07/13/2007 01:44 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Is There Ever Enough?

Most of us know someone in our own family -- perhaps a relative, or a close friend who has been diagnosed with a mental illness, or has had to join a program for alcohol or substance abuse. Such events put a family in a state of crisis, and if you are a mother in this scenario - your experience of such events may dredge up your most primal instincts of protectiveness and survival. You may wonder if love is enough to get you through it.

A mother's love is something all mothers understand. It's strong and defiant and in-your-face. Sometimes such a love seems overwhelming to the point of suffocating. Like honey - it sticks to the counter, gets in your fingers, spreads out and drips everywhere. It's sweet and soothing and yummy, and sometimes too sticky, but nevertheless, it is there, and in its purest sense, it is unconditional.

We love our kids when they're dirty and funny, dressed up or raggedy, cute and handsome, messy and naughty and tired and playful and sick. We love our kids when they're snotty and mean and hateful and rude, and selfish and sarcastic. We love them when they make mistakes and take up with the wrong friends, and we love them when they disregard our warnings and get into trouble. We love them when they smoke and drink and try drugs, and disregard our rules. Just look at how many mothers show up at court with their wayward kids - moms who wring their hands, swipe bravely at tears, and wonder what could have gotten into that baby they'd brought into the world -- that innocent, cuddly, smiling angel-child. And yet, the mothers are there -- staunchly supportive, sober and introspective -- wanting the best for their kids despite the occasional detours those kids may take.

As mothers, we all hope that being with our kids for the short time we're allotted will instill good values, and provide them with a sampling of the behaviors they'll need to negotiate their lives when we're no longer around to intervene. We want them to be grateful for what they're given, to be honorable and kind, and learn to reciprocate for the blessings they've reaped. We'd like them to be independent and learn how to care for themselves, yet we hope they'll be generous to others, and unselfish think of the greater good once in awhile, rather than just themselves. Though we live in an individualist society, a bit of the collectivist mindset would serve us all well. It does take a village, after all. Do our kids realize that?

Mothers seem to have an endless reserve of love for their kids, but most of us have been pitched into the black hole of despair when things don't go well. And as much as I believe we need to take responsibility for how our kids turn out - they are, after all, individual citizens who have choices to make. We can love them, guide them, and have high hopes for them. But in the end, they will go where their path leads them. Sometimes, even with all our protective mojo, the magic doesn't work, and we just can't understand why. Where did we go wrong? Why couldn't we see that train wreck coming? Why couldn't we protect them - save them from making those mistakes and missteps? Protect them from pain, from incarceration, from death? Guilt is a label we mothers wear well, but I almost prefer that one to sorrow.

In the end, all we can do is our best. Mothers make mistakes too. If our own guidance systems are a little out of whack, and our own compasses are slightly askew, our best intentions may not be good enough. There is nurture, and there is nature. Life is a combination of the two. Some of us are resilient, and can circumvent life's challenges with ease, and others get stuck in negative places; fragile, blaming, defensive, confused, inert, helpless. Most of us skip between these two scenarios throughout our lives - rising to the occasion sometimes, wallowing in self-pity and sadness other times. Our kids are along for that ride. Imagine that.

The emotional toll of motherhood requires nearly all of our inner resources to make payment. Sometimes we come up short, and we need to work overtime. It is a choice to be a mother - a lifetime decision that requires a big part of us to show up to work, 24/7. As mothers, we are not always fair, not always right -- we don't always have the answers, and we're not always perfect. We bruise when we're hit, and we bleed when we're wounded, just like everyone else. But believe it or not - we think we are invincible, because we never stop loving. We somehow know that there is never enough of that to go around.