When I became a mother I learned why we all laugh about being a momma bear. Men don’t quite get what it means to be a momma bear. Women without children haven’t experienced that rush of adrenaline, force, and courage. But I am telling you, the day my babies were born, a new characteristic was born in me. I was ferociously protective. I was a new momma bear.
My babies were in the hospital for just over two weeks, and in that time I felt so many surges of protective power rush through my system. Call it hormones, call it postpartum adjustments—whatever it was, it was strong. My husband had to protect my in-laws from my wrath. Their crime? Holding their new grand babies and lovingly admiring everything about them. My husband had to protect our visitors from my wrath. Their crimes? Lingering too long and cooing a little too much over my babies. My babies! Didn’t they know whose babies they were? You want to coo so much go get your own baby! I’m not proud of every vehement thought I barely kept contained behind seething eyes and clenched teeth. I just remember the power of the feeling.
I had to protect my babies because they needed me. I knew this instinctually—I think most mothers do. They depended on me for everything in the beginning—food, cleanliness, movement and touch. For the first time in my life I, a staunch animal lover my entire life, decided in a split second one day it was time to get rid of the cat when I found her in my son’s crib. I didn’t mind her in his crib. I minded that when I shooed her out of his crib she used his squishy cheek as a launching pad. That cat stepped on my baby’s face! She had to go. I was momma bear in action.
The thing is, when our children are infants we know they need us. We know they need us to hold them, care for them, bathe them, feed them and respond to their cries. We know they need us entirely—that they barely need anything else—and as moms we rise to the occasion. We sacrifice sleep, social calls and sit-down meals to make sure our babies are attended to. We jump up to help them even when we don’t know what they need because we know down deep that even if we can’t address their immediate symptom, our very presence addresses their need at the very core. We are what our babies need. Our touch, our scent, our voice, our love—we are the cure to our baby’s malady.
I wonder, though, that this innate understanding of our children’s need for us diminishes as our children grow. Our sons and daughters reach toddlerhood or preschool or elementary age and they set their sights on things beyond our four walls and we begin to doubt, as moms, that our kids still need us now. We somehow think that growing independence—a reaching out and beyond old constraints, means that the old foundations don’t matter any more. We begin to assume that if our children are drawn to any thing beyond us, we must no longer be of significance.
But we couldn’t be further from the truth.
Let me assure you, just because your Kindergartner rides the bus to school and does fine all day without you does not mean he doesn’t need you anymore.
Just because your third grader is more interested in playing with friends after school than in telling you about her day does not mean she doesn’t need you anymore.
Just because your middle schooler is growing peach fuzz on his upper lip and goes to bed later than you do does not mean he doesn’t need you anymore.
Momma, your kids need you. Circumstances change, interactions change, the challenges of daily life change, but your kids never, never stop needing you.
Your child needs you more than he or she needs friends, classmates, teachers, or coaches. You child needs you more than he or she needs new experiences, exposure to new ideas, opportunities for advancement, or advantages in school or sports. Your child needs you more than music class, language class, or training in the arts, more than organized athletics or team building events. Your child needs you more than he or she needs technology, the best preschool or private education, organic food, or infant classes on how to swim or read. Your child needs you more than he or she needs that honors class, that A, or that scholarship. Your child needs you more than he or she needs the best that money can buy or persuasion can attain. Your child needs you. You.
Do you believe that?
Because we live in a culture now that pays lip service to family, but provides every possible means to prevent genuine intimacy within the family unit. We put kids in daycare as babies or toddlers for the socialization. We put young children on sports teams meant to help them build skills and make friends when they are still too young to recognize that anyone else exists. We worry when our three year olds don't share well, our four year olds don’t excel on the soccer field and when our five year olds can’t read.
Quick question here—why in the world does a five year old need to be able to read? I ask in all seriousness. And believe me—I’ve been caught up in the fervor at times too. I am not immune to worry when it comes to my kids. Will they be successful, will they be bright, will they do well in the world? When my kids were four I decided to teach them to read. I am an avid reader and have been my whole life. When I got married I gleefully declared to my new husband that now I had someone to read out loud with! He looked at my sideways, wondering what invisible friend it was that I had brought with me into our marriage. He didn’t become the reading partner I had assumed everyone in life is looking for, so when my kids were born I dove into reading to them with pure delight, reciting passages to them from Winnie the Pooh before they ever emerged from my womb.
I wanted my kids to love reading. I felt emotionally attached to the idea that I might be the one to teach them the mechanics of sounding out words for themselves. I had a homeschooling textbook at hand and I began reading lessons in earnest.
I confess I had mixed results. All of my kids learned some critical elements of reading. All of them made progress. All of them proved capable. But none of them looked forward to reading lessons. None of them clamored for more. While they continued to bring to me picture books and stories for me to read out loud, none of them ever brought the reading textbook. Reading lessons became a chore and a burden.
I am so grateful for their wise preschool teacher, whom I went to for input one day as I was struggling with my desire to teach my kids to read versus the reality that it had become time consuming and burdensome. I shared with her their progress and their aptitude. I shared with her my own love of reading. I shared with her my desire to give my kids the best possible jump start on literacy. And she asked me one question:
“Are they enjoying the lessons?”
I answered truthfully: “No.”
“Then I suggest you stop. Pay attention to what they’re communicating to you. Read together as a family, make reading a pleasure, and they will learn to read. In the right time.”
I went home and put away the textbook. I read lots and lots of books and stories to my kids. We still read together most nights before bed. Reading in our house is a pleasure, and I am so grateful I listened to a wise teacher who reminded me that if I created an environment of enjoyment and pleasure around an activity, the skills would come in time. My kids didn’t need more lessons, more exposure, more practice. Not in that situation. They just needed me to share with them the pleasure of a good book. They needed me. Just like your kids need you.
As our kids grow up they need less from us physically. They learn to do so many things for themselves that it’s easy to think their budding independence means they are ready to fly the nest. Be careful you don’t push them out too soon, forgetting that it’s the safety of the nest that gives them the confidence and stability to spread their wings with growing assurance. Your sassy pre-teen, your stoic adolescent—they need you. As much as the day you met them, they still need you. Step in and meet that need, Momma.
Walking the journey with you,