About five months into motherhood, I read this quote by Shonda Rhimes from her book Year of Yes:
You can quit a job. I can’t quit being a mother. I’m a mother forever. Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children, with our mothers as human beings, with our darkest fears of who we really are. Being a mother requires us to get it together or risk messing up another person forever. Being a mother yanks our hearts out of our bodies and attaches them to our tiny humans and sends them out into the world, forever hostages.”
At the time, I remember thinking, “Whoa, this is intense!” I got that her intention was probably to drive home the beauty and strength of motherhood, but it made the experience sound terrifying. Lately, however, I’ve been reflecting on a few parts of the quote in different ways.
“Being a mother brings us face-to-face with …our mothers as human beings…”
My mom was a single mother, and she did her best within her means. We weren’t well off but I went to great schools, was a disciplined child, and grew up because of her nurturing and guidance to be someone she and I are proud of. Obviously, every decision she made wasn’t the best or had an optimal outcome, but I think almost everything she did ended up being in my best interest. She worked hard for me to have a relationship with my father and his family. I’ve benefited from that effort—I now have a decent relationship with my dad and sisters and a good deal of my paternal family, but it’s an area of my life that caused constant tension with my mother and I. Although she fought for me to have these relationships, they also caused her pain and frustration, because she couldn’t be included in that part of my life because her and my dad do not get along. What should have been a happy and fulfilling process became an area of friction for us, and because of this, some of these relationships was and continue to be laborious to maintain without hurting her. I, however, find myself forgiving her for things that bothered me growing up and that followed me into adulthood and pre-motherhood. I know and appreciate her struggle to get me to the point of having some semblance of a relationship with my dad. It was hard fought, wrought with obstacles, hurt, and some bad decisions—but also an eternal love for me and desire for me to feel like I belonged. And since becoming a mother, I’ve had many “AHA”, “Oh my, I was way too hard on her” or even “Now I see exactly why she made that decision” moments as it relates to my mom.
‘Mothers are never off the clock, mothers are never on vacation. Being a mother redefines us, reinvents us, destroys and rebuilds us. Being a mother brings us face-to-face with ourselves as children… with our darkest fears of who we are.
I knew motherhood would change my life—you are, after all, responsible for a life! A whole life! Thinking about that is incredibly humbling, but also incredibly terrifying. But I knew I still wanted to retain some semblance of my former self. I didn’t want motherhood to consume me and make me resentful. But what I’ve realized is that motherhood has only made me more introspective. It’s made me think about who I am, as a child and as an adult. It’s made me think of the decisions and choices I’ve made that would not have made my mom the most proud, but also the decisions that did make her proud. I reflect on them in almost every way possible.
I can’t help but think about my daughter in the future—who she will be and what she will be like. Will I be happy if my little one does the things that I did too? Can I prevent her from doing “bad” things? How will I handle it? How do I best guide her? Will I succeed and take the right approach? How do I best work alongside my partner in ensuring we are on the same page when it comes to discipline, education, her social life, her behavioral and emotional well being and the litany of other factors that influence one’s life outcomes? I know, I know—my daughter is only eight months old, and I should probably enjoy that the only worries that exist are whether she’ll fuss when I change her or spit out my carrots and butternut squash concoction. But, through my mother’s efforts, and because of my own concerns about my daughter’s well-being, I’m committed to creating a better, physical and financial life than I had growing up. And, more importantly, a better emotional life.
As I work toward that, an important question that I tend to minimize is: Will I be capable of forgiving myself the way I’ve forgiven my mom, acknowledging that I am not infallible? And, if things fail, will I be willing to persevere, adjust and keep pushing, just like my mother did? I am slowly accepting that it is good to think about these questions, but it is most useful to trust my judgment, instincts, and moral compass.
One thing I do know is that no matter the outcome of my daughter’s father and I’s relationship, I will put my daughter at the center of it. I learned that much from my mom.
And now, I try not to get so caught up in the idea of building the perfect life, and making all the right decisions that I forget to enjoy the journey and continue improving myself. Yes, motherhood is about embracing change, but I believe it is also about maintaining a sense of self that allows you to be the best person you can be for the sake of your child. And embracing how motherhood affects that person is key. Motherhood, to me, doesn’t “destroy and rebuild” us; we bring the essence of who we are into the experience, and it gives in return.
I thought motherhood was simply about caring for your child, but truthfully your well-being is paramount to the well-being of your little one. Taking care of you doesn’t mean you’re selfish, it actually benefits your child in a myriad of ways, and it’s totally okay to think about yourself sometimes. So this summer when Azara was about 6 months old, my mom and I spent a week on our first vacation together in our homeland of Jamaica. We both took time to relax, refresh, reconnect, dance, be adventurous and meet new people. In the midst of that, I had to remember to pump, and have so many stories about the struggles with pumping in a country where it’s not a cultural norm. But, I came home feeling less stressed, more calm and more patient with the challenges of raising an infant.
So yes, you’re never not a mother, you’re never truly on vacation. But I find strength and power in the careful balance of being a mom, a career woman, being a partner and in being Keesa, without all the titles. I know I never want to lose the essence of who I am. I am proud of who I was pre-motherhood, and I am pretty proud of who I have become as a mother. I don’t look at it as ‘never the twain shall meet’, but as a beautiful, delicate symbiosis.
This is the second piece in a series entitled In Infancy. by guest contributor Keesa McKoy. Keesa is the Digital Content and Outreach Manager for Students at the Center Hub. She lives in Boston with her partner Aaron and daughter Azara. She’s an advocate for social justice issues and runs a culture and current events podcast, Talk360.