I started this blog shortly after giving birth to my daughter Ayla. I decided on a mommy blog because, well, there was nothing else on my mind post-partum. But last summer, the winds shifted in my life and suddenly I felt the urge to expand my view of myself, from parent to person, and mother to woman.
Yes, parenting is an endlessly fascinating aspect of being alive. And true, there is no end to the challenges confronted by parents and their children. But now when I look at the title of my blog—Labor of Love—I think about the work I need to do for and to myself, as an individual, rather than solely in the context of raising a child.
There were a few telltale signs that I was ripe for change. First, I ceased being interested in parenting books—this was a surprise since I had been a bit of a Jean Leidloff-Barbara Coloroso-Penelope Leach junkie since pregnancy. But last May, I went cold turkey. When I plucked a book off the shelf for a late night read, the titles that stood out were about women (Elizabeth Lesser’s Broken Open), death (A Memoir of Living & Dying by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) and spirit (Michael Newton’s past life page-turner, Journey of Souls). I read voraciously through the summer and fall. When I dragged myself out of bed in the morning to be confronted with a parenting crisis—groggy from my late night reading sessions—I trusted my intuition to guide me to the right solution. And most of the time, my parenting didn’t seem to suffer from the lack of constant research and discussion. And if it did, I was willing to live with my own shortcomings.
Another sign was my sizeable thirst to be reunited with life again. Of course children are about as alive as a human being can get, but most grown adults are not satiated by a steady diet of child’s play. I felt the urge to get out of the house more often—to dialogue, to teach, to hear live music, to watch documentaries, and to attend conferences where I could learn and grow. I found these excursions energizing and entertaining. I began to wonder about my purpose in the world again. I spent many nights thinking deeply about my gifts—outside of potty training and family scheduling—and began to crave my work as a writer and teacher again.
And then, during a recent Ladies night, we broached the topic of adolescence. Not ours, but the prospect of our children growing up and seeing us as we are, through teen-aged eyes. There is no parenting book that can save you if you’ve dedicated 16 years of your life to your children at the expense of yourself. If your kids want to know how to be in the world, and you can only point to your own unrealized potential as a human being, a parenting book won't save you.
At some point in the future, our children will judge us not just by how we parented but also by how we lived. They will learn how to make the right choices only if we build strong relationships, do work that we love, and are part of communities that reflect our beliefs. Our parenting must shift from the blocking-and-tackling work of changing diapers and preventing playground meltdowns to living fully, and sharing the process of how we do so with our children.
And so, this winter, I decided that I needed to start "laboring with love" for myself. If I engage in the hard work of learning to love myself and nurture my gifts—and I let Ayla see and participate in my life—I will be loving and parenting her, too. I won't give up on hugs and play and swim classes, but I want to strike the right balance between focusing on her life and on mine. In my view, children thrive when they are raised by parents who are whole people, and whose everyday life reflects the richness of what it means to be alive.