Every Tuesday in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
Sometimes I feel like my Facebook feed is filled with articles about how much I ought to regret that my children grow up a little every day. I regularly see images, articles, and comments warning me that I’ll never be more loved by my children than I am right now—when they are small children. I read one article last week called “The Weight of Motherhood” that apparently inspired many of the commenters to pick up their children and never put them down, because one never knows which time will be the last.
There’s a part of me that responds to these posts with anger; I don’t want to spend my time with my children lamenting the inevitable. I don’t want to fetishize their childhoods and construct their growing up as something sorrowful when letting go little by little is the nature of parenting. I want to believe that my relationships with my children when they are teenagers and adults can be meaningful too, albeit different. But there’s another part of me that responds with real grief, with sorrow and a heavy heart—and that’s the part that understands why these posts are so popular.
Take, for instance, last week, when my husband recounted for me the incident of the lost helium balloon. He’d warned our daughters not to take them outside, asked them to let him tie them to something stable when they chose to do so anyway, and then comforted our elder when her birthday balloon drifted skyward. As he described her tears and his inability to say “I told you so” in the face of her loss, I felt like my heart, too, was breaking. I think I felt sad about the balloon on her behalf longer than she did, and I wondered, in the reasonable part of my brain, how I will ever cope with more serious losses as my children age.
Yet author Elizabeth Stone writes “Making the decision to have a child—it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” A similar concept appears when Catherynne Valente’s protagonist September in The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making chooses to lose her heart (rather than her mind or her way or life ) because “All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one.” Both of these quotes speak to the loss that comes with age, with the maturation (one hopes), of tying oneself to another through care. September reasons that a heart is less valuable than her life or way or mind, but her mother, left behind without a goodbye, might reason quite differently.
Love and loss are two sides of the same coin, joy as “grief turned inside out”—cites author Jennifer Senior. Love and loss are inextricably intertwined; to love is to trust someone else with one’s heart, and that is quite a burden for a child to bear. It’s why I don’t feel like my children offer me the deepest love possible, because their love is based on need and dependence and not a free-will offering that knows my faults and chooses to love me anyway. And my fear, of course, is that if I put them down or let them go, then they will take my heart with them and not return, that when they can choose, they will choose not to love me.
They too will give their hearts away to others, and so we all walk through the world divided and bolstered by love all at once. I ache with their pains and exult in their triumphs, but loving them leaves me feeling less whole and more complete all at once. It’s a risky business, and that, too, is the nature of parenting. So as I think about the weight of motherhood and the lightness of that helium balloon, I have to ask myself why my heart feels so easily rent in two. I remind myself where love comes from, and why I am able to love at all—because God first loved me. And I know, in giving my heart to my children, that I always need to come back to giving it to God first. Like the balloon flying into the heavens, I must look up first, or I will be forever weighed down by counting my losses. And only by casting myself on the mercy of the one who is love can I bear the weight and the loss of earthly love. My mother-heart is heavy, but I don’t have to carry it alone.