When my daughter was about ten months old her interest in breastfeeding suddenly waned. Of course by then I’d heard of babies so-called “self-weaning” at even earlier ages, but at the time I had misgivings about the whole business. I wasn’t sure if she was ready to quit nursing altogether or if she was just taking a break, and I was damn sure I wasn’t quite ready – and most distressing, I didn’t know my role in all of it. It was a painful experience and, as so many mothering quandaries often are, one that felt – in final estimation – mine to sort out, with the help of my daughter, who was of course very, very little (months younger than the above photo). See I suppose I couldn’t or rather never have relied on the comfort of mainstream “experts” directing my life. While I’m thankful for this character trait, to the extent we resist conformity we may pay the occasional price of Arbitrary Self-Inflicted Agony.
So I sought the advice of some women I trusted, women and medical professionals who knew their shit regarding nursing. Looking back I now know I was privileged to have started my family in such a pro-breastfeeding culture. I remember one lactation consultant, at least, telling me that in light of the fact my daughter was first walking she might be a little distracted. If I wished I could use this opportunity to encourage breastfeeding – you know, just offer a sip now and then – and that my daughter might resume her interest. And I did – and she did, too.
For about a week I felt a panic that perhaps I’d “forced” my will on my infant daughter (although of course I never “forced” a feeding), and perhaps more alarmingly, that I’d lost the opportunity to help her be “independent” (ha!). You know, that I’d done something hippie-Earth-Mama-selfish and facile and my child would suffer for it. Et cetera.
Of course, as it turned out my daughter nursed for over two years more, and this was an incredible experience – I can’t even recount all the many wonderful memories I have and the closenesses we lived (and still, she seems so little to me at weaning, when I look back!). To this day I feel a stunning and overwhelming sense of gratitude for the women who advised me as they did. And I suppose I should be grateful for my own instincts which led me to the counsel that worked best for me.
But today I once again hover in a position of minor parental agony; the children seem in so many ways not to need me, and yet I cannot seem to let go of most a decade of intensive care. I sense they are more independent than ever and that we are providing everything they need as best we can (and conferences with the children themselves support this). I know they can tell me what they need (Nels: “Snuggles and love and food and my Little Mama”) – and yet I am prone to guilt if I spend a few hours without them in mind. At least, on this last count, pervasive Guilt is old behavior and I hardly expect to be rid of it like magic just because I’m now sober.
All demonstrable evidence suggests the children are thriving; yet I keep searching for fault within myself or something I should, or shouldn’t be doing. This is prideful and this is arrogance; when I do this I am willfully blind to the beauty of their daily lives. They are surrounded by people that love them, and they live in a home and town they adore with people and animals they love deeply. They spend most of their time outside and are courageous in their exploits and fierce in their friendships. Their summer is full of everything I loved from (or wished I had during) my own childhood: sleepovers and waterparks and ice cream and books and tree forts and visits to neighborhood shops where everyone knows them, bike rides and gardening with their grandma. They continue to show moral and emotional traits that bring joy to others. They are loving and directly hug and greet all manners of friends, young and old.
They are empathetic and considerate. They are kind. Twice now in the last week I’ve had sleep problems (meaning: onset insomnia, staying up watching shite escapist television on Netflix). Both these mornings the kids rose, dressed themselves, ate, washed their hands and faces, brushed their teeth, cleaned up after themselves breakfast-wise, fed the cats, and checked on the chickens, bringing in eggs. They called their father – but in the next room, whispering so as not to wake me (Ralph told me later).
It’s absolutely amazing at times their consideration and maturity; and yet, to be honest, it makes me want to cry.
In short I am experiencing an insecurity around my Motherhood that I feel neither my children nor my husband can fully understand (although some of my close friends and family seem to relate). It’s as if I’m asking myself if I’m brave enough to self-care a bit more. Or maybe I’m afraid if I were to do so, something Horrid would happen or I’d suddenly miss a need of theirs and I’d screw it all up. Somehow.
It’s funny because as a child the word my family used against me that hurt the most was “selfish”. Somehow I grew into a different kind of Selfish than what I suppose they meant; today my sins seem to be that of self-obsession (Perfectionism) coupled with a lack of self-respect.
I don’t want to model that for my children – anymore.