Becoming a mother

Thousands of people do it. I’ve written a book about it. But still, I’m not sure how one becomes a mother.

I don’t think it happens the moment you give birth or adopt a child. Biologically, yes, but in every other way it takes time to learn to mother. Does it happen during that first year of milky sleep deprivation, of joy and amazement, of confused helplessness in the face of pure dependency? Or does it happen more slowly, over the years, a gradual stretching and turning inside out of the self, a transformation both profound and subtle? It is so common, perhaps, that we hardly notice it and the process of reconfiguration remains mysterious.

Certainly, all those books about how to be a good mother, the parenting courses, the advice websites – none of these approach the actuality of becoming a mother. They simply tell us how society thinks we should act as mothers and provide a place for sharing tips on how to manage children. They’re useful, but every woman must learn her own way to become a mother, just as every child will develop into their own individuated self.

Some people would argue I’m expressing a very romantic view of mothering here, describing it as mysterious and transformative. But in fact, I think that it is all the “how to” books that are based on motherhood as an ideal. I am more interested in the real experience of mothering as a complex, ongoing encounter with the self, an encounter of pain as well as pleasure, but an encounter that is always a gift.

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