The most important gift a mother can give her children is loving them for who they are, not how they make her feel about herself

first steps

I’ve speculated before on the unique challenges facing contemporary advocates of natural parenting. When your identity revolves around parenting choices for babies and small children, what happens when those children grow up, and, inevitably, away from their mothers?

Choices like unassisted birth aren’t parenting choices; they’re parental identity choices. Unassisted birth doesn’t benefit babies. Indeed this video of an unassisted homebirth inadvertently demonstrates how and why homebirth increases the risk of neonatal death. They are forms of performance art and babies are just bit players in the mothers’ starring performances.

For unassisted birth advocate and lactivist Rixa Freeze, her extended series of performance art pieces is coming to an end.

So tell me I have something to look forward to. Because I thinking of growing older and aging and getting wrinkles and health problems (okay, maybe some of this is a long way off!) and my kids getting bigger and none of it seems interesting. What I’m trying to say is: having newborns and babies has been, for me, the Best Thing Ever and I don’t know if anything else can make up for the loss of that part of my life.

I understand “baby lust.” My husband originally wanted two children and I wanted four … so we compromised on four.

Despite all the physical work and the lack of sleep, infancy is a magical time. With each of my four children it was simultaneously the same and different. The same because it’s always like watching a flower bloom, unfolding and acquiring greater beauty every day; but different because each child is unique and although they start off looking very similar, their emerging personalities prefigure the fact that they are very different individuals.

What I learned, however, is that each stage has its own magic. There’s nothing else like watching a toddler acquire language, learning to say, “I love you!” as well as “You’re not the boss of me!” There’s nothing else like the primary school years when you are your child’s hero and teacher, introducing new ideas and skills, and watching your children run with them. There’s no joy like the joy of watching your child embrace the family traditions you loved as a child; no joy like your child hitting a Little League home run, dancing at a ballet recital, winning a formal debate; no joy like a child opening a longed for holiday gift that you were able to provide. Of course, there’s no worry like the worry that your child is being teased at school, no disappointment like a child who isn’t chosen for the travel team, no fear like the fear when they drive independently for the first time.

They are people, separate individuals with skills, talents, hope, fears, and dreams, not walking, talking validations of your own parental choices.

In my view, the most important gift a mother can give her children is loving them for who they are, not how they make her feel about herself.

The role of a mother is not use her children as a form of identity, a validation of her personal choices, a piece of performance art redounding to the greater glory of the mother herself. When you decide to have children, you are no longer the star; you are a supporting character, an important one to be sure, but not the main character. One of the greatest problems with the current incarnations of natural childbirth, lactivism and attachment parenting is that the children aren’t even characters; they’re just props. And when they can no longer serve as props, the mother cannot see any joy or purpose in them.

Mothering, when done right, is a series of losses. First you lose the “inside baby” when the baby is born. You lose the incredible physical closeness when they learn to crawl, then walk, then run on their own. When they head off to school, you lose the comfort that you know everything that ever happens to them. As they grow older, you lose the ability to make everything better, to solve any problems, meet any need. Eventually you lose being needed itself; they become independent adults. A good mother always works herself out of a job.

Unfortunately for Rixa, her identity appears to be bound up with unassisted homebirth and breastfeeding. She is apparently having trouble figuring out who she is if she can no longer define herself by them.

One of the hardest parts of being a mother is recognizing that your child is a separate person and does not exist to validate you or your choices. Ideally, a mother should acknowledge that from the very beginning, but Rixa should know that it is never too late to start.