The other day I was in a Lyft with an exceptionally chatty driver. He is also a life coach and writing his memoirs, spending a lot of time reflecting on the nature of love for your kids versus love for your spouse.
This man had been with his wife since high school; she was his best friend and loves her dearly. And yet he experienced what so many of us do after having kids: A visceral sense of the difference between unconditional love and conditional love.
This was his take: You can love your spouse with all your heart, but it’s still conditional love. It’s predicated, perhaps, on them not cheating on you. Or them not emotionally shutting you out. Or them continuing to work on the relationship. Maybe it would take something unimaginable for that love to go away, but there are limits to it. Because, he argued, it’s something you opted into.
But with children it’s different, he continued. There is nothing they can do to make you stop loving them. That biological tie is just too strong.
I think that’s a two-way bond.
“I love you more than I love myself,” Eli frequently tells me. “I definitely love you more than you love me.”
“You don’t even know how much I love you, Mom,” Evie will say. “It might be too much!”
I laugh, of course, at these “you can’t possibly understand my love” protestations. They’ll know one day if they have kids that they can’t possibly love me more than I love them. But they do soak me up like some sort of life-sustaining element. Evie has a mental log of how much “mama time” she’s gotten in life, and I’m nowhere close to the acceptable level.
This is us most of the time:
When Evie was younger she was more independent. She used to run all over the house and then suddenly find herself depleted, falling back onto me for a much needed “mommy recharge,” like I was one of those Apple charging pads you just have to place your devices on. These days, perhaps because she spends more time at school, at friends and with her dad, she needs more recharging. She folds her body up like a little origami bird and fits it perfectly underneath my arm/wing.
This is one reason I feel so much more confident after becoming a mom. It’s hard to have negative feelings about yourself when you see your life-sustaining worth reflected in your children’s eyes.
This past weekend I’ve been with my family at a reunion in Jacksonville, Florida—a trip that was expensive and inconvenient, but important for a few reasons. While no one folded themselves up like a little bird in my arms, that biological pull to see my parents is still there. Seeing my siblings felt like a homecoming. Even seeing cousins I hadn’t seen in 20 years filled this place in me with joy. It felt like something clicked into place that I didn’t know was missing.
We talk a lot about the sacrifices we make as working mothers, what moments we may miss, the challenge when you can’t always be there. We spend less time talking about the sacrifices we make as working daughters and sisters. I know leaving the South and following my career as far as it could take me was the best thing for my life. I get to live without nagging “what ifs” and regrets. But it’s like a part of me is always missing when my family is away.
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- How do I find moms who code, and who want to re-enter the workforce?
- How do you not take spouse’s depression personally?