I used to be indifferent towards motherhood.
I saw kids in my future, but not because of some innate desire to have them. Mainly, I figured life without them would become stale. I’d develop FOMO through my friends’ holiday cards and photographs at their children’s graduations, wondering if I opted out of what could’ve been my greatest blessing. I’m sure I’ll love my future husband and we’ll travel to amazing places, but settling down might exacerbate our home’s emptiness. Our Shih Tzus and souvenirs might not occupy enough space in the house. We’d need a family, along with a swing set in the backyard, and tricycles in the garage.
So, I expected to have children, but not for a while. I like to go out. I drink. Dabble with drugs. I’m spontaneous and carefree, qualities that don’t mesh with the responsibility motherhood requires. Plus, I didn’t see myself as maternal. Perhaps because my mother epitomizes the quality, as she stayed home to raise my brother and me while my father commuted to his Manhattan job. My aunt told me that my mother left their dinner dates early because she “needed to go home to her babies,” even though the babysitter set us to sleep hours prior.
When I was three, my mother contracted carpal tunnel from carrying me so much, and she wore a cast on her right arm for months. “Your daughter’s a toddler,” the doctor said. “You’ve gotta stop carrying her.” My mother tells me she couldn’t say no to me, not the way I’d whimper, “Mommy, please pick me up.” Admittedly, I was a cute kid. My round cheeks were difficult to deny.
When I was in first grade, I cried to my mother because my best friend was ignoring me on the playground. Most of my childhood memories evade me, but this one resonated because that evening ended our friendship. Her mother was my mother’s friend; after that conversation, my mother stopped planning our playdates and calling my friend’s mother, altogether. She felt my rejection as her own, absorbing my hurt into her bones.
My mother revolved her life around my brother and me. Later, this manifested into control. After puberty, I embodied both chaos and idleness, a free-spirited nature that neither of my parents knew how to tame. Their discipline tangible in the form of punishment. However, I viewed their rules as a game, which, once I learned, I could win. I’ve grown since my teenage years, but on some level, I still function in the “real” world exactly the same. Sometimes I wonder if rebellion is embedded within my personality and that’s what prompted my parents’ over-protection, or it was their over-protection that fostered my rebellion. It’s a “chicken or the egg” question; I suppose I’ll never know which manifested first.
“Remember, you were born into this world, pure,” my mother told my teenage self, after confiscating my alcohol stash. “I know I can’t keep you that way forever, but… I worry about you. It was easier to blame my behavior on my parent’s strictness, but some part of me recognized that I wasn’t an easy kid. It wasn’t my parents’ fault for disapproving my choices, considering most of them ravaged my parents’ stress levels and bank account. Life would’ve been easier for both of us if I didn’t want what I want, but I was stubborn and resilient. My parents often say they hope I have a child-like myself. I contemplate the prospect often, and it’s probably strengthened my ambivalence towards motherhood.
Nonetheless, since I didn’t see myself as maternal, I couldn’t fathom ever fretting as much as my folks did. They’re worriers. I figured that when I have children, I’d let them forge their own path. I knew plenty of kids with lax parents and they didn’t do drugs or drop out of school. If my child did drift in that direction, I’d do my best to guide them, but ultimately, they’d learn from their own mistakes. It’s what I’ve done.
For most of my early twenties, I rarely considered having children. On the contrary, I thought about not having them, after those hazy nights out when I’d pop a plan b. In college, I’d cry tears of joy on my period’s first day, because I’d beaten another month of potential pregnancy. However, even though I’m still far from ready to be a mother, I’ve been thinking about it. I’m not sure what prompted the shift. I think social media plays a part, as lately, my feed contains an influx of babies and toddlers. This could be because most women I follow are in their twenties and thirties — prime baby-making stage — unlike those I followed when I was younger. As with all social media, I live vicariously through these mothers’ content. It’s damn near impossible not to — every story and post contains their jubilant baby; I almost feel as if I’m related to the child. Whether this presents a problem in itself is a whole other topic, and I’m not sure how I feel about children’s nonconsensual online activity, myself. Nonetheless, each mother’s happiness is palpable. I want it for myself.
I’ve watched babies take their first steps, utter their first words, and chew their first solid food. Their smile — along with their mothers’ — sparks my own. I never used to find toddlers cute. I mean, I could appreciate a chunky baby as much as the next person, but any ephemeral enjoyment didn’t reach my soul. Now, I want to squish every baby I see. I want to snuggle one of my own. Feel their small head on my shoulder and their warm chest rising and falling with mine.
I want to play games. I understand why my mother spent every second of her free time with me. We had a blast. I have fond memories of us playing checkers, dress up, dollhouse, garage sale (I’d lay my item on my bedroom floor and ring them up on my toy cash register), and singing along to Hillary Duff. Hell, playing with a kid is probably a lot more fun than watching soap operas and brunching with fellow adults, discussing marriage, divorce, and money. With me, my mother returned to childhood innocence, where every day is a new day for fun.
I feel that fun through the mothers I watch. Again, I might’ve witnessed it when I was younger. However, what differentiates my current self from then is that I see myself in these women. These mothers look like me — they style their hair like mine, and have breast implants and lip filler — and they, too, used to get hammered at the bar, smoke weed, take sexy bikini pictures, curse, and joke about sex. I used to envision maternalism as the stereotypical — and archaic — depiction of motherhood, but I view these mothers as equals. When I see them with their babies, I imagine myself as one of them.
Perhaps my change of heart wasn’t externally driven. Observing my peers might’ve been a factor, but internally, I’m not the same person I used to be. I’ve matured. Motherhood unnerved me because I didn’t think I could care about someone more than myself. Now, I want to know how that feels. I want to experience a love that consumes and reorients my world because I finally understand it. I know motherhood consists of more than glamorized candids. I want to embrace the grit, as well. I’ll change diapers and attend every tedious school meeting, because these moments will fulfill me, tantamount to motherhood’s highlights.
My mother’s “micromanaging” wasn’t to control me: it was to protect me. As I developed into a teenager, her priority wasn’t me liking her — her parenting prioritized her loving me. Unlike my teenage self, I recognize that I cannot judge what I haven’t experienced. Maybe I will give birth to an unruly kid like myself. My parenting might form a different shape than my mother’s, but I’ll learn when it’s my turn. I might mess up a few times, but I no longer fear these mistakes.
Just like in my personal life, I’ll be learning and growing through the journey, to be the most compassionate person for myself, and my future child.