I met a woman recently who shared her story with me. She had never before spoken about her experience. She had kept relatively private about it and was a little embarrassed and felt self-conscious in responding to my questions. Nobody had ever asked her what it was like to be a mother. Nobody ever asked how it feels to be getting older or to be married. Nobody’s asked about her dreams or what excites and inspires her.
This woman didn’t seem to feel resentment because nobody had asked about her ordinary life, but I could sense her appreciation when I took the time to inquire about it. Her body relaxed and her words were slow and thoughtful.
She talked about her devotion to motherhood and how she never thought that being a mother would teach her so much about herself, both her capacities and limitations. She had no idea she could love another human being with such depth. She was also surprised how mothering can easily become the focus of a woman’s life and the repetitiveness of it can feel empty and boring at times. This woman never anticipated how much she would enjoy being a mother, and acknowledged what a privilege it was to be the primary presence nurturing another person growing up in the world.
This woman humbly acknowledged that while her children unquestionably love her, they don’t truly appreciate her and may only understand her when they have children of their own or when she has passed away. She acknowledged a parenting truth, as she calls them, that the proportion of love and devotion to her children isn’t reciprocated. She’s also learning to accept that good enough parenting doesn’t always guarantee our children will grow up to be healthy in mind, body and heart. She’s learning the practice of letting go of her expectations of who she wants her children to be, and rather loving them for who they are.
She also shared the dilemma and contradiction about work and motherhood. Sometimes she wishes she had more time for a career like her husband does. Sometimes she wishes she could completely surrender to motherhood and not be distracted by her work or longing to work more and pursue her interests. She acknowledged that she contradicts herself. She vacillates between what she wants and needs because a part of her wants to do both well.
She explained that marriage is like climbing a mountain. “You start excited and with hope. Dreams of what it will be like. There are times where you are settling in and getting comfortable with the terrain, like a new baby, job or caring for an ill parent. Times when it gets hard and then times when it’s easy. There are also times that I’ve wondered, ‘What did I do? Did I really know how much work, perseverance and dedication it takes to be married?’ Then there are those magical moments that take your breath away and you’re left with an appreciation for life and the journey together. Ultimately, I feel like we are both hiking a mountain for the first time. It’s a journey that I am still learning how to relate to and make sense of, but marriage, like any other committed relationship, is a spiritual practice. My marriage shows me where I have limitations and those are opportunities for growth.” she said.
When asked about getting older, she shared that there is a part of her that’s open to it. “It feels like as you age, you have permission to be yourself without apologies,” she explained. “There is an inner conﬁdence that comes with getting older and also a feeling of crossing over into a new frontier. The feeling doesn’t have a name or language but it is something that is deﬁnitely occurring on a deeper level of the human experience. It’s a little uncomfortable and she spoke about making a commitment to not numb out to it, but rather to give it the space to be present. I know there is some fear, and a longing to go back and do some things differently, but I remind myself to stay here in the moment and know I am not alone in aging.”
When I ﬁnally got to asking her about what inspires her, she rattled off a list that ﬂowed like a river. It’s like she had been waiting for years for someone to ask. “Well, I love to write, travel and take walks in nature. I also secretly love to dance and sing. I would love to learn how to paint, play the guitar and take professional landscape photos, especially of sunsets. Someday I would like to volunteer in hospice when my children are older. I am a devoted to living a wholehearted life. My dream is to live somewhere quiet and warm, preferably by the ocean. A place I could see the sunset every night.”
As this woman told her story tears were shed, but a lightness in her body and an inner strength came through. She said to me, “Thank you for taking the time to ask about me as a woman.” She has been forgotten over the years and with this conversation, I realized she doesn’t want to lay dormant in her own body.
I couldn’t help but feel my heart ache for all the women in this world who live out their day-to-day obligations over the years who aren’t seen, who don’t have a voice and lose connection to the spirit inside the woman. I felt a deep well of compassion for all of us.
You see, that woman I met was me.