The importance of motherhood and teaching souls to fly

I have tried to savor and make the most of every stage of my children’s lives but lately, I feel like I have been holding on just a little bit tighter. For some reason, Hadley’s ninth birthday this week has hit me harder than the others, probably because it’s half-way to 18. She’s such an independent soul that I have no doubt when given her adult wings, she will fly away just as I did.

Of course, that’s what every parent wants but, though I’ll be her mom forever, it has made me sad to think that this stage is half-over. Pretty soon, she’ll be in the harder-to-reach teenage years and we will have to trust she will continue to build upon the foundation we’ve given her. And I can’t help but pray it will be enough.

On Friday, we got a taste of summer by delving into our favorite activities in Denver: Biked along the Platte River. Watched the tubers and kayakers at Confluence Park. Devoured Little Man Ice Cream cones. Shopped and played at our favorite store, R.E.I.

I loved it all and tried to live in the moment but fought away feelings of sadness to think that very soon, they will prefer the company of their friends to dear ol’ mom and dad on the weekends. It’s all a part of growing up.

I have been reflecting a lot about the choices I’ve made since becoming a mom. A good friend of mine is a shining star and recently received a huge promotion to an executive-level position at a major corporation. She is a great mom to beautiful children and I’m sure struggles to juggle the long hours and extensive travel.  That is the path she has chosen and she is surrounded by a loving family who support her so she can balance it all.

Mine is a much different path, one in which I have stayed home with my children, put my career on the back-burner but have been fortunate enough to keep my foot in the door. I sometimes wonder where I’d be now if I had chosen to work full-time. But then I’m just grateful for the privilege it has been to stay home and for a husband who works hard to support us so that I could go to all those weekly story times. Never miss a field trip, class party or field day. Dream up a new adventure every day as we tried to fight winter’s doldrums. I have to believe that, though my kids don’t remember many of them, that all my missteps and successes have helped form the blueprint of their lives.

I recently fell in love with an essay by Lia Collins from a new book called Choosing Motherhood: Stories of Successful Women Who Put Family First. The story starts with Lia sharing a question her younger, single sister asked her after spending five weeks with Lia’s young family in Germany. She had seen the good times…and the tough ones and finally blurted out, “why would anyone want to be a mom?”

When I worked with the young women at church for a number of years, they would frequently share how their peers would make fun of their desire to become mothers someday. That, with all the career choices out there, this was only an afterthought, a backup plan. While I certainly don’t discount getting a good education and having a career (I have many wonderful mom friends who are doctors and lawyers), somehow our society has devalued the role not just of the family but of the essential, life-saving work of mothers.

As Lia struggled for an answer that cut through the daily chaos to the deeper, abiding joy that only mothers can understand, she found it months later. Her husband brought home a book from the library and she was awed when she saw the painting on the cover, “Teach these souls to fly” by William Blake.

I will include a few of my favorite excerpts.
“The beige muscles swells across the mother’s back inspired my admiration at first. A woman with such strength could perform any labor she chose. Yet the curve of her shoulder introduced a steady softening that ended in a touch on the child’s elbow. I saw the same force and persuasion in the look she gave the child. This mother seemed in the same instant both to command and to invite, to compel and to persuade.

“I found the odd trajectory of the mother’s flight as intriguing as the paradox of her person. She was definitely flying–that was clear by the way her robes hugged her body before swirling away. But her torso twisted back toward her child.

“An outsider like my sister might have seen in this mother of how children hamper and restrain. What heights could such a woman not have attained, had she been free to pursue the course she had started?

“…The child in the painting definitely didn’t know. He stared blankly toward me, not his mother. His chubby toddler arms barely reached past his head, and his feet rose behind him like two lazy balloons. While his mother seemed wholly devoted to some noble end, the child appeared merely present. This child flew only because his mother pulled him, but like most children, he seemed oblivious to what his mother did for him.

“…It would be impossible to convey to my sister all the flying I did as a mother. I could mention that I taught my daughter to read, but my sister wouldn’t know how it made my own soul soar to see the wonder on my daughter’s face when she read her first book. My sister could marvel to hear my three-year-old identify a particular waltz on the radio, but she couldn’t experience the earlier lift of listening to Strauss for hours with my little one. Until she turned back to teach a child she loved to fly, my sister couldn’t know the profound joy I felt to hear my children lovingly and patiently teaching one another.

“…The interesting thing about this painting was that it wasn’t particularly beautiful or technically impressive. Still, the longer I looked at it, though, the more the mother in me responded to it. As I watched the young child in the painting, I felt with a sense of urgency that he had entered a fallen world and, but for the guiding hand of his mother, he would sink into the blacks and reds toward the bottom of the painting. The protective shield of light and light and truth that his mother provided for him–a safe haven from the world around him–relieved me. I felt a kinship with her efforts to guide her child into the blue expanses that this world also extends.

“…I finally laid the book down with a feeling of reverent awe. “Who wouldn’t want to be a mom?” I wondered. A career in motherhood has its element of drudgery, but so did any other. What other career could claim as its end-product the elevation of a human soul? Not just the enlightening of a mind or the development of a body, but the improvement of every aspect of a vibrant child of God? I, at least, want to be a mother because I believed, with President Harold B. Lee, that the most important work I would ever do would be within the walls of my own home. I chose to be a mother because I wanted to teach souls to fly.”

-Lia Collings

Other Posts