My youngest child, my daughter, turned 10 years old in early December. Ten years seems like a great reflection point, and I’ve been trying to grasp how having this girl in my life for a decade has impacted me. I’ve come across one of her (many) enormous gifts that this ten year milestone helped reveal to me:
She messed everything up—and thank god she did.
I mean this a way that mothers understand. We understand how the impossible is possible, how there is an expanse of freedom in the mundane routines, how loving our children is blissfully healing and also painfully anxiety inducing, how we give everything and expect nothing. My daughter launched me into the depths of myself and family in a way I thought I already had been by my son, but was clear with her arrival I had only scratched the surface.
With my first child, sure, everything felt upside down for awhile. I didn’t know what time of day it was, if I’d eaten, slept, or been to the bathroom recently for weeks, probably months. How would I work again, let alone see friends, shower, sit down, or do anything while I had this baby who was so compelling looking up at me? Hours went by while I stared at my son and tried to grasp that he had formed inside of me, I pushed him out of my body, and now was holding him. I was blown away by how much I adored him, that I felt perfectly fit for him, that I felt like I knew just how to be with him even though I had no actual experience of parenting a newborn. I felt blissful and disoriented, in waters completely unchartered and unknown. I loved finding my way with him and myself, as surprising and exhausting as it all was.
Having my daughter when he was 22 months old was a different experience. Within hours of my daughter’s birth I was playing trains on the ground with my son while breastfeeding her. I wanted to immerse myself in her presence, and yet there was hardly any time with her that wasn’t spent doing something with my son at the same time. By day three we were all crying simultaneously as I realized I kinda sucked at whatever this was—parenting?—that I was trying to do.
As my husband and I were starting to grasp the enormity of what we had taken on, I eventually saw through my daughter’s presence that the mess is where the magic is in relationships.
Her existence humbled me right away, and I knew I would need a lot more support if anyone (including me) was going to enjoy this. I have never relied on a person more in my life (since being a child myself) than my husband for those first few years for help with everything around the home, both of the kids, and to hold space for my feelings and realizations, over and over again. I was able to focus on little else beyond the care and feeding of the four of us, on all the levels we needed.
I felt compelled to be home more, to figure this family thing out, and to take it on as fully as I could. I saw how much I had to learn, and how little I had actually understood before her arrival, about becoming a family. I wanted even more to provide the feeling of home to my kids that I’d always dreamed of. While suddenly motherhood had become a lot more complex and demanding, I wanted to be there and find my way, our way, with it all more strongly than ever.
I started to treasure the spans of her wakefulness at night because then I could be alone with just her and take her in. I took the risk to work less (which i was fortunate to do), as I felt I needed to be there, at home, letting my nervous system adapt to this new paradigm that I had never been in before—the one where I had a two year old jumping on me while I breastfed.
By the time she was four years old, I had been shaped so deeply by my experience with my family that I continued to limit my work schedule while also changing my career focus to working with people on their deep, attachment informed, relationships. Mainly, the primal bonds between couples, and how that shapes us and our children. Now what I study and practice at work is exactly what I study and practice at home, and the coherence between my work and my personal life, and what fascinates me most, is extremely fulfilling.
The immersion of parenthood and family is a deep dive into primal dependency, life and death relational needs, enormous physical and psychological demands, and physical intimacy of the most mammalian kind. Becoming and being a family and navigating our most intimate relationships brings upheaval, confronts us, enriches us, demands our growth, and is messy. And I love being in that mess.
So out of the messiness of your arrival, Neva, and all the upheaval of suddenly having two tiny humans to care for, has come deep alignment. When the four of us are all together, I settle, relax, and know I am right where I am supposed to be. Thank you for helping me see, and not question, the beauty and wellness in the messy process of finding our way with each other. It has been worth every second.