I realized something about our bedtime ritual.
In whispering to my boys, "I love you just the way you are," I have been saying to them what I wished had been said to me.
As a child, I felt that in order to be loved, I needed to do something more, become something different, be something else. I got in the habit of doing because it brought me attention and positive reinforcement and I mistook those, for a long time, for love. Sometimes I wonder what I might have been if I felt loved from the start, for no good reason, just the way I was.
Instead, my emotional calculation went something like this: doing = love.
I always sucked at math.
Like everyone I know, I want to give my children the things I wished I had been given. But, there is a danger in mothering one’s children in ways that you wished you had been mothered. First, it is possible that if you do the opposite of what was done to you, you will swing so far to the far side that you’ll find yourself on the flip side. No better. No worse.
But perhaps more important, if you give your child the childhood you wish you had, you run the risk of not giving your child the one he or she needs. Whenever I think I am tilting too much toward trying to give my own childhood a do-over in the guise of mothering my children, I ask myself a very handy question that I learned from my beloved Shrink.
Who’s it for? Me or them?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not a big believer in the ideal of the selfless mother. Every now and then (oh, OK, more now than then) I need to assuage my anxiety or bolster my sense of being good enough. And I am fine with that. I just hope the balance tilts towards acts that respond to a call from one of my boys. Each one is so different. Each one needs a slightly different mother from me.
So I ask myself, do I say "I love you just the way you are" for me or for them?
It’s true I would have loved someone to whisper that to me and perhaps when I do it, I am trying to rewrite my own experience, to fill an old, empty pocket of need. But I really don’t think it is all about me. Honest. I say "I love you just the way you are" because it’s true. From the minute each of my boys arrived, I loved each one just the way he was, right from his tiny start. But since love gets more complicated, and more conditional, as time goes on, I think regularly going back to that moment of beginning acts as a kind of talisman. When I am annoyed at them, or disappointed with them, or hurt by them, it helps to go back to that moment, when I looked at each tiny creature in my arms and could not believe it possible that a heart could so immediately hold so much love.
I also say it because, when you get right down to it, I figure the only real job of mothering is helping your children learn how to love. And I don’t think there is a finer way to begin to learn about love than by being loved just exactly, precisely, and completely the way you are. In both your being and your becoming.
So my mothering is a complicated mix of what I wish I had been given and who I hope I can be – more often than not – for my boys. Is there anything that you do as a mother that you wish had been done for you?