Something New and Good: The Surprising Freedom of Mama Bear

If I had one fear going into motherhood, it was that their hungry little mouths, and needy little souls would be the death knell of my freedom. In fact, when Moira was born, I went through a period of mourning for my afternoons of deep contemplation, for the concept of “browsing,” and the ability to lose track of time.

The beginning of a baby’s life is hard for the mom.

I felt like I had about 45 minutes between breastfeeding sessions in which to cram in all of my personal maintenance, and graciously thank all the well-wishers and meal-bringers. Life had never felt more scheduled, crammed full of nuts and bolts.

But looking back, I realized that something miraculous began in the midst of that.

I became freer.

This is what freedom looks like at our house: naked cascarone parties, with chic headbands.

This is what freedom looks like at our house: naked cascarone parties, with chic headbands.

First, before this starts sounding like tales from the joyful martyr, let me say this: I’m writing this in a coffee shop, processing my thoughts, and sipping tea. My first baby’s season of hourly scheduled needs is over. A second baby’s is about to begin, but I don’t think I’ll need to mourn so much, because I realize how quickly it’s over.

A very wise friend whose youngest is in upper elementary school told me that before I knew it, I would be looking at mornings or evenings or weekends and considering options of what to do with my time…rather than having a list of urgencies waiting to fill the first crack in the calendar. I look forward to that luxury, but this urgent, needy time is still doing a good work in me.

In the early days, I thought that Moira needed me to provide the perfect environment. The internet abounds with “the best thing you can give your child.” According to the internet, the best thing you can give your child is…the ability to soothe herself…a love for vegetables…a consistent routine…sleep….breast milk.

Every single time I tried to live by one of these rules, I went a little bit insane. And so Moira went a little bit insane. And so I went a little more insane.

Watching this cycle I realized…the greatest gift I can give Moira is a sane mother. (If you need to Christianize it, you can call it a free mother, or a mother who trusts God. For me that looks like sanity. Also, yes I know she needs Jesus the most.)

What began as a vision for freedom from Mothering Perfectionism has grown into something even bigger.

Basically, when I have too much rope, I hang myself. With enough time and energy, I can create Barnum-and-Bailey-level performance standards for myself. My motto: If I can, then I should.

It’s a terrible motto.

I cultivated a very competent, capable persona, even within my marriage. I was a badass urban-dweller with endless energy for activism of any kind.

When Moira arrived, one by one, my ancillary commitments began to fall away. Not reluctantly. I shed them like a wool coat in May. Some of them were enjoyable hobbies I intend to pick up again, like Master Naturalists and marathon running. Others were platforms I’d been holding onto to give myself a sense of purpose. They had grown unstable under the weight of my identity, and I found relief in letting them go.

So the calendar commitments went fairly easily, but the heaviest wool coat remained:

My badassery.

The amazing woman I had sold to an unwitting boy trying to get him to marry me was becoming intolerably shrill. The 1,200-word idealist who proclaimed to the world that children not only could, but SHOULD be raised in the inner city (all of them) was growing more embattled. The juggler of commitments was tired and cranky.

Trying to be that woman was ultimately making me just as insane as trying to be the perfect mother. It was the same kind of performance trap, with all the same shame and hiding when I failed.

And you can’t go hiding when someone needs you.

Before Moira, no one really needed me. Lewis depended on me, and I was there to love and help him, but he didn’t need me in order to survive. Having someone who truly needs you (even if it’s only for a short season and then gradually fades as they become independent) offers the most stunning clarity of purpose. I’ve heard it called the “mama bear” instinct. To let nothing come between you and what’s best for your child.

So I had to be honest with myself. With Lewis. With our community. I had to admit my weariness and doubts and wimpy heart. I had to be honest about what I needed, and risk the rejection I so deeply feared. I had to trust God enough to admit what a badass I was not. 

Because what my cub needs most is a sane mother (and Jesus, yes, I know).

I’ve had to realize again and again that Moira is a resilient kid. She’s going to be fine without a nap, having only carbs for dinner one night, or using a pacifier past 15 months of age. But sucking her into my performance trap…that’s a lifelong burden. Not beyond redemption. Nothing God can’t use, but it is the thing that will ultimately steal the most joy from her. That’s the battle worth fighting.

The number one thing from which Moira needs to be protected…is the very thing keeping me in bondage: my image of the perfect me. So I am thankful every day for those mama bear instincts that lay waste to all that threatens the cub. God is using that terrifying biology to carry the Gospel that sets us both free.

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One thought on “Something New and Good: The Surprising Freedom of Mama Bear

  1. Stephanie says:

    Nothing to add. Just a muted applause from the back of the auditorium. Thanks for sharing this.

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