I never thought about being a mother before it happened and feel that in itself was a gift.
I had no expectations, no preconceived ideas and no mapped out road ahead. From the moment my first child was born I was blown away by the connection I felt to her, my husband and our growing family. My greatest joy is feeling my heart open in ways I never expected and feeling that love beamed back to me by each of them in their unique way.
Before motherhood, I was an Ivy League educated, career-oriented Ph.D, but from the moment my first child was born my priorities greatly changed. I once spent many hours a day using my analytical mind. Now, ten years later, I am dumbfounded by the simplest pointed question from another adult about my previous career. However, I have mastered repeating “no” 252 times to a repeated demand by a 4 and 8 year old while braiding a 10 year old’s hair. I do that 337 times a day every day!
When my first child was 9 months old, I transitioned to working remotely from home in the field of science education. It offered me the chance to be home and available to my children each day, but greatly limited my contact with other people in our already remote home in Maine. I was lucky early on to find a group of moms who enjoyed being outdoors like me and we found ways to hike, take walks, go camping and connect while our children played together. Motherhood has given me so many beautiful friendships that I value even as our children grow apart.
I strongly believe raising our kids with a deep connection to the Earth, compassion for others and a sense of wonder are the most important life skills we can give them.
Busy lives don’t make it easy to carve out the time to allow them to be outside, be bored and engaged in nature and I have to continually say “no” to engagements and activities to foster the quiet I feel we need. I have never been a competitive person, but do sometimes question whether I should be doing those lessons or special classes other kids are doing. I must remind myself that I truly know what is best for our family. Many sleepless nights are spent mulling over my decisions for our family and strengthening my trust in myself and our family’s path. Motherhood has made me second guess so many choices I have made because the consequences seem so serious and irreversible, a child’s mind and heart are at stake. Early on, I was overwhelmed by being responsible for cutting 80 nails in a timely manner, but now I realize that was easy. Now I know my real work is caring for them in an authentic, mindful way and helping them do the work to find solutions to the many problems they encounter in life.
I often catch myself when I say, “My 4 year old keeps me humble,” because I have to remember that even though he really does humble me on a daily basis, it is not his job to parent me or teach me anything. I need to remember that my children are their own free souls on their own spiritual journey and my job is to guide and support them. I want to be the soft lap they fall into, the warmth like sunshine they feel on their faces and the strong support that helps clear a path for them to lead.I do not ask my kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, but “What problems do you want to solve?”. I do not care about their grades or college prospects, but rather want to know that they have compassion in their hearts, can express themselves clearly to others, and have the skills to find solutions to life’s problems.
It surprises me how incredibly fleeting yet excruciatingly long the days of mothering young children can feel.
Most days my plan includes reading time together, sewing or another little artistic project together, and cooking a healthy, delicious meal. These three tasks seem relatively small and easy within the span of a day, even when you consider work and school hours, but inevitably the day is instead filled with squabbles, inability to engage anyone in what I thought might be fun and then a glance at the clock after what felt like a painfully long day to realize I only have five minutes left to make dinner. It is hard. It is work. I fail more often than I succeed and go to bed each night with stronger intentions that tomorrow will be better and that somehow these little beings we are in charge of will turn out all right.
There is a great deal of trust and confidence in myself that I need to pull on like a coat of armor each day to be that person for my children. I think so many of us want a better life for our children, more choices for our children — something different than what we had — but sometimes pushing so hard can be a mistake in itself. Even the littlest of children are such knowing beings: full of light, strength and clarity. I feel so much of my job is getting out of the way and not pushing any of my own past trauma and fears onto them. I want to them to feel a connection: to our family, to the Earth, to our ancestors, to the path we have chosen, to something. My hypothesis is that creating traditions around family life and holidays is one way to help them feel that connection. We have daily blessings at meal times and bedtime, little poems to whisper to the rising full moon or when planting the garden and special foods and handmade gifts that signal the importance of a holiday or special events. I struggle to not rush past these important rituals in the busyness of our world and often have to remind myself that I am not alone. There is a long line of women standing behind me who have done this, embraced this, and raised strong, capable children, able to take on all the problems of the world.
Jennifer Muscato lives on the coast of Maine with her husband and three children in a small house with a big garden, just the way she loves it. She works remotely as a science consultant and educator and when she is not working or wrangling children, she can be found learning about herbal medicine, sustainable agriculture and how to cultivate grace and mindfulness for her family.
Saralyn Ward is an award-winning writer, wellness advocate, and mountain mama. She is the founder of The Mama Sagas, writes for several publications and hosts a regular parenting TV segment on Colorado's Everyday Show. When she's not huddled over edits, you're likely to find Saralyn climbing peaks or skiing down them, and reminding herself that the two little girls that call her mom are not the boss of her.