Opinion

Child development this and child development that, what about mother development?

Throughout the lives of our children, we mothers get loaded down with information and advice.

Via pamphlets at the pediatrician's office, posters on the wall at the elementary school and experience itself, we become experts in first words, first teeth and first steps, in weaning, potty training, going to school, making friends and leaving home.

All about them.

Having done this three times now, having just weathered one of the hardest stages of motherhood, that is the leave-taking of the last child and the concurrent reassembling of my identity, I have to ask: What about the story of the mother?

What about the fact that we are as new to this business of child-rearing, as the babies we birthed, and how come the pediatrician doesn't hand out mother-development pamphlets with the child-development ones?

We are led to believe the birth-to-vacate-the-premises process is exclusively about child development, when in fact, we mothers are silently moving from one profound stage of human development to the next, right alongside them.

We could use some attendant educating about what to expect, not just when we're expecting. But about all the stages of motherhood, from start to "finish," from the time the baby emerges and we feel like a baby ourselves, to the time they leave and we curl up in the fetal position and wonder if we'll ever come out.

This information would not be a parenthetical paragraph inserted in a pamphlet about the Terrible Twos.

It would be a whole pamphlet, or a series of pamphlets, or, a book, a companion book, say, to "Raising your Spirited Child," entitled "Raising Your Spirited Mother Self."

The authors of such works could make it easy, staging us like butterflies, with the egg stage ending in a hatching. Baby hatches. We do, too, our mouths agape in just as much bewilderment and awe.

Next would be the caterpillar phase, an especially long stage, when we grow and expand, in this case, our wisdom, while inching along and sometimes squirming right off the leaf we're trying to eat.

At some point we would move into the chrysalis stage, about the time the kids move into college, emerging only after we have meditated our way into the butterfly the pamphlets told us we would become.

As it is, as my last child graduated from high school four years ago, and I entered the chrysalis, couldn't fathom anything but darkness.

Sometimes I lay curled up inside, simply breathing through the monumental changes to my daily existence over which I had no control.

Other times I struggled against the hard walls of my necessary incubation, wanting out, but not finding an exit.

I could hear people and events calling my name. But I had no choice but to stay where I was until, consistent with spring, I felt the walls begin to give way to the opening of wings.

My wings.

I had no idea.

I thought I was in there forever, only to find there is life after the child-rearing years, and a good one at that.

A pamphlet about the stages of motherhood would have alerted me to the waiting light, and especially the dark, that there is light after dark after light, with consistent, measurable progress along the way.

Just like potty training. Mommy training. Just like baby weaning. Mommy weaning. Just like holding hands to cross the street, having our own hands to hold.

Attention to mother development would have let me know, as much as anything, that the system is seeing us, watching our backs, upholding our progress, too.

Such attention, of course, would require a wholesale reversal of romantic thought, about mothers as selfless, giving creatures needing nothing.

Which will likely not happen in my lifetime when an overwhelming majority of the world's leaders, still, will never be a mother.

Meanwhile, I envision a pamphlet, right next to the ones about potty training and weaning.

It would be aptly titled, "First in a Series: Mothers Start Off As Babies, Too."

(Debra-Lynn B. Hook of Kent, Ohio, has been writing about family life since 1988. Visit her website at www.debralynnhook.com; email her at dlbhook@yahoo.com, or join her column's Facebook discussion group at Debra-Lynn Hook: Bringing Up Mommy.)

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