Trusting myself

Before we went to Jerusalem, I had an exchange with my friend Aidan about how mothers universally doubt themselves.  This is simply and inherently part of the terrain, she said, and I agree.  But for days after our conversation I found myself thinking about those moments – rare, but important – where I have trusted myself as a mother even when the prevailing wisdom said otherwise.  To understand how vital these experiences are to me you have to understand that I was never a “maternal” person – I had never changed a diaper until I had Grace, I didn’t babysit as a kid, and having children was never part of the future I ran so aggressively and directly for.  It wasn’t not part of the vision I had of my life, but somehow it – motherhood – was never an explicit part of my plan.

And then, as you know if you know me or read this blog, motherhood came upon me suddenly, without warning; my pregnancy, a surprise, announced itself the same day that Matt’s father was diagnosed with a terrible illness.  Indeed, Grace’s gestation, birth, and infancy are wound tightly around my father-in-law’s illness and eventual, miraculous heart tranplant.

All of that is to say that I reflect with a very real sense of wonder at the moments when I did trust my own mothering instincts.  I was often not aware of this in the moment, but with perspective certain turning points stand up, insistently, reminding me of the undeniable power of an identity to which I’d never given much thought: mother.

During my labor with Grace, I went somewhere I’ve never been again, to a land of incendiary and incandescent pain, and I knew somehow that she and I were going to be okay.  A more conventional birth environment probably would not have allowed this to happen, so my choice at 28 weeks to move to the midwifery practice at the small local hospital – which was, on the face of it, somewhat radical – is one I continue to be proud of (and amazed by).

When Grace was almost 2 and she had some symptoms that our doctor could not understand.  He sent us to a specialist at Children’s, and she had blood work, x-rays, ultrasounds, a CAT scan.  The doctor began talking about possibility of a brain tumor.  In this midst of this – a time that I recall more than anything as utterly devoid of panic – I decided to switch her from soy milk to rice milk.  I was worried about the estrogen-mimicking qualities of soy.  All of her doctors scoffed at me.  Her symptoms disappeared in 2 weeks, and I’ve been profoundly skeptical of soy ever since.

When Whit was 3 his nursery school teacher was worried about his speech, and was unsure whether something cognitive was going on.  She sent us to speech therapy, where had him evaluated, and the whole time I failed, again, to freak out.  I knew he was fine and he was (and is).  He just speaks – to this day – with a slightly funny accent.  Now it makes us all laugh.

When Grace was 5 (almost 6) she flew on an airplane alone.  She flew from Philadelphia to Boston as an unaccompanied minor.  I put her on the plane (well, I watched her walk down the gangway with a flight attendant) and Matt and Whit met her at the gate in Boston.  Unbeknownst to me, she wrote about it in her kindergarten journal, and I cried when I saw it at our parent-teacher conference.  I received stinging criticism on the playground and from other mothers (notably, not from any of my close friends).  To this day she talks about the experience, evincing great pride and self-confidence about the fact that she did it.

And these days, I follow my intuition every day.  It weaves a narrow path, glimmering, through the overscheduled, overstuffed, more-more-more world of childhood today, and I try to follow it, hand-over-hand, like I’m palming a ribbon.  I take my children for walks, I take them to the playground, we thrill at the small sparrow on the porch.  I worry – I’ll admit it, a lot – that their lack of skills at Mandarin or violin or hockey will be a problem eventually when it comes to applying to schools, colleges, etc.  But even more, I believe in the small still voice in my head that says: protect this time.

Aidan, thanks for prompting this conversation, for causing me to dive into my own memories, to remember anew that I do have instincts here, despite how often I bemoan the fact that mothering does not come naturally to me.

Do you have memories like these, about any aspect of your life, that bolster your trust in yourself?


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14 Comments

  1. Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Lindsey, this is so important. Without going into details that my oh so nearly grown daughter would not appreciate me sharing, I can tell you that this path – this way without Mandarin and trombone and three kinds of sorts each season- has worked out beautifully for her. I listen to her in
    interviews at colleges and am just in awe. I only wish I’d had more faith in those choices as I was making them. Her early story is eerily similar to Grace’s.

    And now? I live by my gut, my intuition, my inner compass. And I’m happy to be in your company.

    As always, thank you.

    XOXO

  2. Posted January 3, 2012 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Motherhood, to me, was a forgone conclusion. I never doubted I would have children, and so you can imagine my surprise when it didn’t fit as well as I always expected after the birth of my first son. Now, looking back more than 5 years, I realize just how ill-prepared I was and how my naivete made it worse. Motherhood knocked me on my feet, changed me in ways I could never have imagined. As quaint as that may sound it’s so painfully true, and that change hasn’t been easy. And neither has been learning to trust myself as a mother. I question myself every day, I rarely feel absolutely certain, but I always feel love and so I’m learning to trust that. I loved this post Lindsey. You inspire me to think deeply, as always. xo

  3. Tricia
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

    Simple but profound — no one REALLY knows your children like you do. I was never the mothering type before I had my son, and waited ’til the last moment to have children (not intentional but maybe it was…), yet I can predict my son’s responses to nearly any situation, no matter the severity, and can maneuver him through a conversation or event, if need be, like walking through a mine field, to prevent a dicey outcome. My own mother noted to me that since my son was very young, I would “set up” a scenario that he’d be soon experiencing, discussing possible feelings, outcomes etc., so that there wouldn’t be any surprises. That being said, I understand how very critical it is to give children space for exploration and error. I’m often pleasantly surprised when I see my son (now a young adult) successfully maneuver through life’s tricky moments with poise and grace. Yet I’m honored that he still looks to me to work out some of the more complicated scenarios, understanding that I love and respect all those tiny fragments of his personality that make him who he is. More than my husband, I’m so completely tuned into my son’s inner mechanisms. That’s part of the piercing beauty of motherhood that both humbles and uplifts me.

