Is Mother Love An Anachronism? Or, Saturday Morning at 9:43am.



Son is home. Sleeping on sheets I washed a few days ago.

Despite the the joy that brings me, I am and have been for some time plagued by a thought. It’s not inconsequential.

Is mother love out of date? Is the overwhelming love I feel for my children an anachronism? And worse, would we all be better off were I, and mothers like me, to wake up one day in a state of indifference? “Oh, yes, my children. Nice enough I suppose. A responsibility I shall not shirk. Now, where was I in my life?”

I understand that in a world of scarce resources and scary beasts we need mother love to keep our babies alive. The species wants to persist. I understand that even in a world of many resources, we need to love them fiercely if they are to survive the first year. They wake us up at night, nurse like little fiends, and throw everything we thought we knew in our faces. Good thing they’re cute.

But what of the later years?

I’m almost certain that I now love my children more than they love me. This happened sometime in their late teens. Maybe sooner. Maybe I just didn’t notice for a while.

The only mothers I know whose children love them fiercely are the crazy mothers. Those mothers who kept themselves just out of reach, like glass ornaments hung from a tree. Sparkling.

I love my children too much to play hard to get. I see their faces and I feel my heart beat faster. Like a teenage girl sighting that one boy across the cafeteria. I even try not to call them. You know, all cool and stuff. I fail. I don’t want to leave the house in a flurry of fur and alcohol, call them from a nightclub laughing, change my plans and not come home for the holidays.

Let’s pretend my feelings don’t matter. Let’s pretend my children’s lives are enough for me. That I don’t need their love beyond the dutiful. Let’s just think about the kids.

Did I do right, loving them so much? Would they have been better off if I had been less devoted? Less head-over-heels? Now, I don’t worry they are spoiled and therefore dependent. In fact, despite the hours I spend thinking about their course selection or making travel arrangements or worrying about love lives, they do not depend on me much. Sure, I get the calls for comfort, when something goes wrong. They consult me on areas where I have some expertise. But they have achieved a fair degree of independence. Every American mother’s dream.

I only wonder, sometimes, and it makes me a little sad, if the very fact that I loved them so much means that they won’t know what they had. Will they prefer to yearn in all manner of situations? Of course, paradoxically, if they have to suffer to appreciate me and people like me, I still can’t wish them pain.

In mothering, we never know. We hope we can follow our hearts. And if our hearts are artifacts of another time and cave lions? We never know. At the end of the day, my rule is when I don’t know the answer, I do what I want to do. In this case, most likely, that will mean breakfast burritos. Ham, cheese, potatoes, salsa.

Image: November 1990. They start fat. Get skinny. Cut their own bangs. Have small feet.

31 Comments

  • 12/19/09
    10:38 am

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    mary anne said...

    I don't think you can love your children too much. As long as love is not confused with spoiling! It sounds to me that your have the distinction clear. Anyway, I, too, know the feeling of seeing your child's face when they have just come back from a trip abroad, or school, whatever. You can't beat it!

  • 12/19/09
    10:59 am

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    QueenBeeSwain said...

    they will know LPC, they will know! I'm lucky to be very loved by my parents and I know that this is something that not every child gets to experience- I cannot wait to be a mother to intently and insanely love my little pups :) my tum twisted at the part where you said your heart beats faster just seeing them- I cannot wait to have beh-behs one day for this very reason.

    xoox

    kHm

  • 12/19/09
    11:04 am

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    BonjourRomance said...

    Oh no, a mother's love is never out of date. Of course, your children love you very much, perhaps, at times, they don't realise how much you mean to them – but they will in time.
    As they get older ahd hopefully wiser – they will let you know. So keep on, there is nothing quite like a mother's love!
    Thank you for stopping by my blog and following.
    Wishing you a fabulous Christmas!

  • 12/19/09
    11:40 am

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    agirl said...

    As one who had independence self-imposed by an ongoing separation of many thousands of miles, and many dozens of months, my answer is no.
    Mother love is definitely not out of date.

    As one who works in a field where I see and try to help patch up the holes in the lives of people whose mothers have not provided that solid base of unconditional love, as one who is now paid to provide unconditional positive regard for others, so that they may heal, and grow, and well, just function, my answer is no.

