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Lessons From My 20s: Motherhood is Not Necessarily a Lifetime Commitment

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I celebrated my 29th birthday on Saturday (the 1st), and because I’m the introspective type, I’ve been thinking a lot about my 20s.

I kind of can’t wait to put some more distance between today-me, and 20 year old me. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that the first half of my 20s was turbulent, and dramatic, and full of questionable decisions and behavior (whose wasn’t?), and the more distance that I have from that season of my life, the more my perspective has improved. And the more I can cut young-me some slack. (She was a hot-mess, for sure.)

The second half of my 20s has been absolutely amazing. It’s been a season of growth, and discovery, and renewal. For the first time in my life, I feel comfortable in who I am, and who I’m becoming. Not that it has been easy. I’ve been working harder in the past 4 years than I ever have, and it never lets up. Only now I’m working for me, and I’m investing my time in things that bring me ultimate gratification, namely my family.

On Family

Speaking of family, I’ve learned some lessons about family, too. In early 2011, my mom quit speaking to me. (It’s a longish story as to why, but she has her reasons.) Dealing with the loss of my mother was (and continues to be) really difficult. I’ve experienced loss as a result of death before, but loss of a person that is alive and well is a totally different thing. Grieving the loss of a relationship with someone who is still alive, but chooses to be out of your life, comes with its own set of issues. Especially when that person is your mother. But here’s what that’s taught me about family, specifically mothers and daughters: my mother does not owe me anything. Just because I have an idea in my head of the kind of relationship I’d like to have with my mother, doesn’t mean that my actual mother is the person who is going to fill that need for me. Just because she is my biological mother, doesn’t mean she will mother me, if that makes sense. Just like many fathers don’t actually father their children, mothers can be the same way, and it’s selfish of me to expect that from my mother, just because I was born to her. Motherhood, evidently, is not necessarily a lifetime commitment.

In the same way, it’s conceivable that one day, Ellie (my daughter) might not want a relationship with me. I hate to imagine that, but it’s certainly a possibility. Knowing that she isn’t bound to me for life, I cherish our time together even more. Don’t get me wrong: I hope and pray that we’ll grow closer and closer as we both age, and I want to be active in her life until the day I die, but I know now that she doesn’t owe me a relationship, just because she was born to me. I’d be obliterated if she cut herself off from me one day, but recognizing her agency as an individual has helped me appreciate her as a person with her own identity. I cannot control what kind of person she will become, or what kind of life she will choose for herself, but I can ensure that she will always feel loved and cherished by her mother.

Going Forward

So as I kick-off year 29, I’m reflecting a bit on how I can best communicate to Ellie and Mike that they are ultimately loved, and that they will always have me, both as a mother, and as a wife. No, there’s no law in place saying I have to continue loving and mothering my daughter, or loving my husband, but those are two things that I commit to doing for the rest of my life, not just because it comes naturally, but because it’s my choice. It’s the great joy of my life to love my family, and I’m so blessed to go into my 29th year with the two of them by my side.

On a parting note, did any of you church-folks ever sing that song “His Banner Over Me is Love”? I didn’t grow up in church, so the first time I heard it was in a Sunday School class I was leading. Our speakers weren’t working, so we didn’t have any music for worship. One of the other leaders taught the song to the kids, and I learned it right along with them. I kind of want to paint something for our living room, inspired by that scripture. (Song of Solomon, 2:4: “He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.”) If I come up with something I’m not too embarrassed by, I’ll share it with you guys when I’m finished. 🙂

I’ll be back Wednesday to announce a giveaway for a thing that I LOVE so much. I can’t wait!

xoxo, mj

—————

Let’s be friends!

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19 Comments

  1. Thanks for your perspective. So sorry for the loss with your mom – seems truly unimaginable to me, but also seems healthy to step back and realize that there truly are no obligations -very free-ing. I was always raised in the environment and with the attitude that anyone who loves you is family, regardless of bloodlines so I have always had tons of aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, etc. . . to love and be loved by. But my mom gave up a daughter before I was born and we have met her and finally have a good relationship with her (after lots of work, tears, communicating and surrender). Life is messy and relationships are more so. I hope you find a “mother”in your life. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Meredith Yeverino

       /  September 4, 2012

      Wow, Amy ! What an amazing story! I am adopted and I’ve never heard it from your perspective. I am refreshed today to read your comment. Blessings to you and others who have opened their hearts to “lost children”.

