what’s the soul of a parent?

When I was a child, I got obsessed with figuring out what we all had in common.

Call it the curse of Catholic school. All those lessons on how we’re all made in God’s image. I remember riding home on the bus, swinging my skinny legs off the sticky vinyl seat, trying to figure out exactly what that meant – what magical thing we all had in common that made us reflect God.

First I decided it must be eyes. Everyone had eyes, I figured. And you learned a lot from someone by looking at their eyes. So maybe that’s what we all had, that made us in the image of God.

But then my grade school self remembered pictures from National Geographic of people with disfigured faces, people who might be born without eyes, or might have eyes that didn’t work. That didn’t seem very image-of-God-like. I scratched eyes from my list.

Next was arms. I was pretty sure everyone had – nope, then I remembered that man on TV with no arms, playing his guitar for the pope. He had to be made in God’s image. Arms were out.

Ditto legs, hands, hair, teeth, feet, ears. Any physical attribute I could think of was crossed off the list. Even as a first-grader I got frustrated: how could there not be a single thing that every human being shared? How were we all supposed to be made in God’s image if we had nothing in common?

This was my first inkling of soul. Of the spark of Spirit within each of us.

Because, I studied seriously, chewing on the end of my pigtails, if there had to be something of God about us and it wasn’t outside us, then it had to be inside us.

God had to be within.

. . .

When I became a mother, I became obsessed with figuring out what parents had in common.

One late night when my first son was a few weeks old, I stared out his bedroom window, trying to stay awake while he nursed. As became my practice, I thought of all the other parents awake at that hour – across the street, across town, across the globe – doing all the things parents do that keep them awake at wee hours: rocking babies, soothing sick kids, keeping vigil for curfew-breaking teenagers.

I remember rocking in the nursery, swinging my feet off the glider, trying to figure out exactly what made us parents.

Was it birthing a biological baby? Definitely not. Plenty of people I knew became parents through adoption.

Was it caring for a child full-time? Not necessarily. Grandparents and babysitters and daycare providers often watched a child for more daylight hours than their parents ever saw them. But that didn’t make them parents.

What was the core of parenthood exactly? I knew it but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought about legal definitions and cultural redefinitions and variations on a theme. And that’s when it hit me:

It was the same dilemma I puzzled over on the school bus that day, wanting to define the essence of a thing.

It was the same searching that led me back to the idea of soul.

. . .

What is a parent? Does what we do make us who we are? If we are so wildly diverse, how can we all be the same thing? What is common to this complex calling?

When Sarah at Fumbling Toward Grace first blogged about her frustrations with breastfeeding and how harshly she felt judged as a mother for feeding her baby with formula, her honesty struck a chord with many of us. So when she invited me to participate in the “No More Mommy Wars” series that sprung out of the deep resonance of her post, I started mulling over this question.

What makes us the same as mothers, even though we make such different choices for ourselves and our children? Where can we meet in the soul of parenting?

Today I’m posting at Fumbling Toward Grace about my experience of extended nursing. If you had told me a year ago I’d be writing on such a subject, I would have laughed in your face. But the winding road of this parenting journey twists in ways I never expect.

This story is one of them.

Please click over to read the rest. And check out the rest of Sarah’s wonderful blog while you’re there!

2 thoughts on “what’s the soul of a parent?

  1. I just read — and really appreciated — this along with your piece on Fumbling Toward Grace. It’s interesting how — over time, with a bit of experience — we begin to let go of our wondering if we are doing it “right” (or “long enough” or “too long” or whatever the case may be). I identify — though perhaps not all the time, or as strongly as I wish I did — with that increasing sense of trust in one’s own ability to parent … and to live life. And frankly days just get so busy and life keeps moving on and you start to forget to look over your shoulder to compare answers. There’s something to be thankful for in that.

    1. K – your image of how you start to forget to look over your shoulder has stayed with me. So much second-guessing when we look behind that we miss the present right in front of us. You nailed this – thanks.

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