May 28, 2021

On Mothering: the Birds May Leave the Nest but They Still Need Us.

 “We notice when they call, what they say, what they don’t say, and what they are really saying.” ~ Cathy Rosenberg


When they’re babies, the work is hard.

It’s physical. But it’s clear what needs to happen. We hold them when they cry, we change their diapers, we feed them, and we put them to sleep. We “do.”

Then they get old enough to think for themselves, and we have to let them.

This was the hardest work for me. We are tasked with guiding, rather than navigating. So we create traditions, ground rules, curfews, boundaries, and daily rituals to keep them safe and feeling whole. They still need us—for money, rides, permission, and shelter. So we plant seeds and we water, and if they hit a dry spell, we are right there to catch them when they fall, until we don’t.

When they leave the nest, and go out into the world, we watch. They still need us. We notice when they call, what they say, what they don’t say, and what they are really saying.

We nurture with encouragement, we offer options when we see them spinning their wheels out of indecision, and we give them the space to come to their own conclusions in their time frame, rather than ours.

We still express another point of view when it’s appropriate, but we choose just the right words so they are soft enough to be swallowed. Then we sit back and trust—that they watched what we planted, observed as we pulled out weeds that were tangling them up, and watched when we found them more sun in a different spot when they wilted where they were.

At times, we might even suggest they dig deeper until they find more solid ground to plant their feet on.

As they grow, the parenting becomes less physical. It’s a different kind of challenge.

My son lives in San Francisco, and my daughter is moving there in August to start her career. It’s as if they’re at a sleepaway camp that never ends. Trips are planned like it’s visiting day and care packages and phone calls deliver love and affection. These things serve to remind them they are missed and to allow us to “do” for them as we always have.

I can’t see their faces when they call, so I listen to their tones. My hearing compensates for a lack of visual contact. I’m fascinated by people with a disability who sharpen one sense to balance a lack of another. I don’t hear a door slam at the end of a trying day, but I understand when a phone call about “not much” turns into something else altogether.

The mothering becomes more nuanced, more subtle, yet every bit as important to our children, who are now adults—and they still need us. I am still Mom, which in my house means there is a safe place to fall. I am a cushion that can help soften the blow.

Last year, my body crashed. It was the perfect storm of vitamin deficiencies, hormonal imbalance, and a gut in crisis. No matter the origin, the consequences shook me to my core. Anxiety and depression, two strangers, became my daily companions for a few months as I healed my body. They top the list of unwelcome visitors when the body is out of whack.

I felt like the earth opened up and swallowed me whole. I was tender and afraid and even standing on my own two feet felt overwhelming. My family, who knows me to be strong and wise, had to find their own way.

The woman who brought me into this world, brought me back. She literally loved me back to life. She fielded every shaky phone call. She picked up on the first ring, no matter where she was and always said, “You okay?” She talked me through every moment of terror when I was afraid I was never going to find the other side and she never waivered.

This was incredibly healing for us both as she wasn’t always able to do that for me as a child. My mom was in her own crisis at many vulnerable times of my childhood when I needed a mom to reassure me and prop me back up.

Any moments she missed in my childhood have been cleared from the books as she rescued me last year. I drove to Miami often and spent the night. Being alone in my house was hard during that time and my husband worked all the time. I was 56 years old and requiring every ounce of mothering that she had to offer. She gave more than she had.

My gratitude as a human being knows no bounds. My appreciation as a daughter is immeasurable, and my honor of the bond between mother and child is sealed for all eternity.

I have never been more certain that a mother’s love heals all wounds. She showed me respect, empathy, and understanding. Never once did she did she see me through different eyes. She looked into my heart and saw her daughter hurting, as if I had broken a leg or had my appendix out. She didn’t judge what I was feeling or that I was feeling it. She wanted to nurse me back to health—physical and mental health.

The crisis in my body took me back to an intensely vulnerable time in my childhood. I felt like her little girl who needed love and direction, and she delivered. She told me stories when I couldn’t sleep at night, all night. She cooked for me, walked my dog, and helped me find my footing until I felt strong enough to walk alone.

My definition of motherhood is not limited to women who have given birth. Mothers are the nurturers—a favorite yoga teacher who inspires, a circle of friends who feel sacred, school teachers, coaches, tutors, mentors, acupuncturists, health caregivers, and any other people we lean in on. They lift us up so we can be more than we are.

And then we pay it forward.

It takes a village. Mamas are all around us and opportunities to mother are plentiful. When the nest appears to be empty, look around. They appear when we need them.

I love my children’s friends like they are my own. We can show up for someone, whether we’ve birthed them or just stepped into their life at the perfect moment to dust them off and sprinkle some pixie dust. We may be able to offer a perspective their own mother doesn’t share. We may be the magic they need because we are not their mother.

Mothering is like riding a bicycle. We never forget.

Look for opportunities to make a difference in someone’s life. Rescue a puppy or mentor a young person.

When it comes to nurturing, I say, “the more, the merrier.” I am eternally grateful to my kids’ other mothers. I am honored to be someone that my children’s friends still come to for advice or a dusting off. I use my mothering skill to deliver yoga in a way that feels like a big hug.

Wherever you are, and whatever you do, share your gifts, and always remember: they still need us.


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