  4. Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:22 am | Permalink

    This post is beautiful, thought-provoking. I remember when a friend wrote, a few years ago, on the joy and freedom she had found, throughout her life, in Mrs Whatsit’s words to Meg Murry – “I give you your faults,” and it utterly and completely transformed the way I looked at motherhood. What if what I and others looked at as my faults were, in fact, gifts to help me navigate these waters of motherhood?

    I started trusting my instincts more, and listening to conventional wisdom less (oh, if I could only trust myself enough to let go of listening to other people tell me how to parent entirely!), and I think our entire family has been healthier for it.

  5. Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    What a wonderful post. A reminder to stop looking outside ourselves and remember the answers that are within us all

  6. Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Your writing as always, takes my breath away. It’s so beautiful and soft and true. I did not trust myself until I had Gus, who is now 3 and I am still learning each day how to do this. It gets easier all the time and yet, the doubts and pressures of the outside world get stronger. Thank you for this validation of the inner voice. (And screw Mandarin. It’s hard enough being a kid without adding another language to the mix).

  7. Ari
    Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    My kids are still so little so I have not had a chance to think about this topic. Only thing I can think of is that I *tried* reading about subjects before making decisions rather than just being told by their doctors, teachers … etc.
    I am thinking of encouraging my kids to learn mandarin. It is because of my personal experience. I am not a native speaker of english. With help of my dad’s guidance, I studied english from young age. He did not push me. Just planted a little seed in me which opened many many doors for me later. I hope my kids can can learn a bit at least.
    Because they are still toddlers, I am not so sure how everything works when they go to real school. I’ll just have to try.

  8. Posted January 3, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I’ve been meaning to email you to have this very discussion–so you can imagine how intrigued I was by your thoughts here.

    I am struggling with this very decision process RIGHT NOW. How much is right? How do I help them figure out what they love (through exposure) and not ruin their chances of being competitive later.

    The first time you either told me (or wrote) that you limit activities for G and W, I felt like someone breathed air into my worried lungs.

    I listen to my gut; I find it difficult, at times, to explain the whys of my gut to other, well-intentioned questioners of my choices. My toughest challenge is to continue to heed my intuition while the nagging doubt surges, saying that I’m not giving my kids enough exposure.

    I applaud you. xoxo

  9. Posted January 3, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I think about this tendency in myself too: I worry all the time about the small things, but I take leaps (that tend to turn out well) without anxiety. I wonder if somehow all of my practice at (over-)thinking allows the bigger choices to come without my even realizing it…if that makes any sense.

    I also wonder how this ties into the idea of faith – maybe we trust ourselves more than we even realize. xo

  10. Posted January 3, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    I was never the maternal type – same as you. Didn’t babysit, had no friends with children and even beat my older sister in having our first. There have been times when I have gone completely against “advice” only to be proven right. One school psychologist wanted to label my child ADHD when he was simply 6 and had impulse control issues. Another was when I just had a sinking feeling about a childcare situation. No sooner had I arrived at the office to only turn to my boss and tell him I had to leave. My instincts were correct and thank god I went back to get my child. It really makes me think about the “mama bear” instinct and that it must exist as part of nature.

  11. Posted January 4, 2012 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    My early days as a mom were a trial by fire of trusting my gut, believing in my intuition and outright rejecting advice. I’ve always been somewhat of a yes person, fitting in with the flow of those around me, and my sudden fierce ability to go against the stream was a revelation to me. I stopped reading the experts and look to my heart and to my children.

    Now, with school taking so much time, I have a harder time. I abhor homework for young kids. Seven hours a day is enough. Home time should be playful and exploratory, but if I don’t provide the time (and guidance) then she can’t do her homework and then I know I am putting her at a disadvantage. And so I fight my instincts.

  12. Tiffany
    Posted January 4, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    I liked this post for many reasons, including reflecting on my own mothering, but I especially liked that you wrote about trust again, your chosen word for last year. Building trust and faith in myself as a mother is a journey for me. Thanks for sharing such specific examples of inner trust for you.

  13. Dianna
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    This post really resonated with me. I am still in the early stages of motherhood, but this lesson came early for me and I am extremely grateful for it. Like you, I had no experience with babies and had never changed a diaper. During the first 10 weeks of her life, my daughter was extremely colicy and I was quite literally being pushed to the brink of insanity. Our doctor repeatedly told me that “babies cry” and that I needed to be stronger, while precribing medication for reflux just in case. I listened, but something inside me was insisting that my child was in pain and that something was not right and that the medication was not necessary, that it was something else. My doctor insisted that she did not have a milk allergy, that “every mother” thinks that, and advised me not to eliminate dairy from my diet (I was nursing) because I would deprive my child of necessary nutrients. I am a definite “yes” person who has never questioned a doctor in my life and so I followed his advice. Finally, I got my wits about me and took her to an allergist on my own, only to discover that she is severely allergic to dairy. One week later, I had a happy and healthy baby girl. From that moment forward, I vowed to always trust my instincts above all others. And in that moment, I felt for the first time that I had truly become a mother.

  14. Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    My older son started flying by himself at about six and has continued to do so about once a year, sometimes more. He loves it! And, it lets him go and spend a week with his grandmother on his own, and it has allowed him to visit friends where we used to live. My younger son would probably not be as bold and confident about such things, but you know what? I might push him to do this, because I know he can, and I know that once he has done it, he will have a new form of confidence.