What it means to be a mother is complicated. And yet, the way we define mothering is limited. The way we see mothers is equally narrow.
Typically, we view mothers as those with bulging bellies, handprints smeared across the back of their shirts, and women with goldfish stained floorboards in their cars.
Mothers rise early, make breakfast, check backpacks, lick smudges off faces, kiss, hug, discipline, straighten, do laundry, make beds, step on legos, repair broken hearts, advice on all things life and love, attend endless events, wrap presents, wipe tears, and send their children to bed with a heart full of prayers.
But what happens when your children grow up?
What happens when the list of things to DO as a mother disappears?
Are you still a mother? If so, what does mothering look like in this stage of life?
These are the questions I am asking. This is the tension I find myself living in.
I am still a mother, but do my children still need me?
My kids- those babies I carried and brought into the world through the most painful and exhilarating labor I have ever done- are adults.
And it happened so fast.
This time last year all three of my children lived under my roof, and I was busy mothering them.
Sure, my oldest had just graduated from college. I knew my days cooking his favorite meals, remembering to buy pretzels for his lunch, and talking to him for hours on end about things we had read and were learning were coming to a close.
But he was home, and I was still helping him take the next big steps in his life.
My daughter, the middle child, was still a college student, growing in her independence but not quite there. She was working towards lofty goals and dreams. It seemed that my daily list of things to do to help her get there overflowed.
My youngest was still in high school, albeit only for a few more days. But the life of a high school senior is filled with things for a mother to do.
Help apply for college, fill out FASFA forms, explain course catalogues, remind your child that while these decisions are important whatever decision they make will be right and good. Remind them that God loves them and has good plans for them, that He provides and is showing them the way. Then attend every possible award ceremony and banquet to celebrate their successes.
Yes, the mothering to do list for seniors in high school is endless and exciting.
This year is so different.
Not only does my oldest live 926 miles away, he is packing to spend most of his summer working in Greece. My baby, that first born who weighed 4 pounds and needed my constant vigil for so many months, is off. He soared out of the nest with grace and triumph.
My daughter- my only little girl, the one who never left my side- she is still home, but not for long.
Now a college graduate, Katie is packing her bags (backpack actually) to leave the country for eleven months. She reminds me often, this- foreign missions- is her dream, her call. She may never really return to America. And even if she does, it won’t be to fully live at home as my daughter.
And it shouldn’t be. I know this.
But it doesn’t make it easier to quell the tears and wave goodbye. Yes, Katie is about to leap right out of the nest.
And let’s not forget the youngest child. Now a college sophomore. How did that even happen? He still lives at home, but it is not the same.
Blake works. He is involved at school. He has friends who consume much of his time. And of course there is the fact that he too is cleaning his room and beginning to consider what he is going to pack for his summer job as a camp counselor in Asheville, North Carolina. Don’t fret, that’s only 656 miles away!
When that job is over, he heads to New York for a vacation with my Aunt, and then to Puerto Rico to help lead a youth mission trip, and then football camp starts, and then… oh, that job as an RA will probably come through. Yeh, his time. It’s short and only getting shorter.
I spent the last 23 years pouring everything into these beautiful amazing people, and just like that, they are gone.
It isn’t that I have lost my identity. I’m still Amy. I’m still a wife. My heart still beats wild for my Savior. I’m still a writer and dreamer and flip-flop wearer. And yes, I am still a mother.
But it’s so different.
I often don’t know what to DO.
Andy, he still calls me. He includes me in the biggest wildest capers of all, asking my advice and simply allowing me to share in his joy. We still have long talks about deep things. I am still his mother.
Katie, she still sticks to me like glue. She asks for help and wants me to be a part of her adventures. She seeks wisdom and guidance, asks the heart questions and wonders out loud about her future. I am still her mother.
Blake, he still surprises me with his bold love. Hugs and gifts abound. He shares his interests, makes me laugh and simply spends time in my presence. I am still his mother.
But my days mothering in the traditional sense are gone.
I don’t guide my children’s schedules, check behind their ears, give them permission to hang out with their friends, or make sure they are meeting life’s demands. I pretty much don’t DO anything.
Instead, I find myself becoming. Just BEING their mother.
This being, it is so much more than being their friend- which we are slowly becoming. It is so much more than being their advisor or confidant; although I advice and listen often. It is so much more than being a cheerleader; although I am finding out that may be my biggest role of all.
I shout my kids’ praise from the rooftops and encourage them with everything in me to keep going, to fight hard, to live boldly, and to press hard after Jesus. When they fumble the ball, I cheer- sometimes that’s when I cheer the loudest. When they score, I tell the world. When they stand on the side lines waiting, I cheer.
Yes, I am my kids’ biggest cheerleader.
Maybe cheerleading is what I’ve always done. Maybe what’s changed is my perspective.
When they were young, I cheered them on to eat those mushy green beans, to grasp that rattle, to try the slide, to read the letters, to divide those number, to take that risk, to try out for that team, to learn a new skill, to make that speech, to apply for that job, to follow their hearts, to know Jesus.
Now, I cheer them on to graduate school, deeper relationships, and meaningful work. I cheer them on to adventures around the world and a life of service. I cheer them on to do more than know Jesus. I cheer them on to become more like Him.
When they were young, I stood with open arms staring into their beaming faces. I cheered them towards me. Now, I stand with open arms staring at their remarkable imprints. I am cheering them into the world.
Yes, my babies are grown.
My perspective has changed, but not my identity.
I am still a mother.