Not only have I been blessed with a great mother and grandmother, but as a pediatrician, I have been given a glimpse into motherhood long before I ever became one. It is through the mothers that have walked in and out of my exam rooms over the years that I learned some of the greatest life lessons.
It was only however, when I had my own child that I began to understand a quote I came across a couple of years ago (often attributed to the great poet Rumi), which said that "life is a balance between holding on and letting go."
Motherhood, like life, is a delicate balance between the two. As mothers, we want to protect and hold on to our children at all times. But oftentimes, their success comes after failure, their growth comes after disappointment and their resilience is built after overcoming obstacles. So reluctantly, we learn to let go.
Here are the lessons that I have learned from the many mothers in my life about what we should hold on to and what needs to be let go:
1. Hold on to every opportunity that you are given to express your love.
Words are things. Words have the ability to lift someone else up, to empower them and to give them strength. What you say matters, especially to your children. If you love someone, express it. If someone has touched you in a meaningful way, tell them. If someone is having a good hair day, by all means, let them know.
This is the lesson that I have learned from mothers of terminally ill children. They understand that life is precious. They are not on their smartphones when they are spending time with their children. They are fiercely fully present, showing their children that they are deeply loved and always heard.
When you understand the fragility of life, you will hold on to the one thing that is everlasting: your ability to love.
Let "I love you" be the first phrase your child speaks. Let them know that they are loved so deeply that they never have to search for it anywhere else.
2. Let go of the fear of change
I spent my entire childhood moving from one place to another. Sometimes it was to different cities and sometimes across the world. I learned very early on that change was going to be the one constant in my life. It was my mother who reassured me every time I was nervous to start again in a new school that "change will always bring new adventures."
Looking back, I am so thankful that my parents not only accepted change, but embraced it with excitement. It is through change that I met people from all walks of life, developed an open mind and just like my mother predicted... went on exciting new adventures.
It is this same lesson that I have learned from the mothers of adopted children. Whether it is a nurse who falls in love with a child that she is caring for or the mother who travels across the world to find the love of her life, these mothers embraced change. They understood that love is greater than fear, every time.
3. Hold on to who you are, even when the world expects you to be something else.
This is the lesson that I have learned from the mothers of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children. I have watched them tirelessly advocate for the rights of their children to be exactly who they are. They understand that life only moves forward when you learn to stand in your own truth. And this is what they want their children to know.
I have also seen this in the mothers who encourage their children to march to the beat of their own drum sets. Whether it is an alternative career path or fostering a hobby that most would consider different, they are mothers who inspire authenticity in their children. They see their child as a spirit with his or her own unique personality.
They teach what Joseph Campbell once wrote, "The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are."
4. True love lies in letting go. Love liberates.
It was Maya Angelou who said,
You see love liberates. It doesn't bind. Love says I love you. I love you if you're in china. I love you if you're across town. I love you if you're in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you... but thats not possible now. I love you, so go. Love liberates. It doesn't hold. That's ego. Love liberates.
There has been no greater example of this in my life than with my grandmother, who lived across the globe from me. Our yearly trips to visit her in India would often end with tearful goodbyes filled with the uncertainty of when we would meet again.
One time, through the tears, I asked her how she could have let her daughter (my mom) leave and go so far away from her. To this, she explained that because she loved her children, she had to let them go.
Love liberates. It does not bind.
It was when my baby first started walking that I found myself closely following behind her to make sure that she would not fall. However, I realized that it was in the falling down that she learned to pick herself up and gain her own confidence. So I learned to step back and help her if she needed me.
As mothers, we learn to let go of our children from the moment that they start walking. And yet, we keep one hand on their back just to let them know that "in case you ever need me...I got you."
And it is in this subtle balance of holding on and letting go that we learn to liberate our children into life.