      Reply
      • MEredith – it was quite a journey, as most things are. She was not raised with that attitdue about family and had such conflicting thoughts and emotions regarding family, loyalty, causing anyone involved anymore hurt, etc. . . The messiness goes on, but as she realized that we were still there and her adoptive mom made an amazing gesture towards my mom (her birth mom) at her wedding that lead to a LOT of healing and freedom for Stephanie to have the relationship with us that she wanted without feeling guilty or anything else. We need love, we need relationships – thankfully, the bloodlines don’t have to matter 🙂 Hope you have found peace and healing too!

        Reply
  2. Meredith Yeverino

     /  September 4, 2012

    Wow, I’m touched that you’d share something as personal as a rift with your mother. I have a similar situation, but for me it has been twelve years since I’ve talked to my mother. I think you hit it spot on with the personal evolution in our twenties- perhaps you did it sooner than I did. =) Thank the Lord that he can fill the parenting void that some of us hold. I know that my pain increased when I became a mother- I have to battle the fears of what can happen with my daughter. But I believe God has showed me the fruits of my efforts to engender a close and loving relationship with my own daughter. I’ll be praying for you and others in this situation today. Blessings!

    Reply
  3. Life seems so short, and so many things are temporary. Mothering is not temporary. Lives change, and change again. Years blend on by.

    There will be a day, in the Lord’s time, where you will both know truth, whether in this life or the next. The barriers that now seem so insurmountable will be seen for the porous fictions that they are.

    There is indeed a law. Just as your daughter owes you a relationship and vice versa, your mother owes you and vice versa. Debts, however, are often in arrears. We often owe our Father more of a relationship than we provide to Him as well, for that matter.

    He provides for us the perfect example in His patience.

    Reply
  4. This blog really spoke to my heart. In similiar times, the Lord reminds me.

    “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” (Psalm 27:10 ESV)

    My next birthday will be 29 too, and I feel like the one thing God continually teaches me and asks of me is faithfulness…. To Him, my husband, my little boy, and every day on all I do for Him and His glory.

    Thanks for right this and thanks for sharing!
    Kate 🙂

    Reply
  5. Melissa

     /  September 4, 2012

    I don’t think it’s selfish to expect the mother you were born to to “mother” you, and when it doesn’t happen, it’s worth grieving and processing, like you write about – it’s true that accepting the reality of the situation can help you move on and seek out healthy relationships and ways to fill that part of your life, but we were born with that need and sadly, many mothers, being human, fail to provide the kind of unconditional love they were meant to (not that other mothers are perfect, we all fail) but I think, like the commenter above, we DO owe it to our children to provide them the love, security, and hope that they innately desire to grow into the people God created them to be

    Reply
  6. MJ, as a 36 year old father of an 8 year old, I’ve thought about this alot. I think keeping your perspective on parenthood is really important, otherwise you’ll take too much ownership in your child’s life and the decisions they make, and that may lead to guilt over things that they decide for their life. I really feel that our daughter is a gift, but a gift that we have been designed to nurture, educate, protect, and grow.

    I don’t want to get super existential but, from my viewpoint as a believer, she does not belong to us, just as we do not belong to ourselves, or our spouses. She is a child of God. We may have biologically created her, with the procreational capabilities that we have been granted as humans, but she was not created by us. God speaks to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:5 saying “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” With that perspective, I believe that He has created her being, her spirit before we created her body, and that once she is born, we are called to take that spark and raise it up. (am I opening up a political can of worms here?)

    The mantle of parenthood is a calling, a charge, a mission. We are called to raise her in the way that she should go, guide her moral compass, and then eventually let her fly on her own. At some, she becomes her own person and makes her own decisions, and we have to prepare her for that. Now, this doesn’t mean that we don’t care, or we don’t want to be there for her, or be involved with her life later on. In fact, I think most parents dread the day when they let children go, and only feel better once their child has found a good spouse. But I want to keep that same open door policy that I have with my adopted mom that really she started, and that is – that she did raised us well, and that the decisions that I make about my life are my own, and I run those decisions up against what I learned from their parenting. Our relationship has evolved from being a nurturing parenting one, to one that’s combined mom with a genuine friendship. In addition to being mom, she continues to offer advice and guidance, with the understanding that it’s our life and we make the decisions that we want to and I appreciate that.

