Wednesday, October 04, 2006


My sweet Olivia is six months old today. Life is nothing--nothing at all--like I pictured it would be, on those rare occasions when I let myself imagine anything at all.

I have this baby, this dazzling girl. She's full of energy and gravity, the central star in her own spiral galaxy. But that's the thing: she's there, at the center, alone. There can only be one center. Instead of some merged triumverate, Jeff and I are satellites, with lesser asteroids whizzing by.

I still do not feel like her mother.

It makes me cry to say it that way, but it's true. I think of her constantly, love her overpoweringly, worry obsessively, would turn to stone if something dreadful happened to her. But, while she is the star, I feel like a passing player in her life, surprised every day to still find myself pulled along in her wake. Part of it is, no doubt, the fact that I am away from her so much. How could she really know me, how could I expect her to turn to me over all others when she's distressed? Part of it is that I do not know what it should feel like, this business of being a mother. The joys--the blinding smiles and unblinking, heart-filling stares; the way her head nestles into my neck when I hold her to my shoulder--feel like little off-hand presents, bestowed without thought and lapped up overeagerly, a puppy begging for illicit table scraps from a lenient owner. In some way, I don't feel like I've earned them: they are a part of her general largesse, not a reward specific to me.

If you've been with me for a while, you may remember that I have a mother who is...not. She abdicated about 25 years or so ago, and was never particularly interested in the title to begin with. I don't remember her being all that important to me. I missed out on something--I know that--but I'm not quite sure what. I want it to be so different with my daughter. I want, so badly, to be central to her.


Blogger Lindy said...

You and Suz have done a great service to those of us who have struggled with what it is to "feel" like a mother. I think part of it is the experience of infertility. Part of it is that it's hard for career-minded women to figure out where "mom" fits into our identity. And part of it is that the whole thing is pretty bizarre when you think about it!

I can only imagine the added baggage that goes into all this when you haven't really experienced the mother-child relationship as a child.

But know, Bugs, that you are a wonderful mother and it's clear that you are the center of her world. At least for now. That time is so fleeting anyway. The important thing is that she is clearly the center of yours.

3:51 AM  
Anonymous Jen said...

Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry that you feel this way.

I think to some extent in every mother-child relationship, we're just here to watch, to allow them to grow & flourish--sometimes they need a lot from us, and other times, nothing at all except to be there.

You are so there for her, sweetie, and I have no doubt that she feels safe and secure in your love and J's love. At this point, just loving her is the best gift you can give her, and you are doing amazingly at that.

Might it help, do you think, to try to spend a day or two, just the two of you together? Send J. off to do boy things, and just have a day where it's only the two of you? I don't know if that's a possibility, just a thought.

Much love to you and birthday wishes to your sweet girl.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Leggy said...

I hope this isn't assvice, but here goes. Its been a while since I had a six month old, but my recollection is in the beginning, they really only care about food & changes & getting sleep. Sure, by six months they start to become more alive and alert and interesting, but they'll put on a show for the babysitter just as much as for you. I think once she hits 10-14 months and starts getting into separation anxiety issues, it will be quite clear to you that she views you as her one and only mama. And that might just make you start to really believe it.

Thank you for sharing this. I know its hard.

7:40 AM  
Anonymous Cathy said...

Kathryn Black wrote Mothering Without a Map: The Search for the Good Mother Within. She interviews 50 women about the effects of an absent mother on their own mothering. It's available on Amazon and got quite good reviews. Maybe you would find it helpful.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Let me say, as the daughter of a functionally motherless mother, that you can and will be the center of Olivia's world. My maternal grandmother was an absent presence in my mother's life, so phobic about leaving the house (amid a ton of other undiagnosed psychiatric issues) that she literally left it to my mother to do the family grocery shopping from about the age of ten. My mother (an only child) has said that she enjoyed my childhood as if it were a second childhood of her own--that she played all the games with me etc. that she wished as a child someone would play with her. For her, having a daughter was very healing. That said, I know she has also occassionally been jealous of what a nice childhood I had (the childhood she herself created for me!) but that has been a minor theme.

As her daughter, I think I was very grounded by the feeling of being an important person in my mother's life. We didn't talk about these issues directly until I was an adult, but I always had the feeling that our relationship was particularly special to my mother. Most of the time that was a very good thing for me as a kid.

Wishing you healing and happiness,

12:43 PM  
Blogger Dee said...

J has been in daycare since she was 3 months old and still attends to this day (almost 16 mos. old). For the longest time, I wondered how she knew that I was 'mama,' how she knew that I loved her, etc., when I wasn't with her for 8 - 10 hours of her day.

But you know what? She does know--and from what other moms with young ones have told me, they all know who mama is. She I've no doubt she knows just how central you are to her and her world.

As the child of a pretty crap mother myself, I too want so desperately to not repeat the mistakes of my own mother in mothering my daughter. I don't intend to whatsoever and I've no doubt that you won't repeat your own mother's mistakes with Olivia.

Go easy on yourself--you are central to Olivia and you are a good, no make that a great, mother. No doubt Olivia and Jeff both know that.

12:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please go easy on yourself. You have only been a mother for 6 months.

I think we are in very similar positions. I am an attorney and my 7 month old is in daycare. I understand what you mean when you say you don't feel like Olivia's mother. Trust me, she knows that you are her mother and you are so important to her.

I think part of it is that babies can be so "ungrateful". I use that term in quotes because I don't think babies know how to feel gratitude. In their own minds, they ARE the center of the universe. Hubby and I call ourselves our daughter's slaves. We say it jokingly, but it's true! Once Olivia can express herself, I am sure that she will do things and say things to reassure you that she knows you are her mother.

My daughter gave me a very sloppy kiss for the first time a few weeks ago. Actually, it was more like she was sucking on my cheek, but I'll take what I can get. That's when I knew that she does love me and she knows I am her mother.

12:53 PM  
Anonymous jeanette1ca said...

Very good comments, right on the point. Another thing I have noticed is that some women relate more to the children when they are babies, and for others it becomes more intense at different ages. I found it easiest to feel close to my child when she was a baby, up to about age 2. One of my friends would gladly skip all the baby stuff, and start with the 2-year old. She says she doesn't have much interest in them until they start doing interesting things. Whether those differences are because of deep pyschological issues or just personality differences, I don't know. But I do know that motherhood isn't anything like anyone expects it to be. It is more wonderful and more boring and more WORK and more exciting and more heartbreaking, and more heartexpanding than anyone could possibly imagine beforehand.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Menita said...

We have quite a bit in common. Mother "abdicated," as you say, long ago, and I have strugglerd with defining what it means to be a mother. I now how you feel. It was that way with me and DD until she was one. And then suddenly one day I found myself truly at home. Now I am waiting for it to happen with DS.
But I would have gladly died for both of them form the first day. This isn't about love, it's about connecting. And because we love them so much, we worry about the lack of connection. It will come. You are a wonderful mother. And you are the center of her world, whether you feel it or not.

7:04 PM  
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