Becoming a mother is a life changing experience on many levels. When you hold your own child and are bursting with happiness you begin to understand just how much love your own mother has for you. Finally you can appreciate everything your mother has done for you over your lifetime.
Throughout the early part of life, you take a lot of this love for granted. It is only when you have your own child that you can understand the deep feelings your own mother had for you all those years ago. She probably feels the same way now.
My mother has had a difficult life. Leaving her country and family behind in her thirties, she relocated to Australia from Europe with her husband, my father, some 50 years ago. Having given birth to 10 children, she experienced the horror of losing twin girls at childbirth and a son at 10 years of age due to ill health.
My father died at 52, leaving my mother to raise us single-handedly. With seven children to care for and no family support, my mother was the backbone of my family. She did a wonderful job. She was a warm, supportive, selfless woman that willingly gave us everything before even considering her own needs.
She never, ever complained. I distinctly remember as a small child watching Mum as she would take the smallest piece of meat at dinner, eat the broken egg or the burnt piece of toast at breakfast. As an egocentric child, all you care about is not getting the smallest, broken or burnt part of anything. Yet these selfless memories of my mother stay with me into my adulthood and now that I am a mother myself.
Would I give my own boys the biggest and the best of what I have? Of course, no question, it is just what you do once you become a mum. Again I reflect and appreciate all the opportunities given to me and the sacrifices my mother made for me and my brothers and sisters.
So what happens when this relationship starts to change? When the role of carer and protector shifts from mother to child? Well, you do what your mother would do and take care of the person that needs you.
My mother is now 84 years of age. With seven children she enjoys nine grandchildren that range from 30 to one year of age. I am the youngest of her children and have two young sons who have just turned four and one.
I am extremely close to my mother and have always known her to be a strong and capable woman whose life’s motto is ‘where there is life, there is hope’. So now that she is starting to show her frailties and look for comfort and support, I am going to make sure I am there for her. Just like she has been there for me my entire life.
She was the one who raised me, funded my education, loaned me money for my first car and first overseas trip. It was Mum whom I confided in on relationship breakups through my teens and twenties. She gave me away at my wedding. She is also the one that understood my heartache of losing unborn children and my elation at finally having my own healthy children. She was the first person to hold both my sons after myself and my husband.
Her health is now becoming a challenge. A heart condition is becoming more troublesome and she has started to show some short-term memory loss. This is affecting her confidence and her disposition. She needs more support, care and reassurance.
I will not forget my mother who now needs me to return the care that she has extended to me for all of my life. Of course she has never asked for anything from me and she isn’t about to start now. She doesn’t need to. I am just going to do it.
So what does the next few years hold? I hope for treasured times spent with my mother and my boys. For them to get the chance to really know, love and remember her. She is welcome to stay with us as much as possible and to join us on our family holidays. To continue to see her grandsons grow and delight with their innocent eyes and conversations.
How privileged my boys are on getting to spend time with this wonderful woman. The values they will learn from her and for our caring for her as a family will be priceless. Compassion and kindness are things learnt from experience, not something you can read from a book.
They already look forward to her visits. Surprisingly they know they must treat their grandmother with gentle care and respect. Not always an easy feat for rough and tumble boys. My final hope is to know that once my mum passes, that I have done everything possible to ensure her last few years were filled with as much love and happiness as possible. For she is my mother and the single most important influence on who I am as a person.
Yes becoming and being a mother is a life changing experience for so many reasons. The single most changing factor is your capacity to love and care just grows and grows.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem