I started blogging shortly after giving birth to my daughter Ayla. I
decided on a mommy blog because, well, there was nothing else on my
mind post-partum. But last summer, the winds shifted in my life and
suddenly I felt the urge to expand my view of myself, from parent to
person, and mother to woman.
Yes, parenting is an endlessly fascinating aspect of being alive.
And true, there is no end to the challenges confronted by parents and
their children. But now when I look at the title of my first blog–Labor of
Love–I think about the work I need to do for and to myself, as an
individual, rather than solely in the context of raising a child.
There were a few telltale signs that I was ripe for change. First, I
ceased being interested in parenting books–this was a surprise since I
had been a bit of a Jean Leidloff-Barbara Coloroso-Penelope Leach junkie
since pregnancy. But last May, I went cold turkey. When I plucked a
book off the shelf for a late night read, the titles that stood out were
about women (Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open), death (A Memoir of Living & Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) and spirit (Michael Newton’s past life page-turner, Journey of Souls).
I read voraciously through the summer and fall. When I dragged myself
out of bed in the morning to be confronted with a parenting
crisis–groggy from my late night reading sessions–I trusted my intuition
to guide me to the right solution. And most of the time, my parenting
didn’t seem to suffer from the lack of constant research and discussion.
And if it did, I was willing to live with my own shortcomings.
Another sign was my sizeable thirst to be reunited with life again.
Of course children are about as alive as a human being can get, but most
grown adults are not satiated by a steady diet of child’s play. I felt
the urge to get out of the house more often–to dialogue, to teach, to
hear live music, to watch documentaries, and to attend conferences where
I could learn and grow. I found these excursions energizing and
entertaining. I began to wonder about my purpose in the world again. I
spent many nights thinking deeply about my gifts–outside of potty
training and family scheduling–and began to crave my work as a writer
and teacher again.
And then, during a recent Ladies night, we broached the topic of
adolescence. Not ours, but the prospect of our children growing up and
seeing us as we are, through teen-aged eyes. There is no parenting book
that can save you if you’ve dedicated 16 years of your life to your
children at the expense of yourself. If your kids want to know how to
be in the world, and you can only point to your own unrealized potential
as a human being, a parenting book won’t save you.
At some point in the future, our children will judge us not just by
how we parented but also by how we lived. They will learn how to make
the right choices only if we build strong relationships, do work that we
love, and are part of communities that reflect our beliefs. Our
parenting must shift from the blocking-and-tackling work of changing
diapers and preventing playground meltdowns to living fully, and sharing
the process of how we do so with our children.
And so, this winter, I decided that I needed to start “laboring with
love” for myself. If I engage in the hard work of learning to love
myself and nurture my gifts–and I let Ayla see and participate in my
life–I will be loving and parenting her, too. I won’t give up on hugs
and play and swim classes, but I want to strike the right balance
between focusing on her life and on mine. In my view, children thrive
when they are raised by parents who are whole people, and whose everyday
life reflects the richness of what it means to be alive.