“You’re grieving the stage of your life that is over. It’s perfectly normal,” a friend recently remarked to me.
Like most first-time parents of a newborn I’ve been wrestling hard with exhaustion. I’ve never been able to function well on a lack of sleep. Needless to say, welcoming a non-napping baby into the house has really tested the limits of my sanity on 5 hours of sleep a day achieved in multiple shifts.
“I’ve become a walking spit cloth,” I said to my friend. “When I found out I was having a boy all I could see was him growing up and leaving me. That’s all you ever hear is that boys grow up, get married and leave you. But the funny thing is that right now this baby doesn’t want to let go of me. He won’t even nap if he isn’t cuddled up to me! I love it and I love him. But I miss…” I trailed off.
“You miss your independence,” she said. “So do moms everywhere. And everything is so new right now that a part of you is still mourning the life you’ve given up for this little one.”
She was right. I love my son and I don’t regret my decision to have a child for one minute. But, as with any life change there are things lost in the mix. In the case of motherhood the “lost” list includes independence and all the benefits therein: Time to think, to plan, and to do as you please because you have the time.
New moms would never want to admit that they’re grieving what they’ve lost. Firstly, it sounds absurd. You have a beautiful, healthy child in front of you. How could you possibly be anything but exuberant? The simple truth is that your love for your child has nothing to do with how you’re feeling about yourself and the changes you’re going through. I love my son. He’s perfection on his worst days. But that love doesn’t stop me from missing my old luxurious lunch hours when I sat with a book and a coffee in my car under a tree, picking up the breeze and zoning out.
Whether you’re reading the Bible or jamming to the Byrds, you realize there is a season for everything. Mourning, whether it is for a life lost or a lifestyle no longer to be had is a part of the turning of the seasons. There are tons of traditions for handling sorrow. We Jews consume it for a year, digest it, and then finally release it with the unveiling of a monument and the lighting of a candle. But, how can a mother grieve the loss of the person she was?
Some grab for it any chance they can get. Girls’ nights and mommy time become pathways to reminiscence instead of welcomed rest that motivates moving ahead. But, nostalgia is not an option, not for me, at least. For me, a marriage of those independent qualities and parenting seems to be doing the trick.
When my son won’t sleep I take him for a car ride through long and winding back roads. I never use a map; I simply rely on my sense of direction and allow a part of me at least to get lost in the sunlight falling through the trees. When my son struggles with a concept I talk to him like the human being he is. I don’t coddle, I don’t change the topic, and I don’t dumb down my language. Somehow he always seems to get the message. One good conversation about day/night confusion broke his bad habit of wanting to party at 1 a.m. Pep talking him through the frustration of trying to grasp objects has reassured him that I’m here and I’m on his side. Even if he doesn’t comprehend my language, he gets the point enough to calm down and try again.
I miss parking my car with a good book in my hand. But I don’t miss the loneliness of having no one to talk to. Or the wondering “what if we had kids, what would they be like”? Or the anticipatory fear of not being able to get pregnant at all. Sometimes a death is a good thing. When a life is old, tired and suffering to the point that even good memories cannot sustain it, that life must pass. And while we grieve the loss, we do so knowing that it was a life (or a chapter of a life, at least) well lived.
Everyone asks what it’s like to be a parent. I punctuate my wonderful and wonderfully messy stories with a warning: Want to do something for you? Do it now. Don’t wait until you’re old and don’t think you’ll be able to do it when you have kids. One of the secrets of good parenting is 110% devotion without regrets. Making that happen means making a lot of other things happen before that beautiful baby comes along.