Friday, April 10, 2015

Motherless Mothering

As children, we define the term mother or father with femaleness and manhood. We gather this definition from our role models, good or bad. Some lose that image through death and hold on to that ideal or negative image as something to work toward or run away from for the rest of their adult life.

For children who have no model, or a conglomeration of role models from strangers, this identification is daunting.  At 5,  I was taken from my own mother after I was found beaten and starved and hidden in a basement. My early years were spent attaching and detaching from her during confusing visits.  I attached hesitantly to foster siblings. By the time I reached my daughter's age, 12, my own mother vanished forever. My father too, had never resurfaced, though I had his name, and his nose. 

 I had adoptive parents for a few short years until they both died before I entered 8th grade. After that, I observed the relationships, identities, tragedies, and triumphs of my foster siblings who I lived with until I left high school. I sometimes watched the movements of friends' mothers, or strangers on the street, gathering up my idea of what a mother really might be. I watched women on the train holding toddlers hands, overheard women on the street bragging about their daughters, and I watched others hit and scold. Like a sponge, I took it all in, and decided what I could be someday in that role.
Good motherhood must be the ideal image I saw in television shows; baking cupcakes, sitting at games, supportive, emotionally present, and consistent. It does not hurt children, it heals and builds them. As a mother now, my parenting style is about building up my daughter's esteem. It is about securing her reliance on me, so she can trust others. It is about opening her eyes to the beauty in the world and protecting her from the wrongs. Mostly it is about presence.  Every minute of it has been the joy of my life. 

 I have been blessed with years of birthday parties,  scraped knees and hospital visits, crying , laughter, games, homework, dinners, baking, crafts, school projects, diaper changing, up all nights, cuddling all day, picnics in the park; all the things I missed out on as a child.  Being a mother saved my heart.

I am overly affectionate and attached to my mini me. Some of my emotional needs are met by her. It is a role she plays without knowing it and without me realizing it until recently. For other adults who were foster children, and who later become successful parents, this attachment is common. Others simply do not relate.

Most of my adult friends who have parents do not see their families as a stable support system; they are viewed as more of a duty. It is challenging on the other side of that fence; having no one to check in with at all: No weekly call to see how my life is going, no one to blame for mishaps, no parent to meet for holiday dinners. For some who lack this, their spouse or intimate partner fills this space. I insisted long ago that clutching on to lovers does not always go as planned; hearts change, desire ends, people come and go. Though now, I have a second chance at companionship and I think I have been proven wrong! The balance will be good for me, our children cannot entirely heal our hearts. 

The identity, attachment, love, sense of belonging, attachment, that all humans need cannot be filled by one person, even a daughter. Those things can only be found or achieved by cultivating healthy intimate relationships, careers, hobbies, self-esteem, healthy habits and being a healthy role model for those that depend on us. This involves an inner peace and self-love I work to maintain constantly.

Being a good mother to my daughter is a balancing act, albeit a precarious one. Letting go is part of that process. Watching her go out on her own more will be painful in many ways because of my attachment to her. She is my only biological, true relative and in many ways our bond has been the only unconditional love I have experienced.

At some point, however, adults who were foster children have to let go; let go of an ideal that will never come, let go of absolution, and let go of buried fears. Instead, we must learn to attach to those we love, without expecting them to fill roles we lost or never had fulfilled in the past. It is the only way for truly motherless mothers to instill peace in our own hearts and the hearts of our children.

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