We've just celebrated a flurry of birthdays this week: four in six days, with another in a couple of weeks. It struck me yesterday, when we opted for pie instead of yet another cake to celebrate Karoline's birthday, that time doesn't stand still. This thought isn't rocket science or even deep philosophy. Remember, I'm writing after six days of nonstop birthdays — all that icing is affecting my brain. What I mean though, is that just when I think I have this mothering thing nailed down, everything changes.
A child who is mostly mature and capable leaves and goes to college. He calls frequently with a whole host of new questions. A child who was a toddler yesterday has lost her baby roundness and is spreading her wings in the world. She asks me to help her understand what she's finding out there.
A child who sounded like me one day sounds eerily like his father the next day. He uses that new voice to ask a whole host of new questions. The baby who sat contentedly in my lap one day has decided that it's her goal in life to climb the stairs continually all day long. She doesn't yet ask me questions, but needs me to follow behind because she can get up but she can't get down.
Motherhood has no tidy job description; it changes every day, little by little. And some days, like the day they learn to walk, or go to school, or leave for college, it changes by a lot, all at once. There are days when I want it to change quickly, so we can all move past a particularly trying stage. They are few and far between. For the most part, I love where I am right now, surrounded by all sizes of beautiful children.
I was reflecting recently how it is generally accepted in our culture to give a mother who has recently delivered a baby some time and space and support to recover. We expect that the family will need to adjust to changing roles and new demands. We respect that need for the most part and we support the family. As women, we give ourselves permission to step back a bit from the day to day busyness and process the change. I think we need to grow more sensitive to the more subtle changes in ourselves and in the women in our lives.
I am told that the mothers at the bus stop are particularly gentle with the new kindergarten moms the first few weeks of school. They tuck their arms in theirs and scurry them off for coffee after the goodbye wave. They understand. They empathize. They are community. They know that it takes time to come to accept a house that is now quieter than it was just last week and a child who does not have the same relationship with you that he had his whole life prior to that first day of school.
There are other, more subtle, changes in our lives — weaning a baby, first steps, first time away from home at night, first time to drive, and, of course, college. The family dynamic changes each of these times, some times more drastically than others. Women need to be supported in these changes by other women. They need time and space to adapt and they need wise mentoring by women who have gone there before.
Marriages need to be supported as well. Someone recently shared with me that she saw her marriage start to fall apart right after she took her first child to college. It was as if a plug had been pulled in the dam. She admits the marriage was never healthy and says the stress of that adjustment was more than the troubled relationship could bear. Changes, even positive changes, stress our minds, our bodies, our souls and our relationships.
As a Christian community, as women who are called to nurture families, I think it critical that we watch for times of stress and change in the lives of our friends and that we take special care to treat them with love and with grace, much the way we would treat a mother after birth. Women need other women — they need the compassion and the empathy of creatures designed to nurture. We can be for each other the tender midwife who helps a mother welcome a strange, new life.