The tears roll down my cheeks as we drive to church.
“But this is what you wanted,” my husband says, his eyes bewildered.
“I know,” I sniff, “but I didn’t know it was going to feel like this.”
We never made it to church that Sunday. We drove around talking through my mixed-up feelings surrounding motherhood and newborns.
Prior to having our baby boy, I was a kindergarten teacher. Few have loved their job as much as I loved that one. I was the queen of a classroom full of adoring little ones. Seeing their minds delight in new things and the door crack open to reading for them thrilled me. I loved my students so much; I soon could think of little else than having children of my own.
When I told my class I was going to have a baby, a sweet boy said, “I always knew you were a mother.” I always knew it too.
Having a newborn was more than I had expected. I struggled with feeling useless while being on call 24/7. My new role replaced the spark of imparting valuable skills and knowledge to my students with sleeplessness and diaper duty. I loved my baby, but I was exhausted and didn’t feel like I could pull it together. I felt like anyone could do for him what I was doing; my sense of purpose extinguished. The initial sacrifice of myself was more than I had imagined.
It took me several months to find my stride as a new mom. By the time my boy was a toddler, I had reached the place of loving every moment. He was my little buddy. We did library story hours, grocery runs, and everything in between together. I needed nothing more than his smile to know I was doing exactly what I was meant to do.
Our family grew over the years to include three more children. My understanding of motherhood expanded to seeing my role as my children’s teacher, advocate, cheerleader, and guide. My husband is an amazing partner in raising these people and we have had so much fun journeying together as a family. Life has taken us on a lot of adventures, including an international adoption and a move from the US to England. Culture shock, new schools, covid lockdowns, ministry highs and woes––this unit of six has walked it all together.
Now, I am living another moment in motherhood which does not feel like I expected. That newborn who made me a mother turns 19 today and a few months ago we said goodbye to him at a university an ocean away from home. I am so proud of who he has become. He is ready for this independence and a beautiful story will unfold. The thing is, I am used to being in the front row for this story and it now feels as though I am regulated to the cheap seats. The successful execution of delivering this man to adulthood feels anything but that. It feels like a loss.
After we said goodbye to him, we went to a fast-food restaurant. My husband told the cashier we needed five cups. I thought he was losing it and said, “You mean six.”
“No, we only need five,” he corrected me, his eyes softening as he realized I was on autopilot. Practically speaking, our family had gone from six to five within the last hour.
I took a deep breath and filled my cup with iced tea. There isn’t anything else to be done but to keep moving. There are three other kids to care for, a life to live and I must remember this change is a good thing, but it couldn’t feel farther from good. I am not sure what I thought launching a beloved child would feel like, but just like those newborn days, it is way harder than I anticipated.
At orientation the day before leaving him, most of us mothers wore the same look: wide eyes and pursed lips. I encountered only strangers that day, but we all knew what each other felt. Inwardly, I prayed, “Please help me not to cry.” My prayer wasn’t answered, as I wished several times that day. God knows grieving must take place.
Being back in my life in England now, I wish I could say, the grieving is over, but it isn’t. The day-to-day routine of school runs, work and life is on, but there is a back burner simmering with grief. I watch my phone like a teenage girl waiting for a text from him, resenting the 6-hour time difference which has him asleep or in a class for most of our waking hours. Video calls are fantastic and treasured. He is doing so well, and this is exactly what I want for him.
I am learning (again!) that what I want doesn’t always feel wonderful. What is best for my kids often will not have a rush of joy attached to it. True love means sacrifice. That is what it meant when lugging a newborn car seat around, never sleeping and wiping bottoms. And that is what it means now when I would love to hear him come in the front door or have him at our dinner table. Motherhood has been a sacrifice every step of the way and watching my kids grow into adults calls on me to give of myself in a new way while taking my hands off everyday involvement in their lives.
I know what my mom means to me, and it is a comfort to know I will always be the mom. He still calls to talk through his problems and for writing emails to professors.
A dear friend and I had breakfast together shortly after we returned to the UK in the loveliest little café. She is a bit ahead of me in mothering.
“It doesn’t get any easier the more often you say good-bye to them,” she admitted and both of us welled up.
It is such a gift God has given me in this a-few-steps-ahead friend, so I know I am not alone.
“God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.” (Psalm 46:1-3)
Nothing catastrophic has happened in this launching of my child, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t felt like a seismic shift. I can only access resilience by finding my safety and strength in God and His lovingkindness in my life. My motherhood, my feelings, or my circumstances do not define identity and purpose. “He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God’” (Psalm 46:10). By finding quiet for my heart in God’s presence and surrendering to what mothering well looks like in this transition is how I will be at peace with the changes that will continue to come in this journey.