Author’s Note: This writing was inspired by a patient interaction I had recently, and I felt it reflected a larger issue in the shifting cultural construct of what it means to be feminine and mothering in the modern world.
She spoke to me curiously, with longing and tears in her eyes. She wishfully had wanted a baby for years.
She and her husband had tried to conceive naturally, had undergone fertility treatment, had been tracking cycles and temperatures and ovulation opportunities for many moons. She had been injecting hormones for months and had unsuccessfully attempted IVF: she had miscarried. She was unable to conceive again thus far and she was grieving. At this point, she felt she was convincing herself that her loss was not even all that important anymore; she may as well get used to the idea of not having a baby of her own. Maybe she’ll adopt, she said. Or get a puppy.
She asked me, in the darkest hour of her depression, “do you have kids?”
Me: “Yes. I have 3.”
Her: “Can I ask you something?”
Me: “Of course.”
Her: “Do you think your children are your purpose for living?”
Like a downpour of silence, the room was suddenly shushed by her inquiry. She had stumped me. I could see the desperation in her eyes, the emptiness within her, the sense that I may be able to tell her something meaningful and magnificent about motherhood.
I didn’t know how to tell her that it wouldn’t be everything.
I didn’t know how to look into her hopeful eyes and confess that, yes, she might discover the strongest bond of love that she’s ever felt in her human life when she births her baby, but that love still wouldn’t be enough to fulfill her. That love still wouldn’t be enough to help her fully love herself. If anything, she would only have more work to do to heal her own heart, because now there would be babies depending on that heart to be stable, to be generous, to be capable of forgiveness.
Instead, I thoughtfully told her that six days out of seven, I would like to say yes to that question; that I live for my children. Yet, on that seventh day, there is always an undeniable urge to be something other than “Mom.” There is a force that creeps up through the woodwork of a woman’s heart; it seeps from her soul through her sinews and it screams that she is meant to do more, to be more. Quite honestly, that urge is there daily, but the duties and demands of mothering force a necessary suppression and self-sacrificing that hides behind the smile of every mother. If you lean in closely, you can hear her spirit whisper: “I long to be free.”
Now, is every dedicated mother committed to raising her lovable babies into intelligent children and respectful adolescents and then wise and gracious adults with her whole heart? Yes! Absolutely, yes!
But is that her whole life’s purpose?
I sure hope not.
You see, because these children—they leave. They grow and they expand and they want things that don’t include their mothers and we want them to want things and we want them to explore and to travel and to test themselves. We want them to walk the line of uncertainty and live to tell about it and all the strength they found in their failures and all the reverie that unfolds from accomplishment and on and on. Yes, please, yes! Have that. Do that. Live that, dear children.
But, we cannot simply stand there waiting for them to return.
To the mother who longs for a baby, do not expect that this mothering journey will fulfill your life’s purpose. Do not anticipate a sense of completion and wholeness upon birthing a baby. If anything, first feel that completeness within you and then let that baby catapult you into your true identity. Allow that baby to fill you with courage and clarity about your gifts and all of the wonderful ways you will share them. That baby will be your call to responsibility for living a life of authenticity. That baby will hold you accountable for showing them that each individual has a birthright to be here and to take up space, even the mothers.
Especially the mothers.
It is the mothers who will show these children that they can be something.
In the current climate of evolving feminine archetypes and the fight for equality and a fiery election that suggests to women that they can hold power and offices and attention of the masses because they have worked and fought and negotiated and struggled to be recognized amongst a dominant populous of men—yes, it is every mother’s duty to show her children that she can be someone in the world; a woman of wisdom, a woman of service, and a woman of agency. She can also be a dedicated, loving mother.
To answer this woman’s question: no, I do not think my children are my purpose for living.
I would never want to put that kind of burden on them. I would never want to risk pressuring them with the perceived expectation of behavioral standards or worldly achievement because I martyred away my adulthood in fulfilling their every demand for coupled socks and triangle sliced sandwiches and homework meltdowns that (thankfully!) end in hugs.
Yes, those moments are meaningful, but now, more than ever, these children need to see a mother who is alive and thriving and involved and passionate and contributing and using her talents to inspire something in the world…so that they know that they can do this, too.
My children are not my purpose for living, but they have brought tremendous purpose to my life; not because I want to give them everything, but because I want to be everything I can for them. I want them to witness that it’s possible, so that they can aspire to become their own authentic version of themselves and feel an unshakeable sense of self worth and value.
Now, this may not fit every mother’s view of what it means to mother well, yet I can say with confidence that every mother I have ever spoken to dreams of something of her own and it is vital that she have that. It is vital that she knows she is worth it, and that she have the time and the space to ensure that her own voice and her own imprint on this gorgeous and temporary life be known. A baby can bring a woman close to this feeling, to this inner knowing, but she will still have to do the deeper work of showing up in her life.
And she will still have to learn to love and accept herself.
May every woman be gifted the chance to show her young how fearless and infinite she is. May her children learn to access their own limitless potential through her legacy. May she bring purpose to her own life and may that fuel them to bring purpose to theirs.
Author: Melanie Green
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Catherine Monkman