I Have Five Children: Am I a Mother?

What if I don't fit society's ideals of what it means to be a mother?

Posted May 13, 2018

If there were an application to fill out for status as a mother, I am pretty sure I would qualify.

I have five children. I wanted them all. I gave birth to them all – the first by emergency cesarean section; the next two naturally with midwives in a hospital, and the final two at home, two and then six years after my 40th birthday. I nursed four of my children to their third birthdays. By now, the oldest two have graduated from college, and the youngest is still eight and in third grade.

I pack four lunches a day; make cookies, granola, and bread; and have been with my children day in and out through stitches, struggles, and sickness; bullying, bruises, and brain surgery; crushing defeats and spirited victories; the agonies of waiting and the thrill of receiving.

Nevertheless, I don’t think of myself as a mother – at least not in terms of the ideals I see around me. I am not what many a greeting card professes – selfless and endlessly patient, making sacrifices and compromises for the benefit of her children. I am no martyr. I am not a tiger mom, helicopter mom, stage mom, or bad mom. And I have absolutely no desire to take part in any mommy wars over who has a right to choose.

I want to be a mother on my own terms – terms that work for me, my partner and our children, given who and where we are.

I am selfish. I admit it. I thoroughly believe that if I honor my deepest yearnings, I will have far more to give my children, my partner, and the world. More wisdom. More love. More of myself. I ask for what I need.

At the same time, I know: this “self” I am is not an individual. I am a relational being -- enabled to be who I am by my family. What I most want includes the health and well-being of my partner and our children. Their well-being enables mine. We are in this together.

I have never stopped creating, dancing and writing – doing my work – not because I was trying to be some kind of superhero. For me, the “choice” between working and mothering is not a choice. It is like asking if I want to eat or breathe. I have to find a way to do both – for me, my partner, and our kids.

I want my children to receive both the opportunities they need to discover their path in this life, and the skills and discipline they need to devote themselves to it. I believe that the best way to teach them is by demonstrating how, every day.

I believe in synergies, not sacrifices. My children’s presence on this earth prods me to examine how I spend my time, to remember how valuable it is, and to reconsider what really matters, what really gives pleasure. If certain activities fall away, it is because I realize I want something more. The sideways pull helps me find a better path.

I believe in collaboration, not compromise. Rather than settle for less, I aim for more, inviting all sides to come together to imagine an option which neither could imagine alone, in which each gains more than they thought possible.

I am not a martyr. I do not give up my social life, love life, or work life for my children. I welcome them into my life as enabling causes of my being. In every aspect of my life, they help me find new and enriching rhythms. I look for these synergies and these collaborations. I seek them out. This to me is love.

I love my children beyond measure. Each opens a new universe in my heart, like another fold in multidimensional space. I cannot conceive of having a favorite. Each child of mine is a unique, beloved human with so much to teach me, though, I admit, some lessons are easier to learn than others.

Every day, my children help me become more of who I have the potential to be – and not because they push me to my limits, run me ragged, or force me to be patient. Rather, every day, my children provide me with opportunities to do what is most important to me: find the moves to make that make love stronger and more real than anything else.

I despise getting angry at my children. I hate yelling, though sometimes I do. Every time it happens, I look hard at myself, find the hooks, and work to release them so that next time I can be more free to find a different way though. Such work requires endless creativity. It requires cultivating a sensory awareness of my own movement, paying attention to feelings, and staying present in the moment – skills that my work as a dancer and a writer also require. I am better at what I do because of them.

My children help me stay in touch with my freedom. They provide me with the opportunity to choose love again and again – not because I am supposed to be some font of unconditional flow – but because living in love is the life I most want for myself and for the earth.

And if you had told me 25 years ago that I would have five children happy and willing to perform on stage this summer alongside of my partner and me in a musical that I wrote for them, about them – in which they play versions of themselves and I play the role of their mother – I would have questioned your sanity. It seems to me to be nothing short of a miracle.

I am not just proud of my children. I have no interest in taking “credit” for them. I am simply delighted to share this life with them. I am abundantly grateful to know them, and willing to do whatever I can to help them get what they want, so that they can give what they have to give.

This is what being a mother means to me.

So this Mother’s Day, I celebrate all mothers – not for living up to some ideal of selfless, life-giving sacrifice – but for doing the hard work, moment to moment, of creating a world in which love wins.