Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Apron Strings of Mothering: When is Time to Let Go?


It’s often said, by those in our culture who believe separation of mother and child should happen as early as possible, that it “can’t be good for children to be at home all day tied to their mother’s apron strings”. Well, as someone who wears those apron strings, I’d like to share a view from the other side.

A couple of months back, I appeared on a US tv chat show, where the topic of discussion was stay at home mothers v. working mothers. I pointed out that every mother is a working mother. However, the audience was very split. It seemed you could only be one or the other. How odd, I thought, when some of the most successful career women I know are those who are also full-time stay at home mothers. And what about all those mums who are able to take their children to work with them? Why does it have to be one or the other? Why do we have to have a war among the sisterhood? And why, in all these discussions on women’s rights, do people fail to address the rights of the child?

The career mums in the studio audience were adamant that a mother would ‘lose herself’ if she didn’t go back to work: something she’d always regret. They also chanted (as if under mass hypnotism) that “children NEED daycare”. Whoah!

In my twelve years of being a full-time stay at home mother, I couldn’t disagree more with the statement that children need daycare or that a woman will lose herself by staying at home with her children. I have changed enormously through being a mother. I’ve changed in ways that would simply have been impossible by being a career woman, no matter how spectacular or dazzling a career. And though I’ve had hellish days, I know for certain that going out to work wouldn’t have made me a better mother or woman. The whole ‘quality time’ thing is, to my mind, a myth; something used when people wish to justify the adult part of the equation. Anyone can be nice if they’re only with their child/ren for a limited time, but is that all we want our children to see of us? A mask? An act that we perform for a couple of hours? A perpetual parental-child courtship? Where’s the integrity in that?

My children have seen all sides of me (some not so pleasant!), and yet they still fully embrace and love me. They are under no false illusions about who I am as a person. But it works both ways.

Yesterday, my ten year old daughter, Eliza, and I were curled up on the sofa reading Indigo for Girls, a magazine she gets from Australia. Her favourite parts of the magazine are the reader profiles, where Indigo girls answer a series of questions. One such question is “Who inspires you?” I’m often intrigued, too, to see which well-known person’s life has had an impact on these young girls’ way of thinking.

In the kitchen last night, I said to Eliza that she could do the questionnaire herself, and then asked, as an example, “Who inspires you?” Without batting an eyelid or pausing for breath, she said, “You inspire me mum because you still love me even when I’m being horrible.” The truth is, I probably learnt that from my girls. They’re incredibly forgiving of my weaker moments. They always have been, and perhaps it is what has helped me to grow the most: my evolution hastened because they’ve presented me with forgiveness in action.

Author, Eckhart Tolle, wrote in his book A New Earth ~ Awakening to your life’s purpose, that to find out if you’re enlightened, try spending a week with your parents! Well, that made me splutter my tea all over myself. Ok, I can live with my mum very easily, but I’d be challenged to spend a week with my dad (much as I love him), so diametrically opposed are our views on just about every aspect of life.

It had me thinking though, how will our children feel about us when they’re adults? Will they comfortably spend a week with us? Will they want to run for the hills?

As the one wearing the apron, I know that my mothering job is far from over; however, I also know that if I were to leave this earthly life tomorrow, my girls have had such an incredibly secure foundation to their own lives precisely because they’ve been able to tug at my apron strings, pull on them, dance with them, trip me up with them, and leave their little finger stains upon them. They’ve been raised to know, without an ounce of doubt, that they are loved as much as is humanly possible. My actions have spoken far louder than my words.

I’m not a perfect mother. Far from it, much to my great disappointment. I have ideals as high as the heavens, and a parenting reality somewhere near mud level! So often I was busy looking for my gum boots (wellingtons) that I failed to notice that deep within the squelchy mud I was trying to avoid, my girls found pleasure in feeling it ooze between their naked toes. They built castles from the mud. I dare say they’ve tasted the mud, and they’ve used that mud to furnish the love in our home. The mud has been their growing soil, their nourishment, the fertility upon which their imaginations grew. It is the spring water in which they joyously bathe and drink ~ and all this because I chose to let them hang onto my apron strings.

At the swinging end of the apron strings, my girls have learnt about life, not been hidden away, as common thought would have it. From the earliest ages, my girls knew about the menstrual cycle, how babies were created, birthed and fed, what it meant to live on a budget, how herbs are nature’s medicine cabinet, how to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs. They can make a great meal for a raw fooder, or vegan; they can cater for people on wheat-free diets.

The apron strings gave them a first hand look at life when parents ‘fail’, and then have to brush off their knees and start again. My girls have witnessed me go through some painful losses and come through the other side. They have celebrated my joys and triumphs. Most importantly, they’ve witnessed that life is cyclical. They haven’t been sheltered, they’ve been witnesses. They’ve learnt far more about life, and from life, by dancing near my apron strings, than if they’d been separated from me several days a week.

As for losing who I am because of staying at home with my children, I’ve found the opposite to be true. Being present with kids 24/7 is the quickest way to discover who you are. It’s the ultimate personal growth workshop. Children will bring up every last part of you that needs healing. This scares the life out of many people and they will use any excuse to remove themselves from their child’s orbit.

To suggest a woman reduces her potential for self-expansion and identity because she chooses to stay at home and raise her child with motherly love is to be completely ignorant of what a mother and child need. It also fails to recognise that ‘who we are’ is never about what we do for a job, and indeed, can not be defined by a label. Our children know this; but most adults don’t.

Bonding is in the realms of extrasensory perception. It isn’t something which would make a lot of sense on a resume. And like parenting, it is an unpaid job. What price can you put on being there for your child all day, every day? How do you measure love? How do you define the undefineable? You can’t.

The apron strings of mothering are linked to our heart. They tell our stories, fill our children with tender moments, and act as the visible umbilical cord to our destiny link.

Mothering my two feisty daughters has revealed the incredible potential in me as a human being. They daily challenge me to be more of who I am. There is no room for shrinking back, hiding away. My girls demand the best from me. I wouldn’t have ever traded a single smile or cuddle, grazed knee or two-year-old meltdown from either of them for a day in the ‘real world’. And I dare say they’d not have traded a day of apron strings for a motherless daycare centre.

What happens in the home, at the end of a mother’s apron strings, shapes our world. They say charity begins at home, and so too do joy, fun, laughter, companionship, humanity, compassion, kindness, humour, happiness, peace, satisfaction and love.

I may not have known how to wear the apron of motherhood, had I not had a childhood witnessing how beautifully my mother wore hers.

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