I admire those people that can sit and play with little ones for any length of time. My mother-in-law can do it, and my husband can do it. I’ve seen mothers at the library do it. But one thing I have come to realize is that I simply am not able to do it.
But you know what? That’s okay.
If you had asked me how I felt about it this time last year, I would have given you an agonized, guilt-driven, unhappy answer. I thought that to be a good mother, I had to like playing with my son. That I didn’t was a sign I didn’t love him enough, maybe.
And that was tormenting.
On the one hand were my list of “oughts” and all the reasoning behind them. On the other were my inclinations, my desires, and my yearning for a self that didn’t have to bulldoze everything because of the life she now had. I wanted desperately to be a good mother, but just as desperately I wanted not to have to sacrifice myself completely. And yet motherhood is about sacrifice, no?
That’s what all the world seems to want us to believe. Any mother who does what she wants is being selfish and uncaring. But I think there is something very wrong with that. Motherhood is about love, not sacrifice. And love does what love needs to do to manifest itself.
This doesn’t mean that to love one’s child one must root out all one’s natural inclinations that are contrary to the picture perfect image of motherhood. Love is not about self-destruction. Love is giving, yes, but it is giving of the wholeness of oneself. I give who I am, not who I am not. If I am such that I do not like to play, I can still love my son as the mother who does not like to play.
To love, we must first accept ourselves as we are, with our unique personality traits. One of mine is that I simply don’t like to play. And that’s fine. If I love, I will give myself to play for my son’s sake, but I will give myself in a way that doesn’t obliterate me. I set time limits for myself. I try to look for aspects of my son’s play that interest me. Once in a while I try to encourage a kind of play that we both enjoy, like coloring.
And sometimes I just let him play by himself.
Love looks for ways to share oneself. And that doesn’t mean sharing a beat-up, falsified image; it means sharing one’s real self. My personality is what it is, and rather than trying vainly to overhaul it, I work with it. This is, I think, the healthiest way to love.