parents

As your kids grow, motherhood is a continual process of letting go.

Wise words, from a mother who knows.

When I look back on it now, I realise that giving birth was an experience of great rapture and great rupture. As each of my babies’ umbilical chords were cut I felt a pulse within my womb and a rip in my swollen heart. All the places I’d torn were soon stitched up by the doctor and by my own all-consuming adoration of my children. Yet I feel now that these fissures were the first of many.

The weight of our children on our womb is replaced by a weight on our hearts that only gets heavier. Yet as our kids imprint deeper upon our being, they travel further and further away from us.

Hence, parenting is a continual process of letting go.

I find this letting go liberating and joyful, yet also confronting and wrenching. It swings to extremes because it’s never gradual and smooth. Separation comes in abrupt seismic shifts like the contractions that push our babies out in the first place; they are expected but without warning; painful in ways we can never imagine.

The first post-birth contraction took place a week after I became a mother. Twelve and a half years ago I took a walk to the beach at the end of my street. I felt like an astronaut taking my first steps on the moon, my body still felt tethered to the ship of home where my baby lay in her father’s arms. It was the first time I’d left my child for more than a wee or a shower. I slept with her, carried her in a sling, sat with her and rushed back from making a cup of tea so I wouldn’t miss a moment of tummy time. As my feet wedged into the alien sand it struck me I’d been colonised and I was utterly enslaved to my invader.

Two years after her birth my son came along. He stayed in a sling for a year, his little face always close, his big brown eyes always searching and connecting with mine, his puffs of breath on my neck He was too clingy but I still loved his tether to me. There were smaller contractions that followed – the first evenings out without them, first days back at work and the first overnight away from them when I had my first girls’ weekend away.

But the first big seismic shift – for both children – was their first day in childcare. My daughter at a loving, hippy, trippy Steiner womb-like establishment, my son at occasional care. Both times I skipped down the road after drop off but felt a bungee-chord tug my mind back to them all day long. It felt like a significant stretch of our connection, as did their enrolment at preschool. I let go willingly, thrillingly and felt great pride and a great lump in my throat as they made friends in the sandpit and presented their artworks of great promise at the end of the day.

Starting school was a larger rip in the fabric of parenting. After dropping my first child and watching her shoulder the giant bag and bite her lip as she walked into a classroom, I turned towards the gate in tears. I was mourning the fact I would no longer be her greatest influence nor love (she instantly worshipped her pretty blonde teacher).

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I mourned giving her over to a society that would judge her, rank her, measure her and shape her thinking away from her fantasy life rich with mermaids and fairies. A few years later I dropped my son at the same school and headed for the pub where I ordered a bottle of their best champagne. My heart leapt at the idea that someone else had responsibility for him and would help us raise him. But while I gave him up more willingly, I still felt the wrench and the snap of more of the silken threads that once bound us so tight.

Over the years the chord between my children and I has stretched thinner and longer and has became more elastic.  There is great joy in giving your child over to society. In watching them sprout wings and learn to fly. Yet it’s heart-hurt joy. It’s laughs that leave a lump in the throat and sting with salty tears. These days’ parenting is all about resilience, teaching them to be independent and not need you. But what about how you need them? I am a rather free-range parent but I’m also a sook. I want independence but I need that thread that binds.

The next wave of rupture came at the first overnight excursion. As my daughter went off to music camp I stood with my fist clenched over my chest. She didn’t even wave out the window of the bus and I felt so happy for her and so excited that this was the first in a series of excursions, sleep overs and possible nights out for me. Yet I felt a touch wretched and lost. I wasn’t the only one. One fellow parent went home and told her husband she wanted another baby. When the kids returned from camp I had to play door bitch and hold back the stampeding parents who couldn’t wait to hold their tired tweens close. I now go to music camp with my son and I watch other parents do the hand to heart smiling grimace. I understand the requests for their child to be sung a song to sleep or given a hot water bottle at bed.

In pictures: An intimate look at mothers holding babies on their first day together.

This year my daughter started High School. It’s been another big rip in the fabric of us. It feels as monumental as kindy but with hormones, public transport and independence. Yet I find it an even more confronting opening of the window to a future where she builds her own life. High School is the place where she will become a teenager, talk about sex, shave her legs and have friends so close they will have their own language. I’m already getting fewer hugs, and the first tentative half eye rolls. I can sense her pulling away from me to separate to forge her own identity. I am watching her move towards her father to crave his influence, as she becomes her own woman.

Hold me.

In a few years my son will go to High School and grow towards manhood. He’s already started keeping things from me, holding his troubles in, not revealing all. Yet he still crawls into our bed most mornings for a quick cuddle. I have stopped groaning at the intrusion. I now stroke his soft cheek and spoon his lengthening limbs for I know that all too soon the cheeks will sprout fuzz and the limbs will shut the door to his room and lock me out.

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In the school holidays, my daughter went away with another family. She came home bragging about her friend’s mothers better cooking, their better dog and different in-jokes. I love her being influenced and raised by others. I hate her being raised by others. I didn’t say this was logical. She is building memories and significant moments that have nothing to do with me. That’s life. That’s growth. That’s sweet sorrow.I can feel the next stages approaching as I watch my nieces cleave their own path in the world.

My sister is beginning to mourn her daughter’s graduation from high school and her plans to leave home for university. I am hoping to gain my niece in the process after losing her to another country a decade ago.   She will help prepare me for the great ruptures ahead, because the biggest breaks are still to come. My children will graduate and go to university or get jobs. They will fall in love for the first time. I will celebrate those who get to occupy their hearts and become their everything, it will thrill me beyond belief, but I know it will bruise my heart.

More on motherhood: “Mothering may be serious, but that doesn’t mean mothers have to take themselves seriously”.

If they can ever afford to move out I will walk around a house too quiet and be so happy for them. We will renegotiate our relationships as they enter adulthood and I become a parent to a parent. Maybe even a grandparent! If so, I will buy a new sling if my back can cope and I will grow a new chord to a baby of my baby.

And the chord to my grown-up babies will get longer and thinner but hopefully stronger.

They may move interstate or overseas. And I will be proud, excited and wretched all at once.  For I will want to celebrate great adventures and keep them close.

That’s the paradox of parenting.

The letting go is endless. It comes in waves of release and thrill, withdrawal and bouncing back into each other’s hearts and homes. It’s life. Until it’s not. And it hurts so beautifully.

The chord that feeds a baby is rich in nutrients, oxygen and blood. The chord that sustains our relationship to our children is rich in life, love and sustenance of the soul. No matter how far it must stretch.

This post was first published on Debrief Daily. You can read the original here.