The Mothering Ocean or Learning How to say Hello and Goodbye

Anna Burbidge, Leicestershire, UK

Originally published in Parenting in 2013, first published in Breastfeeding Today in November 2014, republished with the express permission of the author.

I’ve always loved the sea. I felt fascinated by all its changing colours and moods and I would imagine first dipping my toe into it and then swimming in the waves. For as long as I can remember, being a mother fascinated me too. I imagined what it would be like to have a child to look after. As much as I watched the sea I was never quite prepared for the shock of the cold and the power of the waves. I wasn’t prepared for motherhood either, the shock of feeling totally responsible for another human being, and the power of my love for my child.

Just as the ocean has so many moods so does the mother and child relationship. There are days when all is calm and light sparkles down, filling life with a wonderful happiness. There are days when things feel stormy and rough, days full of boundless energy, and those which turn up an unexpectedly beautiful thing to treasure. Then there are those sudden changes. One minute all is calm and the next, out of nowhere, a storm has erupted. It can look so quiet and peaceful but underneath the surface there is another world.

We feel excitement at the unpredictability and learn respect for the great power of it all. Sometimes it is really quite scary and we are not sure what will happen. Now and then the tide goes out so far we lose our perspective. Then just as suddenly we are swept up in a new momentum. We have moments of great joy and bursts of happiness as a magic moment unfolds before us. We realise that we never stop learning. It’s never still, it’s never dull and it never lets us be complacent.

We always know that the tide will come in and it will go out. So it is with mothering. We grow to know our baby, and then our baby turns into a toddler. We settle into a way of life and before we know it we are waving our child off to school or to play with friends. We think we know exactly where we are, and then everything changes again. The tide comes in and we adapt, the tide goes out and leaves us with something new to find and wonder at. Life with a child is full of hellos and goodbyes as their world flows towards adulthood. We learn to let them go and trust they will come back.

Eventually it may seem as if the tide has gone out a long way, as they go to university or travel the world, but suddenly they are there again, perhaps bringing with them a partner or even a child of their own. We can’t still the ocean, we can’t stop the tide. We watch and wonder as the waves create new patterns in the sand, and we watch and wonder as our precious children create their own lives. It is not for us to wish to control their lives any more than we could control the waves. They will move away from us but just as the moon calls to the waves we hope that our heart will always call to theirs.