On family: The challenges may change, but being a mother doesn’t

I just read this fantastic blog post from Mom at Work , Anna Spanos, about how she is working so hard to be a good mother, she feels she is failing to be precisely that.

“Some days […] I am so busy taking care of her that I barely get to just see her.”

Her sense of maternal guilt, although prompted by her daughter’s difficult birth, is one I recognise.  If, like Anna, I make all my daughter’s food from organic ingredients, read to her every night, restrict TV viewing, disinfect every surface in the house twice daily and keep the households medicines locked away, then she  will be safe.

The problem is, whereas Anna can tuck her daughter up at night and baby-proof the lounge, I no longer have that luxury because my daughter grew up!

Once, I was my daughter’s world, and everything she ate, drank, saw, read and believed in came from me. Now she is thousands of miles away in Honduras, a country I have never visited, volunteering in a cultural environment I have little knowledge of.

Saying goodbye to her at the airport in August last year, and watching her walk through the boarding gates, away from the safety of home and me, was physically painful, as if the umbilicus really is still attached. Knowing, at 18 years old, she was flying into the ‘murder capital of the world’  didn’t help matters.

I cried a lot in the first week and each night struggled to fall asleep as I imagined her hurt, alone and desperate for her mother, suffering from malaria or dengue fever, or worse, injured in a bus crash or diving accident, or worse still kidnapped by a gang – there is nothing I haven’t imagined in those dark hours before sleep.

But 8 months later, she is alive!!! and well, speaks fluent Spanish and has travelled far and wide across Central America. She has also turned nineteen, survived the end of the world (she spent New Year at the Mayan ruins in Copan) learnt to scuba-dive, teach English to stroppy teenagers (the same the world over it seems), wash her own clothes, cook and clean (hopefully), as well as snowboard down volcanoes and countless other adventures that I’d rather not know about. At this moment in time she is arranging to move from the project she is currently on to a new one because she feels she can do more to help the people of Honduras in a different organisation.

This is a daunting prospect for me and one I had not foreseen.

I vetted her first project, spent countless hours on the web searching obscure references for the possible dangers lurking behind the glossy website. I was there helping her to write letters to charitable trusts, doing research, fundraising, and sorting out travel arrangements to Scotland for her training. Even though she was striking out on her own and leaving home for the first time (to go to the murder capital of the world – can’t shake that thought), I had control, was able to steer and direct her.

This time round I have been left on the sidelines. She has researched and found the second project, gone to visit it, made the difficult decision to leave where she is and start up somewhere new, on her own. Although she has informed me along the way, she has not asked for my opinion, or for my permission. I have had to see things from her perspective and offer her guidance rather than tell her what she must do. I have had to trust her judgments and support her decisions, rather than make them for her.

This is by far one of the hardest aspects of motherhood I have ever encountered.

A big part of me wants to insist she stay where she is. Tell her that I know best and that she is silly to take on a new project.

Yet, when we manage to skype, I can hear the excitement in her voice and the determination that she is making the right decision.

And so I remind myself I brought her up to think for herself. To make thoughtful decisions and consider all options. This is the first time she has ever had to, and I have to trust she will do it the way I taught her.

Did I teach her well enough?

I don’t know what the right thing to do as a mother is (I never have). But I do know undermining her decisions, or trying to manipulate her thinking to suit what I want (to stay where she is because I know she is safe, if frustrated) is not the right thing to do, however difficult  it is to give up control.

Her dad and I fly out to see her in a few weeks. By then her decision will be made and her new plans in place. What I do know is, I will hug her very tightly (and probably cry). I also know I will tell her how proud I am of her, and, for a few nights at least, I will get to tuck her up in bed again, just like I used to.

The challenges may change, but being a mother doesn’t. Nine months or nineteen, you still want to do everything you can to keep your child safe – and when you realise that you can’t, that despite all your efforts they will make their own decisions and mistakes, you can only hope you did it right, or at least you did it good enough.

Life cannot be baby proofed, but maybe you can life proof your child, so whatever they face they will make the right decision – or at the very least the one you would’ve made 🙂

At 9 months
At 9 months
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And at 19!!

What is the right balance? Do you feel you have got it right? All thoughts welcome. 

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8 thoughts on “On family: The challenges may change, but being a mother doesn’t”

  1. I know I didn’t get it all right, but I did the best I could and I am proud of my children. They have the qualities I believe are important, and it sounds as if your daughter also has wonderful qualities.
    I didn’t really have troubles with my teenagers, but when my eldest hit twenty-one, my world began falling apart. Suddenly, I felt I didn’t know how to parent, but that wasn’t what was really happening. The reality was that I no longer controlled their lives in any way. It was hard, but it’s what we’re supposed to do. You sound as if you’re doing it brilliantly.
    I love this poem by Kahlil Gibran – On Children: http://www.katsandogz.com/onchildren.html
    I think it says it perfectly.

  2. Hi Juli, that feeling of not knowing how to parent is how I have felt most of the time since she left for Honduras. Not sure if I am doing it brilliantly, fumbling my way through is more likely. But you are right, this is how it is supposed to be. x

    Completely agree about Gibran

  3. Thanks for linking to my blog here! And thank you for this beautiful post – there was a time when all I prayed for was to bring my daughter home, or to make it through the first few months, or the first year. Now we have hit toddlerhood, and it’s so hard to imagine what childhood will be like, let alone what will happen when she hits adulthood! Your daughter sounds like a smart, confident, independent young woman – clearly you both got some things right along the way.

  4. Dear Anna, so chuffed you liked my post and I hope getting some things right is enough (so far so good) – your daughter is lucky to have a thoughtful mother like you, enjoy every moment with her. I can’t wait to see my daughter in a few weeks time – it has been a long 8 months.

  5. I have felt the same feelings for each of mine as they left for different parts. It is so hard having them so far away, but so affirming when you see them being successful and happy all on their own. Reading your post brought those emotions back to me. I hope that your trip to visit goes well and that her next adventure is just as rewarding to her (and you as well). Good job, Mom!

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