It’s simultaneously your greatest joy and your worst pain.
It’s your most blissful moment and your hottest tears.
It’s soul-swelling satisfaction and heart-rending defeat.
When my kids were little, I adored hearing all of the experts and TV show hosts and even real-life commentators inform me that my work as a mother was The Highest Calling. It became fuel for my parenting fire. During the croup and the chickenpox, the breastfeeding and the bottle-cleaning, the playroom messes and potty training, that Calling sustained me. I could do this. I had to do this. It was The Thing I was born to do.
Now that my kids are older, I’ve begun to wonder if this lens through which we view motherhood is actually so helpful. Let’s start with the fact that, if motherhood isn’t part of your life, whether by choice or by circumstance, this Calling way of thinking pushes you to the side. It whispers that you don’t count. It builds a narrative in which you have already missed out on the best job, so you might as well just go ahead and settle for the leftovers. It pushes you out into the margins.
If you ARE a mother, there are the days when you’ve yelled at the children, wanted to jump into the minivan and drive away, lost your ever-loving mind over the fact that YOUR CABINETS WILL NEVER EVER EVER BE ORGANIZED FOR MORE THAN 6.2 MILLISECONDS….and all before 11:30 a.m. On these days, if you’ve already screwed up what is the Greatest Job On The Planet, it’s pretty dang tricky to bounce back from that perceived failure. You’ll spend the rest of the day swinging back and forth between 1. Berating yourself for yelling at your special snowflakes and 2. Convincing yourself that it’s ok, that all mothers make mistakes. And then it’s finally The Blessed and Hallowed Hour of Bedtime and you watch the slobber-streaked, chubby-cheeked faces of your little ones, and you’re sure that they’re dreaming of a house where the mama is sweet and zen-like and chants affirmations upon her cherubs’ heads and reads books over and over again even if they have TOO MANY WORDS, and you sigh and tell yourself you’ll do better tomorrow. Until you don’t.
If you are a mother and your kids are teenagers, the talks seem huge-r and the arguments tougher and the issues darker and the pain seems to grow faster than the kids do. Your challenges and theirs are too overwhelming, too big, too dangerous. As they grow into their own selves, their interests are things that confuse and befuddle you and you try your best to keep up, but you’re out of breath and exhausted. And so bedtime now means that you fall asleep way before they do, but you still wonder, as you hug them goodnight, if you can do better, if you can still connect with them. Surely you must. This is your Calling. You can’t fail at THIS.
Here’s the thing: I believe in motherhood. I’ve built my decisions around it, sacrificed for it, given it all of my body and heart and energy. I believe, when I die, that raising my kids will still be a great part of the legacy I want to leave behind. I believe that there is inexpressible value in raising people to be good citizens, chasers of Truth, lovers of serving this planet and its people.
But in the midst of my believing, I have to leave room:
Room for grace, for myself and for other mothers.
Room for all women: The wonderful, wise, witty women who really don’t want to be parents, but who can and should be spiritual mothers to my children and yours, even if they have nothing to do with their actual births.
Room for failure and, in fact, for redefining failure. Because even if I have followed my heart and my gut and wise counsel from those I trust, my kids still will disappoint. They will still mess up, in big and in small ways. They will choose their own paths like the independent souls I say I want them to be. This does not mean I have not fulfilled my motherhood calling: In actuality, it means I have.
Room for reminding myself that the world doesn’t need a perfect mother to put on a pedestal. It just needs a mother who falls and fails and finds her way, who kicks the stupid pedestal over and gets down in the trenches with her people. Because that’s where they need us mothers, whether our trenches look like piles of Legos and dirty socks or like Internet safety and first heartbreaks.
See you in the trenches, mothers of all kinds. Bring your heart, bring your sense of humor, bring your forgiveness for yourself and for others, and bring your coffee. We’re here for the long haul and, best of all, we’re here together. And that, friends, is our calling.