Motherhood– The Job Where Success is Doing Less and Your Promotion is Being “Let Go”

Motherhood– The Job Where Success is Doing Less and Your Promotion is Being “Let Go”

One of the often muttered phrases by Moms everywhere– because of the deep truth in it– is the phrase “They grow up so fast!” I heard it from my Mom. I was told this by other Moms. And, yes, I have even said the words myself. They do grow up so fast. From newborns to toddlers. From grade school to high school. From high school to college and beyond. Before you know it, the little baby they placed in your arms has become his or her own person. As unique and individual as a fingerprint. Therein lies the joy and bittersweet love of motherhood.

My oldest son is 6’1″ and I now have to stand on my tippy toes to hug him. It is a strange feeling to look up when speaking to your own child. Bewilderment and pride are a common emotional cocktail served up while watching our children grow. My younger son has just reached 5’3″ and I realize it won’t be long before he, too, is taller than I am and I am reaching up to kiss a cheek. Blessedly, my daughter is only 6 years old and I can still curl her up on my lap and plant kisses all over her cheeks. I know that before long she, too, will stretch her wings a bit more and want more independence, but for now, we have a pretty good thing going.

I suppose as the anniversary of my own mother’s death approached, I became a bit melancholy and sentimental. The new year has brought changes both welcome and not as much welcome as necessary. My work on my book and my column have been amazing as some blogging has been slower. Though work has taken up a lot of my time as I race into this new year, my main job–the job that matters the most to me– is being a Mom. And that job evolves, grows and reinvents itself daily. I thought it was just my own circumstances that had me looking at my motherhood job and the daily changes that come with it in such a sentimental way, until I began to look to other Mom Blogs.

At Musings of a Housewife, dcrmom shares with us what it feels like to suddenly realize that this parenting gig can get a bit tough as our children age. Both tough in the reality of their lives as well as tough on Moms emotionally.

But now there’s a “big kid” living in my house. All of the sudden, the baby I nursed and rocked and sang to and potty trained thinks he knows more than his father and I do. And he remembers everything. If I mess this up, he could hold it against me forever.

I am no longer his whole world. These days he often values a laugh out of his friend over an approving smile from me. Sometimes he talks to me like I’m more of a peer than a parent. One moment he is sweet and affectionate, and the next he is sullen and remote.

I still love him more than my own life. I always have and I always will. But he’s not totally mine anymore. He’s becoming his own person.

That one phrase “…not totally mine anymore” really stuck with me. It is when they become their own person with their own wants, friends, jokes and ideas that are completely separate from ours–and at times contrary to ours– that we realize we are entering a new phase in parenting where the map has yet to be drawn… No matter how many books you have read about child rearing.

As I thought about the challenges of mothering, learning as I go as well as learning to let go, I read the words of Anna at the blog The End of Motherhood? as she wrote about one of my most cherished times in mothering. The night-time tuck-in. This is what she has to say about this
particular aspect of parenting.

Throughout his seventeen years and vastly more sleepovers, he has always, always, always been the first to fall asleep. He was lying on his side, his arm bent for a pillow. I had the most powerful urge to gently shake his shoulder, wake him up and tell him he should go sleep in his cozy bed. How many times have I done that before? Had him push himself groggily to standing and, leaning heavily on my shoulder, stagger into the warmth of his bed? But as I leaned down to touch his shoulder, it occurred to me that my 6’ 4” seventeen year old might be a tad embarrassed to be shuffled off to bed by his mother in front of his still partying friends.

And there it was: an opportunity to Mother less.

She goes on to say:

Putting your children to bed it one of the bass notes of mothering.

I thought back on all the routines we have had about bedtime. The baths. The nursing. The books. The songs. The crables. The pulling up of covers. The kissing of cheeks. The leaving the door open just a bit so the light shines in.

And so I realized in the middle watches of the night that putting my children to bed feels like love to me. That is why it was so hard not to do.

Yes! That is exactly why so many of the rituals that they outgrow are harder on us as mothers than they are on our children. To us it feels like love. To not do it? Well, sometimes it just hurts.


Gwen at Woman on the Verge writes so poignantly about her daughter growing up– and away.

Charlotte is also, however, turning away from me, from us, her sleekening feathers fluttering against the golden bars of her childhood cage. I see how she swallows her irritation with my flaws, with the way I harry and push her. She becomes blank and folds into her own space and ignores. She isn’t defiant or aggressively rebellious; instead, she just disappears, a little. And it is this that stings more than the lengthening limbs and expanding vocabulary. It is the knowledge that she has begun to see me as imperfect, as a bother. I am no longer simply a symbol of motherly love; I am slowly, in the tiniest ways, becoming a wall to push against. And I know what’s coming, having done it already myself. I know that my daughter, my love, my flesh and blood, must reject me to start over as herself.

