When my first child was born, all I wanted was for my mom to take care of me; she was there, no questions asked. I was her baby, and I was in need. Wild horses couldn’t have kept her from my bedside that cold, rainy evening. It was an awe-inspiring and primal feeling of love and connection. I wept when she finally went home after weeks of helping me adjust to my new life.
It was the last time I ever felt the all-consuming warmth of that kind of devotion.
Something happened after that first baby settled into the family. I stopped being the child and became a mom. Suddenly, I was expected to take care of myself as well as my new family.
The unconditional love and support on which I had allowed myself to become dependent was wavering. Over night I found myself on the wrong side of her priority scale, competing against the family dog for love and affection. I was finally an independent adult, and it was lonely.
Just when I learned to appreciate the intense passion with which a mother lives for her children, the love that had always been meant for me was gone and replaced by only my own sacrifices. I would do anything for my children–give all that I am, be there for them whenever they needed me, forever, until the day I die.
Children need that kind of love, but so do moms. If anything, they need it more.
When my third child was born, my house filled with flowers, cards, and older babies in need of reassurance that they would always be the most important things in my life. I gave and gave until I had nothing left, and I’d never felt more alone. My mother, who had once been a source of comfort and confidence for me as I entered the world of motherhood, was nowhere to be seen. I stood alone, holding up the weight of my growing family. I felt empty, and there was no one to fill me up.
I may be a mother, but I will always be a little girl who needs her own mom to sweep her up in her arms and tell her everything will be okay. I still long for the safety and security of knowing there is someone out there who will take care of me while I learn how to tear my heart into a third piece and give it away yet again. I need someone to put me first so I have the strength to put everyone else before me.
But she chose not to be there.
So I take comfort in my little family–my husband and three beautiful children–believing that I am loved and cherished. But it’s not the same. They love me because they need me. It’s a very special feeling to love those who can only need, those who have nothing to give: the way a mother loves her babies.
I try to be happy for the new life my mother had started since I became an adult, and for the new loves she has in her life, but it will always hurt that the one person who lived only for me now lives for herself, her marriage, her pets, her car, and her house–all before me. It will always fill me with sadness that I lost that gift of unconditional love and support before I ever appreciated it. Before I really needed it.
I look at my children, their tiny little bodies, their faces filled with joy and confidence that they are loved, and I see them growing and changing already. I try every day to promise them without words that I will always be there for them even when they don’t know how to ask.
Even if I’ve forgotten how to ask for myself.
I know there will come a day when they stop demanding with their every breath that I give all of myself to them. One day I will look at them and see how strong and independent they have become, and feel the pull on my heart as I realize they have grown away from me like the branches of a tree. There will come a time when I need to fill my life with other loves, as my mother did, to keep my heart from collapsing on itself.
There will come a day when my children return to me the tattered pieces of my heart that I gave them so many years before, believing that they no longer have room for them as they start families and lives of their own, but I will know better.
Those pieces of my heart are not really mine anymore, but I will hold onto them until my children need me to once again fill their hearts with my own so they have more to give to their future children.
I will never let them feel the emptiness that comes from feeling like no one cares. They will someday be parents, but they will never stop needing their mother, and I will never stop giving.