My Theory Of Everything (Motherhood)

Once Upon A Time...

Once upon a time, women learned about the ancient traditions of motherhood through experience. The age gap between mother and child was short: generations were compact. Extended families dwelled together, weaving mother and child, niece and cousin, until a tapestry of women all coexisted along the life span.
There were no retirement communities, no preschools. Babies bounced on old knees. Aunts were both sisters and mothers. To look from the outside, one would not easily know the dividing lines between each family. Who belonged to whom? They all belonged to each other.

By the time a girl became a woman, and then a mother, she had all the benefit of this multi-generational school of life. Since the time she was born, she had seen people pregnant, give birth, raise children, grow old and die. The lifespan was a continuum on display at every moment. Life, and its traditions, were mapped out in living color.

When her time came to give birth, she would do so in the manner of her people. She would know every part of this rite of passage- having witnessed it countless times. She would be surrounded by her fellow women, each one having experience, wisdom, and strength to share.

Her baby would be no mystery to her, having cared for her siblings, nieces, nephews and cousins her entire life. What to do when baby cries? How to feed baby? How to hold baby? How to get baby to sleep?... she would have learned by watching and doing. She would have learned at the feet of the eldest woman of her family. She would have learned by tradition.

…. Times have changed. In many ways, they have changed for the better. Modern medicine, institutions of education, women’s equality, birth control… all these things have meant dramatic change for the lifespan of a woman.

No longer do we share our daily lives with our elders, learning from their wisdom. Modern medicine has meant that the elderly live much longer- but they do so in separation. And when they die, they die without grandchildren at their feet.

We benefit from schools. Widespread literacy is a wonderful accomplishment. It has meant equality and opportunity like the world has never before seen. But it also means we do not learn at the side of our mothers. We do not take in their instruction through observation.

Women now get a choice over their life’s path. They can delay parenthood, or avoid it altogether. They can pursue any goal they choose. This also means that when a woman chooses to be a mom her mother is often older; and her friends in a different life stage.

No longer do we share our homes. We move cross-country. We work sun up to sun down. We go to organized events. We park and close our garages. Our children play behind fences.

Some changes are for the better. Some are not.

What does this mean?

When a woman chooses to become a parent, she suddenly realizes what is missing. Classes, and doctor visits, and books, and websites must suddenly make up for a lifetime of lost learning. Childbirth educators, obstetricians, doulas, lactation consultants, pediatricians… all struggle to fill in the gap. The missing tradition. The missing roots. The missing support. The missing narrative. The missing mothering.

And while there is a plethora of information out there, there is an absence of connection. It feels like a generation of women flying “solo”, flying blind.

For you see, even if you are lucky enough to replace the “tribe” from above with one of your own making (through friendships)… you will soon learn that there are many dividing lines now. Natural birth or medicated? Breast or bottle? Co-sleeping or crib? Cry-it-out or attachment-parenting? Ferber or Sears? Stroller or Ergo? Preschool or homeschool or unschool? Work-outside-the-home or stay-at-home? The list is endless.

…And we fight, and we pick labels, and we blame, and we polarize ….

… And we substitute judgment and righteous indignation for inner knowing…

Because what we’re trying to capture here, what we’re desperately seeking: is the wisdom of generations. The wisdom of a wise grandma with a wink. The wisdom of sisters, aunts, mothers and friends who will wipe your brow and whisper “You can do this, you have the strength of a million women behind you”.

So I want to say, whether you know it or not, whether you feel it or not: 

You have the strength of a million women behind you.

Find the women in your life who will tell you that. Cling to them. Forget the rest.

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