I will admit to a catch in my throat at the familiarity of the words and emotions. I thought how perfectly she summed up what it feels like to watch your own child– your baby– learn to grow and become the person they are meant to be. She summed it up beautifully with these words:

Here is the great paradox of my parental love–as much as my children’s neediness smothers me, leaves me gasping for my own air, their graceful floating away into independence feels unbearable, too.

As parents our job is to take these helpless newborn babies and turn them into people with their own ideas, goals, dreams and possibilities. It is the twist in the job description that you don’t see coming that gets you every time: The better you are at your job, the less your child will depend on you for everything. Don’t get me wrong. My goal as a mother is to send each of my children out into the world as capable, confident adults who are not afraid to seek out their dreams because I have taught them, strengthened them and provided enough for them to know they can do it without my help. (Though, I also know my job will never be finished! My own parents taught me that one.)

So whether you are just starting out and feeling as if you will never sleep again–You will. It won’t ever be the same, but you will sleep again.– or you are watching as your preschooler starts out in the big bad world of “real school, or even if you find yourself suddenly looking up at your child as you speak to him, know this: You are not alone and as you pass each one of these milestones, you are stepping closer towards your ultimate goal of your “baby’s” independence.

Congratulations to you, Moms. We’re surviving the hardest job on the planet. And from what I am reading on the blogroll, we are doing a darn good job of it.

What milestone are you facing with your kids? Share with us as we get through the job of motherhood together–without a map.

Cross posted on BlogHer

6 thoughts on “Motherhood– The Job Where Success is Doing Less and Your Promotion is Being “Let Go”

  1. I have a sad note to interject. If anyone is feeling depressed, please don’t read further.

    My oldest is in college in NYC, a freshman. I’ve been dealing with having the child who could not sleep unless he was near me now sleep 2000 miles away. It has been hard, having him go, but I have two others. I tuck them in, and think of Zach. I send him a text some nights – good night baby boy. And he writes back – good night mama, luv u.

    The day he came home for Christmas break, he was tired (got up at 5am to make his flight), and I found him asleep a few hours after arrival. I got a quilt, tucked him in on the sofa, and kissed his cheek as he mumbled happily and snuggled under the covers. I thought of this moment days later, in a much different situation.

    My brother died December 22nd. He’s been fighting AIDS for 17 years, and it finally won. At the funeral home, before the casket was shut, my mother asked me to take a photo of him. She said, “Can you get one from the side – his profile? It looks like he’s sleeping, how he looked when he was so little, when I tucked him in.” She cried as she said this, her hands trembling as she handed me the camera. I got her a perfect picture, one that I never want to see.

  2. So true. I really am worried about that phase when my kids no longer feel like mommy is the one, the one who can make it all better, the one who can make them laugh the hardest. I feel like I will be hanging onto them way beyond that time. Hopefully, I will learn to let go a little too. I am just not going to look forward to it! Great post!

  3. Thank you for this post. My 12 year old son has been taller than me for over a year. It makes me so glad I recorded the last day I carried him. Someday soon he will be able to pick me up. My daughter is only 7, and she sang with me at church today for the first time. The sweetness is still with me. I am so blessed and your post has reminded me to pay attention. To cherish these moments. They do pass so fast! There’s a dad who sums it up in a very heartwarming way at the end of some lyrics he wrote to a you tube video I posted on my site last week: http://pragmaticcompendium.wordpress.com/2008/01/08/pachelbel-bedtime/ Very sweet. The Mom Overture video that follows it is great too. Thank you again.

  4. This is so, so true. My 16-yr-old is a light sleeper; I can’t check on him too often. My 21 year old? She is such a night owl that she never, never falls asleep before I do. I hope she gets a late or night-type job when she gest out of college. Early shift would kill her.

  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to share theses beautiful thoughts. My oldest is only 9 so I have lots letting go to do. But it is the simple the things that mean the most. I always check in on the kids before I go to bed, to pull up there blankets, pick them up off the floor if required (our 6 y.o loves sleeping on the floor for some reason), I find this always takes more than a few minutes as I love to stand there and watch and listen to them sleeping. The expressions on their faces, the little noises that they make – it gives me such a feeling of love and serenity.

  6. I left a message for you over at BlogHer but I just wanted to tell you again what a fantastic post this is. I am keeping it in my personal collection of “favorites” and I am sure I will ask you in the future if I may refer to it on my own blog. Outstanding! Hugs- EE

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