What It Really Means to Be a Mother

Mother Kissing Toddler's CheekWhen I went to Paris on the au pair program, I was much younger.  I took care of twins.  I would take them to the park, shower them and I would eat with them many times.  I would also play with them a lot.  This was the second major encounter with children after my sister’s children.  When I was leaving, because we’d become friends with the mother of the twins, she told me ‘marriage and motherhood is daily.’ And I still hold on to this.  Every day is different, it is new.  It has its joys and crosses, it’s divine.

To the young, it is good they know that motherhood is wonderful, but not easy.  It comes with its challenges, but the joy and fulfillment outweighs all of them.

Motherhood would be incomplete without fatherhood.  I am referring to my husband, the father of our children.  His complementary role towards me brings out the motherhood affairs in me.

When I was growing up, it was clear to me that I wanted to be a mom.  That was all then.  However, it did not come natural to me.  I love books and outdoor activities, or rather, out of the kitchen.  But when we got our first child, things changed.

My mother told me never to go out with a married or consecrated man.  Like that, she already taught me an important lesson in life which I would always remember.  She taught me many other things, like to be optimistic and easy in life.  She would say, ‘God Provides’. She makes the best pancakes in the world – I am yet to produce such pancakes with the recipe she wrote me.

To be a mother, means to be everything to everyone in the house.  To one, you are a planner, to another a cook, to another a driver to another a counselor, to another a doctor, to another a companion and the list goes on.  This means a mother plans the day for everyone in the house, knows what shall be cooked and checks if all ingredients are there.  A mother cooks.  A mother drops and picks her children to and from school, a mother gives advice and consoles. As for sickness, she knows traditional and conventional medicine, and can prescribe some of them.

When a mother is unwell in the house, that house is quiet and smiles begin to fade.  When a mother is upset and shouts about something, everyone in the house is terrified and sort of keeps away from her.  When a mother cooks, there is something about her food… it is noticeable.

To be a mother, is to be something or even close to everything to someone. And that has plenty of rewards.

Motherhood rewards are experiences, not quantifiable.  It has brought me a lot of joy to bring forth children who, at the moment, depend on me.  It brings joy to see them happy, playing around and going about being children.

Motherhood has taught me lots of virtues.  One of them is patience – I’ve learnt to be patient with everyone.  To smile, and to be joyful.  To be calm – I make a conscious effort to be calm.  Motherhood has taught me other things in life such active listening, use of proper language all the time and etiquette.  The most important reward of all is to love, to give and to sacrifice.

There are many sacrifices that come with motherhood. The basic one is the change of status forever.  And then follows the pregnancy period where all of you disappear and the child appears.  In my case, between a face mask, swelling, and weight – nobody would recognize me.  Then comes labor pain that quickly disappears at the cry of a baby!

An infant needs the mother, literally.  A friend of mine from the US advised a freaked out mom- to- be: “forget about the whole sharing of duties with the child the first four months.  Despite the fact that the baby should and will bond with the father, she needs to feed and feel the warmth almost equivalent of the womb.  Only a mother can provide this”, she said.

And when they grow up, they still need you and sometimes what derives joy to them might conflict with your own. Consider this recent conversation I had with my son Javi. I was in the bathroom with Javi, just after showering him.  He dresses up and climbs the toilet seat to pick something up…

Javi, you know you can fall down and break’, I told him.

‘Into how many pieces, Mama?’ He responded in a rather joyful tone.

‘What?’ I was getting angry.  That’s when patience and active listening comes in.

Other sacrifices come natural. Veronica, my youngest child and the only girl, was born with a heart condition which we discovered at 12 weeks.  She needed an urgent heart surgery and to put together resources and logistics was quite a sacrifice.  But with the help of family and friends, we overcame.  Mothers make lots of sacrifices for their children, especially in touch times. And those sacrifices are inherently rewarding.

The fulfillment from motherhood is divine.  Only I can be a mother at this moment, only I could bear the children we are blessed with and only I can raise them.  It is fulfilling to be part of life to others – in this case my children and my husband.  To be able to love and to be loved is the best gift you can ever get from motherhood.  I love my family, they love me – unconditionally.  In such a case therefore, it does not matter where we live; whether a house or under a banana tree, or what we eat; it could be boiled yams.  What matters is the relationship we have.

I am happy when I see that everyone at home is fed, warm and have gone to sleep peacefully.  It makes me happy to see them enjoy.  That they appreciate each other and care for each other… what more!

Even when I have disagreement with someone at home, it makes me happy to reconcile, to laugh again, to forgive each other and move on.  Everything is sacrifice and fulfillment, intertwined together.

By Caroline Shisubili Maingi, the first Director of WYA Africa and a mother.