Recently I had a conversation with my three year old daughter, which shook me to the core.
"Edna, I love you and I am so happy to have you in my life and to have the chance to be your mother”
“And if I hadn’t been here, mommy?”
“If you hadn’t been?”
“Would you have been happy if I hadn’t been born?”
“Yes, Edna, I would have been happy then too and would have had a beautiful life. But now, because you are here, I get the chance to know and love a wonderful person whom I wouldn’t have met otherwise. For that, I am very grateful”.
“I love you, mommy!”
I was so touched that it occurred to her to ask me about my happiness without her. I was even more impressed with the ease and relief with which she received the news that I had been a person and had had a life before her. She asked me variations of the same questions a few more times since - would I have been happy without her? Would my life have been beautiful even if she hadn’t come into it? It feels as if she wants to make sure, from time to time, that she’s not responsible with my happiness. And I am glad to assure her she isn’t.
Before having my child, one of my biggest topics of reflection was to define a meaning of my own, to answer the question: "Who am I and what do I want my life to be about?”. I have always believed that my future children should never be burdened with the responsibility of being “my all”, my very purpose and meaning in life.
I used to feel a knot in my stomach every time people told me: “You’ll see, children are the biggest fulfilment in life”. Now that I’m a mother I sometimes hear: “Isn’t it wonderful to have kids? It’s only now that you know what you are living for, isn’t it?”. Every time, my answer is the same: “No! I knew why I was living before I had a child. Actually I postponed the decision to become a parent until I was sure I knew what I was living for. My life would have had just as much meaning without Edna. That is not her role in my life and it shouldn’t be”. Every time I say this, I am met with slightly shocked, sometimes critical looks. Sometimes I get a chance to explain further, other times the conversation ends there, awkwardly.
My child brings something priceless in my life, but that “something” isn’t meaning. She brings a very special kind of love - unconditional, she brings playfulness and a soothing, heartwarming existential glow that I can’t even put into words, she brings new, fresh eyes with which to see the world. She brings me the unique opportunity to accompany another human being on their journey through life from their very first breath. She brings a precious mirror to see myself in every day, that is constantly reminding me to keep working on becoming a better, wiser person. She brings curiosity, connection, presence and gives me the opportunity to always remember we are all born beautiful, innocent and full of potential. She brings me an ever renewed faith in humanity. For all of that, I am deeply grateful.
At the same time, I believe this child does not belong to me. I am but a gate through which she entered this world, but she isn’t mine. My mission is to love her and protect her, to accompany her for a while on her journey and then, when time comes, to have the strength to let her go. I will watch her sail away to live her own life, while I remain, as long as I am alive and conscious, a safe harbour where her boat can come back to anchor and rest whenever life becomes too much or she just needs to refill her reservoirs of love.
I strongly believe that, in order to be her trusted partner, I need to be able to stand by her when she makes choices I won’t agree with, but which she will need for her growth. I need to accept that she is the master of her own life and fate, that she will make mistakes, will learn, will love and suffer, will fall and rise. I would not be able to be her partner and unconditional support if I lived through her. I would not be able to accompany her if, in her very step, I saw my own success or failure, if I made her life to be about me, instead of her. I would not be able to unconditionally accept her for who she is, not for who I want her to be, I would not be able to see and treasure her in all her uniqueness if my stake as a mother was to fulfil myself through her, to infuse my life with meaning just from being her mother.
One of the most painful burdens of the adults I get to work with in my coaching profession is to have been their parents’ only reason for living. It is a burden that some of us carry for 30, 40, 50 years or more. We carry it even when our parents are no longer living - we still fight to rise up to what we have learnt to be their expectations of us, to live the dreams they had for us, instead of the life we want for ourselves. It is a burden that we, once we become parents ourselves, can so easily and unconsciously pass on to our own children.
It is my hope that more and more of us will choose to not pass on this heavy load anymore and instead stop for a while and ask ourselves:
“Who am I? What do I want my life to be about, independently of anybody else? What am I doing in the world and what do I want to build?”.
I believe that reflecting on these questions will be liberating for us and also for our children. We will be free to enjoy our lives beyond our kids and to relax in our roles as parents, knowing we are not just that. We will be able to cherish our sons and daughters for who they are, not who we want them to be and will gleefully cheer for them and the dreams they build for themselves. In turn, they will be freed to be themselves, unique and whole, instead of just pieces to patch up the holes in their parent’s souls.