    I was very loved, but went through my phase of needing to set definite boundaries between my mother and myself, so that I could know who that self really was, separate from her. I felt for a while scornful disdain of all that she represented, vowing to be someone other, someone different, someone better. I had my time of bemoaning her calls – too frequent, too lengthy. I have now come to my senses. As I gain experience (and maybe, tiny inklings of wisdom) I realise what her love (and my father's, but we're talking mainly about our mothers here) has done for me, and I am eternally grateful. Maybe I don't love her with the same fierceness with which she loves me, but then, I am not her mother. I love her as her child, and I love her as the wonderful person that I have grown to realise she is.

    Will my opinion about the importance of mother love change when I become a monther? I doubt that greatly.

  • 12/19/09
    12:06 pm

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    Duchesse said...

    "if the very fact that I loved them so much means that they won't know what they had".

    They do know.

    When my children were babies an older woman told me of her delight in watching her 35 year old grow still. That was news to me.

    My sons no longer bend through every rung in the bannister to be kissed at every step, but they know I love them just as ardently as in those days, and they will carry that love forward.

  • 12/19/09
    12:43 pm

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    Belle de Ville said...

    Even though we move on to a point where we love our children more than they love us, we hope that we have set the example for what they will do with their own children.

    Now that my son has bought his own home and is living with his girlfriend, I feel bitter/sweet about knowing that he has moved so far away from me emotionally, yet I love him with a fierce pride.

  • 12/19/09
    1:04 pm

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    hostess of the humble bungalow said...

    A Mother's Love is forever. Your children will feel it deeply. They are secure in the knowledge that they are the most important and treasured gift. Home is comfort, security, love, and acceptance of who they are and they will always find their way back.
    Family and children are the very core of my being as well. I need to stop myself from calling too often, and I have been guilty of trying to keep them tied to my apron strings. I have learned boundaries since they have left home, and the fact that they are 28 and 30 does help!
    Gestures of affection hugging, kisses on the cheek, choking back emotion regularly occur to us all.
    We gather together regularly here at the Humble Bungalow and on our boat in the summer.
    I struggle with smothering them with affection as does Mr.L,
    we are and always have been a sappy family!
    I think of all the children who do not have that happy atmosphere in which to grow up in and count my blessings.
    Your children are very fortunate LPC to have you as their Mom, and I am certain they cherish and honor you.

  • 12/19/09
    1:06 pm

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    What a Splurge said...

    "Like a teenage girl sighting that one boy across the cafeteria. I even try not to call them. You know, all cool and stuff. I fail."

    Your post really hit the nail.

    I have one son who will be 25 next month. I'm a fool for his love.

  • 12/19/09
    2:56 pm

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    Jill said...

    "I don't want to leave the house in a flurry of fur and alcohol, call them from a nightclub laughing, change my plans and not come home for the holidays"…I was always worried this would be me. It may be part of the reason why I don't have children. Don't be so certain that they don't love you as much. I adore my Mother…although I don't show it nearly as much as I should.

    Look at all the comments in which your words are quoted…you rock, Chica!

  • 12/19/09
    4:07 pm

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    Robin said...

    As the least maternal person on the planet, I'm always amazed that I even had kids. But, with both of the them, it was capital-L Love from the very beginning. Period. Nothing about that has ever changed.

    I, too, experience a certain edginess – caffeine-y jitters right below the cortex – when I sense that my love for my kids, ages 21 and 24, is incongruous with my life NOW because I'm not so persistently worried about them juggling knives or accidentally running onto the freeway. It's that incongruity, I think, that makes us feel adrift because our love for them is more grounded in memory than in immediate tasks.

    You're so right about one thing, though. As mothers, we never know ahead of time what kinds of adults our kids are going to be, or ultimately how they will feel about us. So we spend a small lifetime flailing away, just doing the best we can.

    We prepare them for their journey out into the world; we just don't prepare ourselves for anything past the launch.

  • 12/19/09
    4:11 pm

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    Twenty Four At Heart said...

    I don't think a child fully appreciates his/her parents until he/she becomes a parent themselves. I know I didn't …..

  • 12/19/09
    4:42 pm

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    smiles4u said...

    I surely hope that mother love is not out of date. I don't think it is. I do think there is a difference in spoiling them with lots of unconditional love and spoiling them with lots of "stuff". I do think your children know what they had because they are out in the world and they see what all goes on around them. They hear what others say or how others interact with their families…so they know that what they had was good.