    I have an interesting perspective as someone who was parented by his biological mom until about 5, then was adopted twice. I did struggle a little with the idea of “mom” for awhile but the Christ based families that raised me, sequel to my departure from my biological mother, really opened my eyes to what I feel parenting really is. I have come to believe that while parenting can be biological, it’s definitely mostly about loving another human being enough to make many personal sacrifices, the desire to see that person grow and mature, and the responsibility to invest wholly into that persons life with knowledge and teaching.

    Now, all that being said, I all to often see the exact opposite of that happening more often than i’d like. Parents seeing their kids as a burden of responsibility instead of a burden of delight. Seeing relationships as disposable. and it makes me sad.

    Reply
  7. Great post as usual Melissa(1).

    Two points for my 2 cents…

    1) Closure

    Grieving over a relationship – yeah, I had a bad breakup once. It took me awhile to get over it (not that a BGR is anything as serious as mother-child).

    The key realization that helped me move on, and I recognize that you may not be ready to or want to move on, was that I did not need her input in order to achieve closure.

    Initially I thought I needed to know why, or have a heart to heart talk in order to achieve closure. but once I had that realization that she didn’t owe me any explanation or anything at all really, that was when I started to achieve closure.

    2) Selfishness

    Agree with Melissa(2), it’s not selfish for a child to expect that their parent love them.

    Unfortunately in this world we have husbands and wives who abandon their marriage vows and parents who abandon their children. Some may do it for very valid reasons (e.g. abusive relationships) but others may do it merely because they chose to abandon their responsibility to each other.

    But I recognise that you are processing the issue and won’t say any more on the topic.

    ps I only really became aware of His Banner Over Me when I got Cheri Keaggy’s album. You might like her version of the song. 😉
    http://itunes.apple.com/au/album/his-banner-over-me/id19431737?i=19431713

    Reply
  8. i have been singing that song for a week, after seeing a pinterest pin the other day.

    I too don’t like to think about the idea that my child may one day decide they don’t need me, and I don’t know how to understand the fact that my father speaks with me very rarely these days. (we say hi on holidays, and i see him every other month or so, but it’s not much more than that. He tells me the same things – that he can’t wait to retire. and that’s really it.)

    I’m sorry that your parting seems to be less about retreating and more intentional.

    Reply
  9. Sarah Linn

     /  September 4, 2012

    I’m convinced the mother daughter relationship is the most difficult, mysterious, beautiful & messy relationship on the planet. Lord, help us navigate this relationship well.

    Reply
  10. Just another great post! I have been listening to you since the day you started on youtube because you always have such a great insight in spite of the hardships you had to endure over your life so far.

    I had a crummy relationship with my mother… until I was 29 and then I moved away. She expected my moving to be the end of our relationship, but it backfired on her and we had a great relationship until she passed.

    I understand that your point is that a relationship is not owed, but in a way a disagree. I also have a daughter who is only 14 1/2 months old and she has changed me and helped me understand things I never could have until I became a parent. I know the mistakes my parents made with me, and there were plenty so I basically had to raise myself with my own values, but I feel I do owe a relationship to her. I feel it is my job as not only a parent but more so as a father to make sure that no matter what she does or decides to do, that she can ALWAYS come home and know she will be loved. I think people need that in their lives and I agree with you 1000% that it doesn’t necessarily have to be from our biological mother, but even if it is a mother type figure in our lives, they are the ones to make us feel loved and welcomed always.

    You and your daughter, just as myself and my daughter, will have fallings out, but I know I will do everything to make sure she knows that at the end of the day… Daddy is there to love and protect her from anything. It is a feeling i gladly want to instill in her.

    So I both agree with you in many ways, and disagree with you in a few. But I am sorry your mom has made a decision that was not only a bad one, but one she will come to regret one day because she is going to miss out on all these great things her grand-daughter is doing. Learning to walk, talking, hugs and kisses, all these things. Although I do not REALLY know you, I just know you from the online personality you have shown to us over the years, I think you will welcome the healing process when she wakes up and realizes the mistake she made and comes looking for you to fix it.

    Jim

    Reply
  11. Just another great post! I have been listening to you since the day you started on youtube because you always have such a great insight in spite of the hardships you had to endure over your life so far.

    I had a crummy relationship with my mother… until I was 29 and then I moved away. She expected my moving to be the end of our relationship, but it backfired on her and we had a great relationship until she passed.

