I’ve worked hard as an adult to stop comparing myself to others. To recognize that happiness and love are not finite resources. To delight when another’s light shines, secure in the understanding that theirs doesn’t diminish my own.
That kind of heart work does not come easy, and when we’re at our most vulnerable – like during those murky, postpartum days – those insecurities and tamped down tendencies resurface.
When I became a mother, I knew there would be another woman in my children’s lives. I planned to go back to work and she would care for them in a most motherly way. I knew she would endure their screams as much as welcome their smiles, and change diapers (so many diapers!) and put them down for naps and make them lunch and receive their little hugs. I felt guilty and grateful and – if I’m honest, just a little bit jealous.
Before I dropped my son off at her house for my first day back at work after maternity leave, I worried. Would he love her more than me?
Now, when my daughter started to speak this spring and she called her “mama” and me “mama,” all I could do was smile.
In the morning, she reaches for her, and in the evening, she reaches for me. There is enough love to go around.
For the past four years, my sister-in-law Ellen has been a second mother – the other woman – in my children’s lives. She has, between weekday hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., raised my kids as she does her own three. My son and daughter each spent the first two years of their lives in cousin cuddles, and because of that, I’ve spent them in the sane lane of working motherhood.
On rare occasions when I attempt to stand in her shoes and have all our kids in my care, I marvel at her ability to multitask with 40 pounds of squirming toddlers in her arms. Don’t even ask me to get multiple rows of carseats into a van. She’s on top of all the community center calendars and story times and somehow manages homemade dinners, too. She seriously moms so hard. (And has a degree in early childhood education, so.)
Today, my daughter has her first day in her new school. It’s bittersweet knowing that we’ll be leaving behind this dual mothering phase. Ellen’s love has shined so bright for our family. I’m grateful I’ll continue to have her in my life as a SIL, a friend, a girls’ getaway travel companion, and an aunt to my kids.
To Ellen and all of the “other women” in my kids’ lives as they learn and grow: I might envy the moments you witness and I miss, but I cherish the relationships they are built upon.