    I found that as my children grew older and got out in the world and thus more independant and supporting themselves, they have a new appreciation for me. I also found that as 2 of them became parents themselves, they have even more of an understanding. When each of them call me about parenting woes and concerns or joys to share or a need for advice or a listening ear that won't judge, our bond grows even more so.

    I really enjoyed this post! Happy weekend. I am sure you are enjoying having your son home! :) XX Lori

  • 12/19/09
    4:59 pm

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    LPC said...

    Son is singing in the next room. Yes, I am enjoying it. And all your comments too. Infinitely.

  • 12/19/09
    6:15 pm

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    Leah said...

    I will edit my post now. hahahaha!

    I have the same style with my boys, I love them to death, I am always there for them, they are my life, my world. I don't think it's bad to do that, I feel that it's better for them to feel loved at home than to look for love and fun elsewhere.

    Let our mother's instinct take its course, let's not control what we want to show for fear that it'll result to negatives in the future.

    Again, I will edit my post. Big hugs LPC.

  • 12/19/09
    8:23 pm

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    Anonymous said...

    Nope! You did it right. Your love is the source of their self-confidence, especially the part where they get to feel like they are, in fact, loveable.

    It's the source of them being able to go out in the world and feel grounded and open-hearted.

    The one person in my life that loved me that way was my grandmother. As I have grown up, it has dawned on me that I might have been more likely to go down a wrong path without her influence. It also comforts me now because my father is still unloving. It's nice to know someone can love you that way.

    As they get to know other people who haven't been so lucky, they will think about what the absence of love and security would have meant for them.

  • 12/19/09
    8:53 pm

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    Lipstick said...

    Oh LPC what a thoughtful post. Mommy Lipstick has told me that I have a "worshipful love" for JBB and Baby Abigail. Yes, sometimes I do wonder if they will ever know how much I love them…and of course, like you, I could never withhold that love for one second. I hope y'all have a wonderful visit.

  • 12/19/09
    10:46 pm

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    Town and Country Mom said...

    It's crushing, isn't it? Loving them so fiercely, so consistently, so unconditionally to be met with nonchalance or even sometimes disdain. (I do have two teenage boys, after all.) Yet, I know that loving my children has–like water on a stone–refined me in ways that more selfish relationships never have or will. Thank you for such a tender post.

  • 12/19/09
    11:03 pm

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    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    Love all these comment. I think it partly comes down to we have no choice. This is how we love them; it must be done. And then we send them out to the world and hopefully the shield of that love sets them up to expect great love from others some day, to know they are worthy of that.
    And how adorable are those two????

  • 12/19/09
    11:55 pm

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    Anoninoz said...

    I love my daughter so fiercely it hurts sometimes – I hope she knows this – I think she does. Maybe this is because I was determined for her not to feel as I did growing up – wondering whether or not my mother really loved me…

  • 12/20/09
    2:31 am

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    Cate Subrosa said...

    Love, love, love, love you and this post.

    At the end of the day, my rule is when I don't know the answer, I do what I want to do. – Brilliant.

    Last night my mother babysat for us. "You're my favourite girl," she said to Talia, then, "well, you're my favourite baby girl." (She has 3 daughters. I'm not sure if she knew I could hear her or not.)

    We got home at 11pm. She had had a snooze on the couch earlier and was doing the crossword. It was way past her bedtime and the baby had been asleep since seven, so she hadn't got much baby time in exchange for sacrificing her evening, staying up late in our house.

    She was visibly excited to see me, more so even to discuss our plans for lunch on Wednesday. When she left, she gave me a kiss, both hands on my head, with a little "mm" sound.

    "She's crazy," I smiled to Nate when she left.

    He knew how much I had been looking forward to getting home, to picking Talia up for one last feed to keep her going through the night. "She still wants to snuggle up to you just like you want to snuggle up to Talia," he said. "But she can't any more, or you'd think she was crazy."

    It's amazing how you come to understand your parents when you become parents yourselves.

  • 12/20/09
    4:07 am

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    ELS said...

    Fantastic, beautifully written post and great, honest comments. Brava!

  • 12/20/09
    6:33 am

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    Buckeroomama said...