    I understand that your point is that a relationship is not owed, but in a way a disagree. I also have a daughter who is only 14 1/2 months old and she has changed me and helped me understand things I never could have until I became a parent. I know the mistakes my parents made with me, and there were plenty so I basically had to raise myself with my own values, but I feel I do owe a relationship to her. I feel it is my job as not only a parent but more so as a father to make sure that no matter what she does or decides to do, that she can ALWAYS come home and know she will be loved. I think people need that in their lives and I agree with you 1000% that it doesn\’t necessarily have to be from our biological mother, but even if it is a mother type figure in our lives, they are the ones to make us feel loved and welcomed always.

    You and your daughter, just as myself and my daughter, will have fallings out, but I know I will do everything to make sure she knows that at the end of the day… Daddy is there to love and protect her from anything. It is a feeling i gladly want to instill in her.

    So I both agree with you in many ways, and disagree with you in a few. But I am sorry your mom has made a decision that was not only a bad one, but one she will come to regret one day because she is going to miss out on all these great things her grand-daughter is doing. Learning to walk, talking, hugs and kisses, all these things. Although I do not REALLY know you, I just know you from the online personality you have shown to us over the years, I think you will welcome the healing process when she wakes up and realizes the mistake she made and comes looking for you to fix it.

    Jim

    Reply
  12. ann

     /  September 5, 2012

    oh my. as i sit here reading your blog my eyes are filled with tears. thank you for sharing your lessons learned. as a 21 year old, my mother chooses to distance herself from me and it pains my heart on so many days. while i hate others experience it, it is so comforting to realize i am not alone. as i fell on my knees the other day feeling ‘sorry’ for myself over the lack of love from my mother, i heard the Lord say, “now you know why I care so much about the orphans”. wow. totally puts it all into perspective. so thankful for a Heavenly Father who has love that is over flowing. Blessings to you and your family during this new year of life!

    Reply
    • Meredith Yeverino

       /  September 7, 2012

      Ann in your grief, you touched my heart. I was an orphan as a child, perhaps you were too. It’s nice to be acknowledged. I am somewhat surprised that since reuniting with my bio family on limited terms, the estrangement with my adoptive family hurts even more deeply. At my lowest times I feel like an adult orphan. You touched on the concept that has an eternal hold on my heart, and that is that God is my perfect Heavenly Father; He claims me as his and always has. Perhaps that is WHY he loves orphans because if they let got of him, they have nothing. I love the way you profess your faith. God Bless!

      Reply
  13. Gee Melissa
    I can completely sympathize. Though I’m far from my twenties (I’m almost 46) and my life has been a rollercoaster of emotions at the hands of my mother. I grew up with physical & emotional abuse that left scars so deep it nearly ruined my marriage.
    [I’m so grateful that God gave me a Christian husband/family]

    I have young adult kids (22, 19 & 18) and live a thousand miles away from my mother. Still, I’ll never understand how a person just gives up their child. She hasn’t called me in years and if I spoke to her….I had to do the calling. The only conversations we had were hateful & cruel words (on her part).
    I’m convinced that her issues are more than I can tolerate. After a lifetime of being her punching bag…..I made the decision to not call her again (after she hung up on me at Christmas).
    As a follower of Christ….it kills me to have this severed relationship. It’s not who I am.
    What the Holy Spirit keeps reminding me? Is, the result of this broken mother/daughter bond….is her choice, not mine.

    Praying that my own children never feel “conditional” love from me.

    Reply
  14. Melissa, what a sad thing. I truly can’t imagine that kind of pain or what happens to make someone not want a relationship with their daughter.

    However on a brighter note, I can tell you that we sang “His Banner Over Me is Love” tons of times when I was growing up in church! If you didn’t know, it has motions too 🙂

    Reply
  15. Melissa, Seeing you later – and earlier, I can’t imagine what would cause any woman to NOT want a relationship with you…even if she were not your mother. I got custody of my daughter in 1979. (Who you remind me of quite a bit actually-in thought, in gestures, and mannerisms, and even speech patterns!) She was 18 months old and she has not seen her mother since – not because I wouldn’t have allowed it, she simply disappeared. After that I made a marriage mistake (#2)…nuff said! Then found a wonderful woman who became the mother my daughter’s own was not. I only wish I were the father they gave me credit for being. My wife now of almost 24 years is not flawless, but she is so far and beyond better than I ever deserved, I can only believe God sent her because my little girl needed her so badly. My heart goes out to you as do my prayers.

    Reply
  1. When You’re Mothering From Scratch (Coping With Absentee Mothers) « melissajenna.com

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