By Carolyn Hecken
Mother’s Day is about appreciating, honoring and celebrating mothers.
It’s a day of recognition for the life we’ve created and nurtured within, for the inevitable transformation of self we experience and, of course, for our unconditional love and unwavering devotion to our families.
We mothers often tend to be our harshest critics. So, this Mother’s Day I’ve decided to celebrate myself as a mother by reflecting upon the many nuanced ways in which motherhood has indelibly shaped the very essence of who I am and who I am becoming.
This is me. Well, I mean this was me – who I was before I became a mother. It’s not just my physical appearance that has changed so markedly over the years, intellectually and emotionally the core of who I am and have always been has sprouted and flourished exponentially.
Way back when, my days were filled with linguistics books, presentations, travel, soccer practice, running and a bit of genealogy. As cliché as it sounds – looking back on it now – it truly does feel like a lifetime ago.
Recalling the “me” I used to be just over seven years ago brings about a swelling tide of emotions that I can best characterize as nostalgia with a swirl of astonished disbelief. Periodically, during a brief, quiet pause in the hectic routine of our daily lives, I simply marvel at the surreality of change and personal growth I’ve undergone.
It is almost paradoxical in nature. I experience a permanent sense of self as “me”, yet that self is in a continuous state of transformation – one of which I’m most consciously aware. However, due to its fluid nature, I am neither able to define nor pinpoint the time at which the various versions “me” end and the present “me” begins.
In short – and I know I’m not the first to say this – becoming a mother has made me a better person. I may not yet be where I want to be, but I am well on the path to becoming the person I would like to be … and I owe it all to my children who love, teach, challenge and motivate me daily as I strive to overcome the emotional obstacles erected along this path to better personhood and, inextricably, motherhood.
I never expected to learn so much from my children. It seems that this, too, is like all aspects of parenthood: until you’re there, experiencing it for yourself, in the moment of now, it’s impossible to truly fathom it in its entirety.
I want to share just a few examples of the ways in which motherhood has changed me – rather to be more specific, what my wonderful, beaming children have taught me to do:
Express love unconditionally – I love my children unconditionally. At the same time, my interactions with them, and with my husband for that matter, haven’t and still don’t always reflect my unconditional love. Through consulting modern parenting scriptures* with religious-like fervor and regularity, I am slowly, but surely acquiring the communication skills vitally necessary to ensure that the unconditional love I have for my children is embodied in my daily actions and interactions.
Identify & manage challenging emotions in a healthy way – Recently I’ve discovered that absolutely everything hinges on the ability or inability to do this. And, let me tell you, I get the opportunity to practice this multiple times a day – every single day. Keeping the fight, freeze or flight response at bay – unless it is indeed warranted – is already a little more than half the battle. The rest comes down to fostering patience and empathy and practicing respectful communication.
Communicate respectfully – Easier said than done – that is all. Respectful communication is shaped by our beliefs about what respect is and who deserves it. Strictly speaking for myself, I’ve reached the conclusion that respect constitutes an inherent part of our interactions with others and is not contingent upon merit.
The next step for me is consistently practicing respectful ways of communicating with children who themselves are only in the beginning stages of learning to regulate and cope with their own set of overwhelmingly intense emotions.
Set priorities – To me, this has meant placing family first. It sounds so simple. It’s not. Sometimes it’s quite the formidable feat to determine what’s best for the family, especially when considering that what’s best will likely be different for each member. In our toil to meet and balance each other’s needs, we have learned to organize our lives more effectively, even if it is occasionally – and most strangely – accompanied by chaos of disorienting proportions.
Trust my gut – If my encounters with healthcare and childcare professionals have taught me anything, it’s to trust my gut. It seldom steers me wrong – in fact, I can’t think of a time that it has. It used to be a bit daunting to challenge recommendations or assert my needs. Thankfully, that is no longer the case.
Accept and recognize that making mistakes is a healthy and necessary part of life – no one likes making mistakes. At least, I try to avoid them. I recognize that I’m not always going to be able to parent the way I ideally would like to, and that’s okay. Extending forgiving grace to myself and others has proven a challenging, yet rewarding practice.
Perhaps the most significant life lesson my children, and others, have imparted upon me is that each and every spark of life – no matter how fleeting – casts by virtue of its mere existence delicate and subtle ripples that emanate infinitely outward into the universe. Gently they lap up against us. Coursing, pulsing, one right after the other, they envelop us fully and leave behind in their wake enduring traces of immeasurable magnitude – traces that forever change us in body, mind and spirit – and, through us, steadily prevail, touching the lives of those around us.
This Mother’s Day, I remember, too, the mothers of all the dearly loved and cherished children who departed far too soon from this bodily world. This especially includes two of my own brightly twinkling stars and those of friends – all of whom I carry eternally and so dearly in my heart.
As with everything in life, we are constantly changing. Today, I celebrate and love myself for who I am, just the way I am at this very moment… and I hope you will do the same!
Happy Mother’s Day!
* Unconditional Parenting (by Alfi Kohn), Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids (by Dr. Laura Markham) and Kinder verstehen (by Herbert Renz-Polster), to name just a few.
* Cover photo by Tammy Nicole Photography: tammynicolephotography.com
Carolyn Hecken is a mother to four energetic, inquisitive children with one on the way. She holds a BA in Linguistics (University of Washington) and a MA in European Linguistics (University of Freiburg). Since June 2013 she has been supporting mothers and their families as a certified D.A.M.E. Doula and, more recently, as an AFS peer-to-peer volunteer breastfeeding counsellor (January 2016) and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator (June 2016). Click here to get to her website.