Loving, Striving, Trust and Time
Reflections on Cultivating Maternal Confidence
I have a small doll, made in the Waldorf tradition, of a spiritual teacher named Ammachi. Amma is a living saint from India, the Divine Mother incarnate, my spiritual mother. The doll was given to me as a birthday gift by my sister-in-law long before the children were born. Many might have kept this special doll out of the hands of young children, especially those too young to ‘properly’ care for her, but I always knew that she was meant for our kids-to-be. And so when my toddlers discovered her sitting high on a shelf one day I took her down with no hesitation.
From my heart into their arms.
My children are young, they are curious and while nurturing and very loving of doll friends, they are not shy about removing clothes, hats…everything. Over time this Amma doll has been thoroughly stripped of all her “whites” (the petticoats and sari she wore), her jewelry- malas included, even her nose ring. Now, she is naked save for an embroidered heart on her little round body. Amma is of a renunciate tradition and thus, this is just as it should be.
When I see this doll, stripped bare by two loving toddlers, I cannot help but make the connection to the process of coming into my maternal confidence. I came with ideas of who I would be as a mother, how I would respond to situations, what I planned to do with my children. Beautiful visions of effortless, bountiful, spacious days were all on my internal vision board. And yet pretty quickly these grace-filled intentions were also stripped away by a kind of savage love only a child (or in my case two) was capable of. Theirs is a fierce love, one that found me literally without jewelry and petticoats (more like sweats and a hair clip if I was lucky enough to get out of my PJ’s) but also emotionally naked, exposed and tender.
Now, I can see more clearly what one of my mentors meant when she called motherhood ‘the ultimate path of service’. Being of service is an act of devotion, an act of surrender, and an act of love. From this position you must grapple with many issues, the toughies often center on power and authority. Holding it and losing it- two equally complicated positions.
Some of us are met with the demands of an all night nurser, an all day crier, a very sick child, a child who will be held by you and only you…day after day. We are offered the chance to learn to set healthy boundaries as well as the opportunity to lose them. Often, at the same time.
When I was up to my chin in the murky sea of twin infant overwhelm combined with a healthy dose of new mother anxiety I would wonder- how is it that people develop maternal intuition? How could I just get quiet and trust that deep inside there is an answer when there was need and chaos all around- both inside of me and out. Family, friends, books all offered guidance and opinions, yet none that met the part of me that yearned to feel my own feet steady so that I could nurture from a place of confidence.
And, the wisdom that did feel resonant- the beautiful, bountiful, spacious Waldorf pedagogy that I love so dearly felt like an ideal that I would never live up to. The perfect picture of maternal warmth, the quiet rosy days built on rhythm and singing, happy cherubic babies who peacefully looked on as I merrily cared for the house seemed so very far from my reality.
It has taken time and experience for me to see that those first months, even years, are more like an initiatory practice for us following the householders path. Ten years in a cave might come close to what it is like to help support a new being ( or two…) into this world, deprived of sleep, the ability to think clearly, pee when you need, and eat a full meal. If you allow that fierce, beautiful love to work its magic you are fully stripped of your lofty intentions, ideals, and armoring.
What a gift.
Because then there is an opening for learning about what is really essential for you and your family. In the end, that striving towards what we want to offer our family is surely ‘good enough’. A true striving that allows for mistakes, change of direction and loss.
What was essential for me came in unexpected packages. I had to practice stepping back and observing. I could not assume that I knew what my children wanted or were feeling. More often than not the feelings arising in me when things got intense were reflections of my own losses, longings, and fears. And so my children offered me the chance to turn inward and rework what I thought I had dealt with years ago. In fact I learned, I had just begun the next leg of my inner work. And the more I brought that into consciousness the less intense things felt.
I also had to learn to trust in time. That what is happening now really does pass, sometimes sooner than you hope… sometimes not soon enough. After three years of parenting I have just enough trust to feel a wobbly sense of confidence. During the really hard times- the times when there is constant bickering, crying, or discontent- I remember that it will indeed be different soon. There will be equally glorious days of gentle play and collaboration, even cherubic babies happily looking on while I am cleaning the house. Time and change can be counted on- that is the good news, and the not so great news.
“I saw Amma yesterday” I will often hear one of my children say. Yesterday of course means sometime in the past. “She gives me kisses…and chocolate. I like her smell”. The small doll who travels between the arms of my children reminds them of the loving, rose scented embrace they receive when they meet the real life Amma, who plants the seeds of human expansion with her clear, penetrating love.
And yet, when I see that doll I am reminded of the teaching that came along with her, waiting for two toddlers to reveal. We mamas are given an opportunity to let go of the trappings of the psychological (and material) protection we thought we needed in order to parent- be it lofty ideals, perfectionism, or all the complicated issues that revolve around power and boundaries. Instead, we can trust that when things fall apart or are stripped away, that we have a chance to move towards a deeper connection with ourselves, our partners and our children; maybe in ways we did not imagine. If we allow our little one(s) to change us with their savage, piercing love- a love that is not always rose scented and chocolaty- we can emerge with a renewed sense of what is really essential in our lives, in our parenting, and in family.
Amma’s embroidered heart now reminds me that striving, loving, trust, and time feed the ground from which my maternal confidence grows.
Liza Fox lives in Northern California and is the mother to soon to be three-year-old twins, dog mummy to one lively Labrador and wife to herbalist and acupuncturist hubby. She is completing a degree in clinical psychology and writing her dissertation on Waldorf early education and parenting.
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What an amazing post, Liza! Those twins of yours are so lucky to have you as a mom… and you are so lucky to have them as your teachers!
Simply beautiful and elegantly true…such grace you have about mothering….it is very moving and uplifting…and NOT heavy just glorious! I love you!
I cannot say how much I really needed to read this right now, thank you so much..
I have been reading this and re-reading this for a week now. Liza you so beautifully speak to my core.
I have felt like I have moved beyond my protective skin, beyond the fruit and are hitting the hard pit of me as a mother this week. This article has been a sort of sanctuary that helped me move to soften my raggled self, and what I am finding is good. I am so encouraged. thank you