Vicarious Mothering

Watching my oldest daughter interact with her firstborn brings back memories of my first year as a mother.

I became a first-time mother a little over thirty years ago, yet I can easily close my eyes and feel the absolute wonder as I looked at my daughter’s sweet face and listened to her soft coos and babbles. That little baby girl is now a grown woman, a mother with her own precious baby.

diane morrow-kondos hugging callister, for article on vicarious mothering

Callister and me.

I vowed I would never be one of those older women that feel compelled to tell young mothers to cherish every minute because it goes by so fast. I vividly recall there were days that dragged by, days I wondered how I could possibly get through another day of toddlers. The years do go fast but some of the days, especially the ones that follow sleepless nights, seem to last an eternity. I think Dicken’s famous opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities can be applied to parenting, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”.

The Early Days of Motherhood

It’s the good memories that come flooding back to me as I watch my daughter take care of her first child. There is something special about your first baby’s first year. It’s not that you love the subsequent children one bit less, but it’s the first child that pushes you full steam ahead into parenthood. Everything is new, scary and yet thrilling.

With the first child you marvel at every breath they take, the first time they roll over, hold their bottle and sit up. You eagerly anticipate the first smile, the first word, the first step; every milestone is celebrated as if no other child in the world has ever been so smart, so personable and so athletically gifted.

With the second child, you’re more relaxed but also so busy that sometimes you miss the “first” moments. With the third child, you look up one day and notice they’re walking like pros. You wonder when that happened – and then go back to making dinner.

With my first daughter, I kept a calendar and wrote on it almost every day; all the details of her existence seemed miraculous to me. My second child was born a scant 15 months later and was completely loved and adored, but the chaos of two closely spaced children had me functioning in survival mode, and some of the details were lost in a blur of activity and sleep deprivation.

Feeling Nostalgic

I love being a grandmother but sometimes, as I watch my daughter with her son, I get lost in nostalgia for my early days of parenting. This is my daughter’s turn to experience it all for the first time, and I’m careful to not steal her “first” moments with my rambling reminiscing. My grandson is so much like my daughter was as a baby; happy and full of smiles, alert and interested in everything. It’s easy to slip into drawing comparisons, but he’s his own unique person and will become whoever he wants to be.

My daughter has her own parenting style, but there are times I watch her interactions with her son and I can’t help but experience a déjà vu. The way she bends close, her hair falling over both their faces as she nuzzles his neck until he giggles, even the inflection of her voice as she tells him she loves him feels eerily familiar. Seeing her with her child brings such an uncanny recognizable feeling, but I tell myself her mannerisms, the tone of her voice, her interactions with her baby are fairly universal to mothers everywhere.

Then in the next thought, I wonder – could there be a visceral memory my daughter unknowingly carries from her childhood and unwittingly duplicates? Is it possible there is a subconscious feeling of being loved and cherished that is brought forth and carried on to the next generation?

Alex and me.

It’s a joy to watch my daughter instilling feelings of love and security and establishing a lifelong connection with her firstborn. I had my years as a young mother, full of love and happiness and also my share of stresses and struggles. Now it’s her turn to be the mother and my turn to sit back and watch, providing assistance when asked and giving my grandson the unconditional love only a grandparent can give. It’s not that I want to parent a baby again, I don’t have the physical or emotional energy to be the primary caregiver to a young child, but it is a joy to observe their bond and remember my own sweet days of mothering a baby.

I’m grateful I had the opportunity to be a mother and now I’m thankful to be a grandmother. If occasionally I let my mind drift to thirty years ago and live a little vicariously, what’s the harm?

Categories: Grand Life