July 19, 2016

How Can You Be a Mother Sans Maternal Instinct?

Momhood 07192016

Every week, Preen tackles motherhood sans the rose-tinted glasses. Our columnists L. JulianoMarla DarwinMonica Eleazar-Manzano, and Rossana Unson tell their personal experiences like it is—at times frustrating, oftentimes confusing, but always enlightening.

I sometimes wake up forgetting I’m a mom.

I never had what people would call a maternal instinct. I found kids and babies cute but I always kept my distance from them, the same way you would with zoo animals. I’d wave at them but never carry them. I’d make the occasional small talk but balk when they wanted to play. I felt no sympathy for them when they’d act out and I’d find them disgusting when snot would dry up and congeal on their noses.

There is also this perpetual cocktail of insecurities that always trailed after me. First is financial insecurity—my income as a self-employed graphic designer is erratic and unpredictable. My husband helps run my design practice but luckily he’s also raising his own startup from the ground. We do alright but we still battle credit card debt and suck at sticking to our budgets. Having a child with our brand of financial savvy is fiscal suicide.

Second is emotional insecurity. As a little girl, I was quiet, weird, and had a predilection for lying. As a teenager and an eventual twenty-something, I moved on to surrounding myself with shady company, inhaling things I shouldn’t be inhaling, and waking up in places I didn’t want to be in. These are not ace qualities for role model.

You can say that I could use all of my bad decisions to raise a wiser kid—but the irrational part of me believes I have no business being responsible for another person’s life. The worst part of me believes that other people think the same way of me and I would buckle under the pressure.

You’d think that as a new mother, I’d be trying to convince people to hop on the procreation wagon.

My instincts don’t feel that way. I’ve seen way too many people in my life who don’t have any business being parents. I’d like to think we’ve gone a long way from treating children as farm hands, retirement plans, and status symbols, but parts of the world still show otherwise. Who’s to say that I wouldn’t fall into those paths? I also didn’t want to contribute to an overpopulated world and deplete its resources even further.

Speaking of depleted resources, I also valued my alone time and guarded my freedom like my life depended on it. I can go on and on about why it just made so much sense not to have kids. I’m on your side, non-breeders!

Oddly enough though, I was still drawn to the idea of children.

The older I got, I began to understand that I’m a very relational person. My husband is the same. We find our joy and fulfillment in coming home to each other, cuddling in bed, and having long conversations into the night. I love the idea of home so much that it played a central metaphor in my marriage vows. It made sense that I kept entertaining the idea of babies folding into this. I wondered if the complexity of children could enrich our lives instead of diminish it.

During the years when we were baby-curious, we kept researching and studying how people went about alternative ways of raising children. We were drawn to examples of families who didn’t allow financial insecurity to daunt them. We learned about home schooling, unschooling, nomadic living with your kids… and somewhere along the way, my husband and I realized we were passionate about these topics. We’d be stuck in traffic and we’d throw questions like, “What do you think the professions of the future are?” or “Is it possible for a kid to succeed in our society if they didn’t grow up with the network derived from a hoity toity private school education?”

The idea of finding other ways to raise kids wouldn’t let us go. Within my husband and me rests an earnest faith in humanity still and starting a family kept reinforcing that.

It also meant making a commitment a long time ago to avoid making life decisions based on our fears. Any time we acted on our fears led to lot of second-guessing and anxiety—a surefire formula for misery, in our experience. It’s possible to sit on a pile of regrets until the end of your life and we didn’t want to be that. There are many childfree people and parents who arrived at their decisions from healthy places, and we wanted that as well.

Getting comfortable with the idea of children was easy compared to what I’m realizing was my biggest fear of all. I perceived my lack of a maternal instinct as an inability to love children. I don’t know how to make sense of not being sure of being able to love.

I wish there was a big moment that made me realize I could be capable of being selfless. Marriage gave me a preview, sure, but your spouse doesn’t make you his or her own world the way a child does.

But from what I know about love is that you have enough to go on if you have an infinite amount of will.

That, I do have.

I have it in me to wake up every morning with a fierce desire to try harder to care and to be better than I can be.

My family spent a week at Ocean City, New Jersey last summer. My husband, my baby daughter, and I were strolling along the boardwalk, looking at frozen custard and candy-colored bicycles when I noticed a photo booth at one of the arcades there. I always fantasized about having cute old-timey photo prints with some dream boy. Unfortunately, I spy this kind of photo booth for the first time in 2016 as a frazzled mom, not as a wanderlust-y bohemian in her 20s.

So I dragged my baby and my husband inside and we squeezed and posed awkwardly for the camera. When our pictures came out, a warmth came over me and I swelled with giddiness seeing my little family. My teeth looked bad and my nose was squashed. Robert Doisneau this was not, but this felt way more special than the romantic scenarios I dreamt up in my head.

I don’t feel this way with other children, maybe I still don’t have a maternal instinct. I still don’t coo at random babies. I still have the hardest time making small talk with children. The first game I came up with to play with my baby was called “Smother” where I’d get a pillow and pretend to… well, you get the picture.

I’ll tell you this though, it’s possible to fall head over heels in love with your own child, congealed snot and all, and maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.


Art by Dorothy Guya 

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baby, child, children, culture, daughter, fears, Financial Stability, Growing Up, Instinct, Kids, Mama, marriage, Maternal Instinct, mom, momhood, Mother, Motherhood, New Jersey, Ocean City, parenting, parents, Preen, Preen.ph, Robert Doisneau

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