    J tells me that he loves me more than I love him. Everything is about "winning" when one is almost five. Oh, if he only knows how, as a new mother, I secretly wondered if I was a bit 'weird' to be so in love with my own child. Now I wear that weirdness proudly.

  • 12/20/09
    8:01 am

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    Turquoise Diaries said...

    One of the best post I read since I started to follow you. I am not a mother but now I see my mother from a different light.

  • 12/20/09
    8:52 am

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    Anonymous said...

    Since both my kids (19 and 23) are home for Christmas, I have been thinking about your post. I think most children not matter what age or level of diffidence, love their mothers with the same amount of fierceness we love them.

    The difference is that they express it and feel it differently. It's in their skin, their hair and their bones, but children and young adults do not listen to themselves clearly since the noise of growing up drowns out everything around them. Moms need to see that and understand it.

    I believe they do love you. It's in the way a boy will still sit next to you on the couch to watch a football game– pretty soon a head or hand or leg will wander over for a bit of contact. It's even in the annoying way that a daughter telephones from another country to ask for a sore throat remedy. They know deep down that we are their number one fans and that if all else if going to hell, there is always one person who loves them. Our mother love manifests itself in what they do when we are not looking, how they behave in tough situations, how they stroke their own children's hair, how they treat their infirm grandmother.

    Some mothers may feel that their child doesn't love them, or that they have failed in some way. With time, I hope that these parents and children realize that the mothering was done with the best of intent with the resources available at the time. Hopefully, forgiveness and healing follow.

    If loved fully, the love is in the children's very bones. To them it is like brown eyes, or curly hair–it is just there. And we mothers love seeing it in front of us as we watch them grow.

    stacyfrpgh

  • 12/20/09
    5:09 pm

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    Sher said...

    I know my boys love me. But a Mother's love is different and much stronger. Oldest seeks my advice with "girls". And doesn't show emotional love like a daughter would, but there was one time that he let it show while I was in the hospital. Then there was the time when he was in the hospital a few months ago. So there you go, it's when they are vulnerable does it show. But that is what we are here for.

    Youngest is a cuddler and I know soon he will outgrow that and start maturing. He still thinks when he gets married, he and his wife will still live with us LOL!

  • 12/20/09
    5:49 pm

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    LPC said...

    You all have written such beautiful comments. Thanks. I guess at the very least if I'm causing my kids issues they are going to share them with the entire developed world:).

  • 12/21/09
    3:36 am

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    Susie said...

    Love all your thoughtful comments – this was a timely read for me as I wait anxiously for my daughter (currently on Flight 222 from Sydney to Singapore) to arrive early in the morning..the sheets are washed, her bed made complete with furry friends, the house is groaning with food and drink…my heart skips a beat when I think I will see her bright, shiny, youthful & eternally optimistic face tomorrow morning at Heathrow & bring her home to spend Christmas en famille..my jigsaw life complete for a while until she leaves on another plane to return to her Australian life & new boyfriend….no you cannot love your children too much, only embrace all that they are whilst you have the opportunity – happy holidays with your baby…Susie x

  • 12/21/09
    7:07 am

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    MJ said...

    Mother love is not out of date as they grow older. And maybe, when they become parents, they will understand just how much you love them.

  • 12/22/09
    3:12 am

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    Peonies and Polaroids said...

    Oh shit, I'm crying into my breakfast.

    Too much love is never a bad thing, will never damage your children. When love is used as an excuse for being deranged and treating your children appallingly, that will damage them. And make them feel very iffy about love. But just plain old love? That's a very good thing.

  • 02/05/11
    8:42 pm

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    Slater Sorrenson said...

    I’m convinced I love them more than they love me. I’m the one who does the phone calls on Sunday nights. Then again, I’m the one who chose them. Sometimes they tell me they love me, even if I don’t ask.

  • 03/23/11
    10:24 am

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    ShabbyChick said...

    I envy your children. I’ll bet they love you more than you realize! Perhaps they simply take your love for granted because they have never known anything different. They are comfortable with your love. It’s home for them. My mother is really no mother at all. She is indifferent in every sense of the word. I don’t say that out of maliciousness. It’s just my truth, I’ve had 36 years to come to terms with it. On the other hand, I have 5 beautiful children to love and nurture…and to do better than was done to me. I will be that mother who tries not to call…and fails. I will be a mother whose children are comfortable in my love. What else is there in all the world than that?

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