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The Hardest Part of Being a Mother

By Jacqueline Guidry

Each stage of a child's life presents its own difficulties. None of them is as difficult, as this mom discovered, as letting go.

Q U I C K S C A N

Overcoming Fears
Dealing With Heartaches
The Struggle to Keep Quiet
Facing Life's Difficulties, Injustices
Learning to Let Go

Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Guidry

Transitional labor is intense, contractions hard and fast, one toppling over another. This physical pain is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

Push...push...push...and I have a daughter: Alison with tiny hands, pearl-perfect fingernails, brown eyes open even as she is being born.

Michael and I bring her home where her version of a normal infancy lasts about a week before she develops colic and a sleep pattern defying all the babycare books we had diligently memorized. She cries nearly constantly. When she isn’t crying, she’s usually awake, oblivious to her parents’ need for sleep.

Two o’clock in the morning of an unknown day. A black and white movie flickers on television. My daughter’s eyes close. I cautiously stand, ready to place her in the crib, myself in bed. Her eyes open, then her mouth, but a wail doesn’t follow.

Instead, she watches, curious about what I’ll do next. I settle back into the rocking chair, pull out a baby book and read her paragraphs describing a newborn’s typical pattern, hours and hours of blissful sleep interspersed with minutes of wakefulness. “Hear that?” I ask. “Get it?”

Alison stares at a Mexican wall hanging, neither interested nor impressed by anything Dr. Spock and his colleagues might have to say.

It is week after week of sleep deprivation. Had I once been clear-headed, articulate? This total exhaustion is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

Overcoming Fears

Alison outgrows colic, learns to walk, deigns to learn only a few words, having found grunting and pointing to be satisfactory modes of communication.

One late afternoon, I am preparing dinner while Michael sees to one of the endless tasks the house demands. Both the front and back doors stand open to invite a breeze. When my kitchen work is done, I step into the dining room. “Where’s Alison?”

“I thought she was with you.”

“No.”

We both stare at the open front door. I run through the house calling, “Alison, Alison!”

No answer.

I check the bedrooms and bath upstairs while my husband hits the attic and basement. Nothing. We bolt out the door, me to the left, him to the right. I run up the side street, frantically calling her name. No response.

“Have you seen a little girl? Blue shirt with ducks.” Is that what she was wearing? I can’t remember. “Red barrette?” Or maybe blue or yellow or green. “Brown hair?”

The man shakes his head, but seems to feel sorry for me.

“She doesn’t talk much. Mainly points and grunts.” I reach out a hand as if to demonstrate.

He takes a step back. He has not seen her and wants to be left alone.

She’s been kidnapped, run over by a truck, mauled by a rabid dog. I have been derelict in my duty, have not kept her safe.

“I found her!” my husband calls to me from the corner.

She is curled up on a pile of clean laundry I’d tossed on the bed in the spare room. In my panicked flight through the house, I’d missed her, camouflaged as she was by the bright colors and patterns of a toddler’s wardrobe. This realization of how easily I could fail my child is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

Dealing With Heartaches

Alison is invited to an overnight party for a friend’s sixth birthday. She chooses the nightgown she’ll wear, the stuffed animals she’ll take along. Then the friend reneges, her mother having decided four girls are too many, the friend having decided Alison was the expendable one.

Alison cries while I brood, consider calling the mother, begging an invitation or, if that fails, screaming about the insensitivity of herself, her daughter, their entire family—immediate and extended—pets too.

I take Alison for ice cream, read her favorite book seven times without complaint. But my bribes do not coax disappointment from her face. Watching that face, etched with sadness I am powerless to erase, is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

The Struggle to Keep Quiet

Now she is eight, a biking pro allowed to ride around two blocks alone. I sit on the steps near the curb, watching her younger sister, Anne, pedal back and forth on the sidewalk, and waiting for Alison to reappear. She brakes in front of me. “Those boys make me mad.”

“What boys?”

She points to an apartment building a block away. “Every time I pass, they say, ‘There goes your girlfriend, Mac.’” She screws up her face, having reached the age when boys are more an object of ridicule than romance. “Other mean things.”

“What things?”

But that is not the part she wants to share. She recounts how she told them, “Your mothers must not know what they’re doing because they’re sure raising rude boys.” One arm akimbo, long braids jiggling, she waggles a finger at her imaginary foes. “Your mamas must be ashamed of you.”

“What did those boys say then?”

“They laughed. They’re boys,” she says as if that explains all.

“How many were there?”

“Four or five.”

“How old?” I try to keep my voice low and calm, not easy for a woman who sees danger under every leaf.

“Teenagers.” She throws a leg over the bike. “I told them, right, Mama?” She is proud, pleased.

“You sure told them,” I say.

“I’m going around one more time.”

“Again?” is the only word I allow myself when what I want to say is: Stay here, stay safe with me. But what would that tell her about her ability to keep herself safe? Keeping quiet is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

Facing Life's Difficulties, Injustices

In fifth grade, she is kept indoors for recess, reprimanded along with the rest of her class for some misdeed. But, she protests, she and Angela were in the hall when the trespass occurred. Why should they receive the burden of punishment when they did not enjoy the sin of misbehavior? Where was the justice in that? Trying to explain the world’s injustices to a 10-year-old is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

Soon comes middle school, then high school with the complications of adolescence, the pulling away followed by the drawing closer, all of it going too quickly, our lives hurtling toward separation.

She struggles, emotionally, physically and intellectually, as she labors toward adulthood. Standing available but unable to help her bypass adolescent angst is surely, I think, the most difficult part of being a mother.

Learning to Let Go

Senior year brings college applications, acceptances, the need to choose. Reaching a decision is difficult, but not impossible.

Here is what seems impossible: Emptying dear Alison’s bedroom. Seeing her walls bare. Walking on uncluttered carpet shining brightly from years of protection afforded by clothes strewn across the floor. Packing possessions, driving to New Haven, leaving her while we return to Kansas City, half a continent away.

How can I be sure I have taught her all the lessons she will need for a full, happy life? I needed more time, did not realize the days would speed by so swiftly. Surely, there are instructions I have not given: Never mix your whites with your darks, no matter how desperate you are for clean underwear. Know your mother and father and sister will always love and treasure you. Eat your vegetables—even broccoli. Remember the earth is populated mostly with good and kind people who want to do the right thing. Check your oil regularly and the air pressure in your tires. Open yourself to the whole world and let your star shine brightly across the universe. Get enough sleep. Strive for a balanced life—family and friends who love you, work that challenges and inspires you, play that renews you.

I have loved you as best I could, taught you what I knew. Now I can only hope you have learned, will learn from others what I could not teach.

Saying good-bye. That is the most difficult part of being a mother.


Jacqueline Guidry is a freelance author from Kansas City, Missouri. She has had numerous articles published in various publications, including St. Anthony Messenger. Her novel The Year the Colored Sisters Came to Town (published by Welcome Rain, now in paperback) received the Thorpe Menn Award for literary excellence from the American Association of University Women.


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