Having children – a selfish act? Until recently, I couldn’t connect those seemingly disparate concepts. My decision about 18 years ago to have my own sprung from my deep-seated conviction that I had so much more love to give than what my husband required (and probably more than the old stoic could withstand). Children seemed like the obvious receptacle for that overage of affection.
What could be selfish about allowing another human to push my organs aside while taking up residence within me for nine months? And, surely, giving birth was not my most narcissistic endeavor. Being at the beckon call of an infant who could not discern day from night was no picnic either. Sidelining my career felt like a sacrifice, rather than an extended vacation. And that endless, almost aching, concern for both my children’s long-term wellbeing could hardly be considered selfish.
And yet now, as my teen-aged children race in a headlong pursuit of their independence, I question why I’m not more excited about their progress toward adulthood. I can hardly accept that the toddlers who consistently cried when I left them for an evening out are now the teen-agers who are not even subtle in their delight in being left home alone. I wonder why the grade schoolers who relished my involvement in their classrooms morphed into high schoolers who “lost” my school volunteer paperwork somewhere between home and school. And how can it be that our cabin has devolved from a family retreat to an obligation too far from the kids’ social networks? (For the life of me, I cannot understand what makes my children’s friends so much more fascinating to them than my husband and me.)
Logically, I know I should celebrate my children’s growth rather than mourn the separateness between each of them and me. And I should feel pride in having equipped them rather than feeling stranded in their wake. But – if the truth be told – I don’t feel nearly as successful as I do insignificant.
Only after months of wallowing in this maternal muck have I come to understand that my long-held belief in the selflessness of mothering was only half true. The other – far less altruistic – half of the truth is that this mother harbors secret hopes that those I love so unabashedly will someday reciprocate.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.