A few days after my graduate thesis was approved, I strolled with delight into a bookstore with my two boys.
They ran to the kids’ section to play with the wooden trains, and I wandered around the shop while the rain poured outside on that spring day. I flipped through new novels, and then I came to the shelves of parenting advice—the plethora of self-help books for parents.
I didn’t pick up a single one.
I smiled, brightly.
I no longer needed them.
Sure, I’ll take advice about parenting, because I am not a perfect mom. Yep, I’m too playful to be perfect. But I finally realized that this whole self-help for mothers and fathers embellishes social norms.
Take the raging hormones of new moms and mix them with fear-based news stories, and bam, they’re eager to buy the latest book about how not to “ruin” our children.
In the beginning, I certainly bought those books, because I had no clue about mothering.
True to form, I was a tomboy. I didn’t know how to change a diaper. Seriously, I had no idea that milk came out of a lot of holes in the nipple, and not just one. I thought babies were “cute” as long as they were in someone else’s arms.
I had a career path that didn’t include a family, and then I got pregnant.
Within a year of completing my undergraduate degree, I gave birth to an adorable cherub baby boy, and suddenly I felt insecure.
What did I know about babies? Nothing. I knew more about the United Nation’s Declaration of Human Rights than how to nurture a babe.
So I did what most young parents do—I reached for the books. I tried out the What to Expect series, but they scared me with their stories about getting toxoplasmosis from changing the kitty litter. I didn’t want to walk around in fear, but I suddenly became that person, even though I had been playing outside my whole young lifetime.
I found some alternative books like Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskins (which is an amazing book), although I didn’t expect to almost puke when I saw the image of a baby’s head crowning. I’ll have to do that! I cried to myself.
I did, and it wasn’t blissful.
A few months later, I realized that the only way to learn about babies was to spend an infinite amount of time caring for the very being whom I created.
Mothering is an art form, not an expectation of perfection—even though that’s what is expected within our society.
There isn’t one way of mothering that works for all. There isn’t one way that even works for the same child every day.
Mothering is an experience in which the “who” that we had been changes into the “who” we are constantly becoming over the years just as our children grow into their selves. Mothering is possible for men as well as women, as it is the act of nurturing as well as discipline.
On that rainy spring day in the bookstore, I realized that I no longer needed any of those parenting books, because I knew that the very root of being a mom rested in the experience of mothering.
I had just written a mothering memoir and a thesis about the sociology of motherhood in the United States with regards to owning our voice in the role of motherhood, and I didn’t need to read any more books.
I no longer wanted someone to tell me how to raise my boys (who were 10 years old and five years old at the time), because I understood that I’d never fully understand them, but I loved them.
I was a mother, and yet that wasn’t my only identity.
After 10 years, I finally felt confident in my ability to know myself as a woman, as an artist, as a writer, as a scholar and as a poet.
I sighed, reaching for the latest Harry Potter novel, and thinking that I’m sure I’ll mess up as a mom. I’ll forget to pack their favorite snack for lunch. I’ll tease them about the girls they have crushes on. I’ll make them do their own laundry. I’ll tell them that they can’t have the latest gadget, and it’ll make them want to earn their own money, so they will, eventually.
I do know one thing for sure about mothering: it is, and will always be, a work in progress.
And I’m fine with that.
Author: Jessie Wright
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash