whether you gave birth to a child or someone else "delivered" the gift of life, whether you're currently dreaming of having a child or you're waiting for one, whether you're permanently acting as a mom for a child who needs one or serving in that role temporarily....you were not born a mother. We are made from desire, made from obligation or responsibility, made from a billion moments and a billion more feelings. We rise up as much as we fall. We cry with joy and we cry in despair. We fight for what we want, and surrender to love. We are mothers made, delicate and strong, sensitive and unrelenting. No one moment defines us. No one moment can. We are mothers made, one moment at a time. Until the end of time. And it's beautiful, and perfect. You'll see. One day you'll look back.
Just a few reminders from one mom to another as you continue on your journey.
Do your best to stay present in this moment, and this moment only. Challenge yourself to wake every morning knowing the awesome responsibility you have to influence your children and their environment. Embrace the power in knowing your strengths while staying aware of your limitations.
Be mindful of your "self" and your needs. Be mindful to build the boundaries you need around what's important for you to protect; the things that matter to you.
Be mindful that your children are watching and listening to you. Be mindful that you matter a great deal to them, and they need you to be happy. They want you to be happy. Be mindful that before you know it, they will be young adults and you will be looking back in time questioning yourself and the job you did. So don't judge others. Be mindful that you are creating a new life rhythm and you can choose the beat.
Remember that someday you will see life through a different lens than the one you are using now. When that day comes, focus more on what you did better than the moments when you stumbled and had trouble navigating the rough terrain. Chances are they won't remember the way you remember the "bad things." If they do, you can always apologize and comfort yourself that you did your best. Hopefully they are kind enough to forgive, and make fun of you at the annual holiday roasting. Resist the urge to defend yourself. It doesn't matter now. Just take it, with a smile.
Remember that you are going to have bad moments. You're also going to have lots of good moments. And this is what you need to remind yourself of when you're in a bad moment. It's just a bad moment. That's all it is. It means nothing more than that. Every one has bad moments. Every one feels the need to stop and escape their reality from time to time. Every one tends to doubt themselves. And every one wants their children to become young adults that are happy and secure in the knowledge that they were loved. If you are here listening to me right now, you are one of the every one. And I would bet that you and your kids are going to be fine. We all stumble. We all get back up, sometimes with help, and other times, all by ourselves. Its a process. It's a journey. It is to be lived with the willingness to listen, learn, forgive, support, and try. Breathe through moments of doubt and insecurity so that you arrive on the other side looking back and thinking..."I did it, and I did it well ....enough."
Remember there is no right or wrong way, generally speaking. There is no better than or worse than, because every situation is different, every circumstance is different, every person is different and every family is different, given different personalities, strengths, and influences. Don't compare yourself, your kids, your feelings or your situation to what you see or hear elsewhere. That's not fair. So, don't do that to yourself.
Remind yourself that despite difficult moments, despite mistakes you think you made or are making, despite your secret desire to run away, to get alone time, to get your bearings, to feel yourself again and to replenish....you ARE there. You work hard and you are doing your best.
Remind yourself often that life has a natural ebb and flow, and every chapter of your life requires you to adjust to new circumstances, responsibilities, challenges, routines, people, etc. and this process usually takes time; it doesn't happen in an instant. A life transition by nature involves the act of letting go of one thing and grabbing onto something else, something new, often something unfamiliar. The unfamiliar by nature can cause a certain degree of anxiety, especially when our imagination kicks into gear and "anticipates" on its own. The mind is a tricky place and can easily get ahead of us (no pun intended). Perhaps this is the time to breathe deeply, and often.
Accept the possibility that motherhood will exist as some perfect balance between the difficult moments and the awesome, breathtaking, and indescribably joyful moments. Because it really was an extraordinary period of my life, looking at and being with these beautiful beings that I had the privilege to know. Yes, it was hard work, very hard work. But just like my labor and deliveries, each birth included pain, but I walked away with moments I'll never forget and three beautiful babies that helped me become more, experience more, and truly know more about life, certainly more than not having them in my life. This, my friends, is the biggest truth of all.
Motherhood will birth a new you. And you will grow and change, struggle and thrive, rise and fall as you make mistakes and gain insight and perspective. Evolving into something else, every day. You are a Mother Made perfect.
I know what I felt was real. Often as a mom I was overwhelmed. I struggled to transition into this new phase of my life. I will not retract that or apologize for it. Some women will have a more difficult time adjusting to motherhood than other women, and that adjustment depends on a variety of things, as I described in the book. Of course, haters will comment and be cruel. They affect me not at all, and I hope you can also let comments roll off your back if ever you feel "attacked."
Ultimately, my hope is that you will feel similar to how I feel today. My hope is that you will enjoy your ride despite the bumps and gullies. And I hope you never feel alone, because you're not. Reach out and ask for help when you need it. Reach out and talk to others about your feelings. Talk, share. And belong. I think that was perhaps my biggest mistake. I thought I was the only mom with the thoughts and feelings I was having from time to time. I was not. You are not. You are not alone.