Dear Other Mothers:
Thank you. You have been the cause of so much learning and love. You have taught me how to mother these bundles of happiness and mischief when I felt utterly lost. I watched you; sometimes you were my friends, keeping a soft heart for your babies when they launched a full-scale vocal attack on any available boundary. Sometimes you were a stranger, playing in the park with your toddler, taking such obvious delight in her. I watched you feed your new baby, the way the world melted away for you, the way you couldn’t tear your eyes off him.
I watched all this mothering and felt my own heart grow bigger.
It can be lonely, meeting the needs of small people who sometimes seem to be in training for a dictatorship. The lack of sleep, the way the sun arrives too soon and the night seems interminable. I would think of all those other mothers waking with their babies. I would think of the rivers of love we pour into these new souls who are somehow, wonderfully and terrifyingly in our care. How many of us there are in the darkness, whispering lullabies and praying for tiny eyelids to flutter and close. How many of us are watching the children we love with a mixture of trust and fear. How we do ever know we’re doing the right thing? How can we possibly get this right when all the odds are stacked against us? And yet, I would watch other mothers and think, “They’re doing this perfectly, look at the love, look at that trust, that’s all we need for our children.” And the weight I carried on my shoulders would lift.
We reach out for each other, we tell our secrets (“I don’t know what to do; do I do more? Do I do less?”) and gradually we find we all have the same secrets. Are we doing OK? Are our children happy and safe? Are we good mothers? When we reassure each other in some ways we’re reassuring ourselves. Yes, this is hard. Yes, you will make mistakes. Yes, it will all be OK.
We are never alone; there is always another mother who is feeling the same as you. A friend who is helping her five-year old with big emotions. A new mother who could never have known how hard those early weeks can be. Another, across the oceans, a mother watching her children in the darkness, hoping for a better day, a day containing more patience or just a few hours of sleep. We have losses too, we remember the babies who left too early, the ones we were promised and the ones we wait for still. Wherever we are, our secrets and fears are the same.
And so I watch; I see another mother’s eyes close in frustration at yet another question from her daughter, but I also see her hand reach out to offer reassurance. She is there, she is present with her child, even through the exasperation. I see this exchange and I remember it. When I need to I find it easier to answer my own children’s calls, to meet their needs with grace.
We are not only mothering our children, we are mothering each other.
We are careful with each other’s hearts, we offer support and advice. We show up with food and understanding. We love each other’s children, we say, “What do you need?” and, “How can I help?” I see other mother’s sharing so many things—food, baby wipes, information; but above all, we share each other’s lives. We are all in this together, and we are all learning. So thank you, for sharing your hearts with me, and for making me a better mother.
Sometimes, the best thing for a mother is another one.