The Pain in the Joy

june-51s

Motherhood is is full of paradox. From the moment we learn of our child’s existence, we begin a process of constantly holding and letting go. This little person is part of our very being (spiritually, if not physically) and yet a totally separate human being. They arrive, and we let go while simultaneously embracing. They grow, and we watch in unspeakable joy, yet with each milestone reached we must let go just a bit more. Let go, and trust. The cord is cut, and we no longer share one body. They need us at every second, even to support their tiny floppy heads, and then less, and less. They wean. They crawl, then walk, and then run away from us (and yet return for comfort, again and again). We continue, being there, loving, holding, and still constantly letting go. May I just point something out here, that perhaps sometimes we’re afraid to say out loud? Amidst all of the amazing joy of all of this, it is also gut-wrenchingly painful for us as mamas. Remember, this child was literally a part of you and always will be. It is wonderful to see our little ones learning, changing, becoming the people they are destined to be. But it also feels a bit like a punch in the stomach, as we let go and practice trusting that they will be okay, and as we watch each stage pass, gone forever in favor of the new.
It is okay—even totally essential—to acknowledge this. In one of my favorite podcast episodes ever, Rob Bell spoke of The Good Grief. It deeply affected me, and has been on my mind ever since. With every new thing in our lives, something else must be coming to an end. Each time we gain something, we also lose something. This applies to parenthood, and also every other aspect of life. It is healthy for us to grieve these small things. If we refuse to acknowledge what is passing away, in fear that it will make us seem ungrateful for the wonderful new things happening, we are ignoring a part of our own hearts that needs the pain to be acknowledged. In allowing ourselves to observe and fully feel the pain even in the smallest things, we honor what was, and we allow ourselves to let it go and then fully be present and grateful in the now.
And you know what’s so incredibly beautiful about all of this? When you let yourself do this, you give yourself permission to feel everything more completely, including the present moment. In acknowledging the bittersweet heartache of my kids growing, each new stage bringing about the end of the previous one, I find myself so much more grateful for the present stages they’re in—wanting to soak in every detail and truly pay attention while it lasts.
So I’ll allow myself to feel a little sad that Eaden looks different (albeit every bit as cute) now that she has teeth, and that Isaac is looking less and less “little” lately as the last of his toddler chub disappears, and even that Seth no longer needs my help with most of his day-to-day tasks (yes, with that one I may be simultaneously grieving and cheering!)… but mostly I will hug them as often as I can, and notice the color of their eyes when I look at them, and pay as much attention as I can, as often as I can, to every detail. And I’ll take pictures (so many pictures), because every bit of it is worth remembering.

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