As William Shakespeare once said: “Some are born mothers, some achieve motherhood, and some have motherhood thrust upon them.”
Well. It was something like that. And for Kendra, it wouldn’t be incorrect in the slightest. As a child with a father in the Navy and an ill mother, Kendra fell into the role of “the responsible one” very early on.
“I was one of those people who was a mother way before I was a mother.” She says. “I often felt like I was in charge of my younger brother, and my friends would usually come to me for advice. One of my friends called me ‘the Mom [she] actually liked’ once.”
This fastidious attitude carried on through most of her childhood, leading her through travel, an excellent school career, a Bachelor’s and Master’s, and a long career as a middle school teacher. As with anything that calls for you to carry others all the time, though, it started to take its toll on her soul quite a bit. Not only was she teaching middle school (a job for a very special kind of person in itself), but she was also teaching middle school in Blacksburg, Virginia, during some very intense and horrible periods in our country’s history.
“A friend of mine escaped from prison and shot two police officers and was later executed. And then I was there [in Virginia] for the Virginia Tech shooting and had students in my class who were directly affected that year….I was just burnt out on many levels.”
Ten years of being a physically and emotionally supportive pillar for her family (her husband was in grad school at the time), and for classes of children finally took its toll. Kendra felt as if she was ready to test new horizons, and to enjoy being a mother, so she stopped teaching to pursue her other interests in birth trauma and writing.
Life after work wasn’t anywhere near simple for Kendra, however. Following her first daughter’s birth, she developed Fibromyalgia, a disorder marked with pain, fatigue, and sleep issues. Suddenly, the woman who felt compelled to care for everyone else was forced to allow others to care for her sometimes, and it wasn’t an easy transition.
She admits to initially judging people’s mothering internally, before she had children. Not too different, when you think about it — in their mind, who’s a better parent than someone who isn’t a parent? But after the role of “mom” became a reality for her, she realized that things were different on the other side of the fence.
“Being a mother has made me more humble. I think most people are trying to make the best choices they can based on the situations they’re in.” Kendra tells me. Her voice then fills with tears. “A lot of times I feel really guilty, because I’m not there for [my children] the way I’d like to be, but…I know I have to give myself grace. I make sure their needs are met, and that they have clothes, and food, and love, and everything else is extra.”
Kendra also credits her husband for helping her when she can’t push her body any further. As we continue talking, the tears disappear and laughter creeps back in as she admits that her children sometimes watch TV more than she’d like them to, but that she’s come to grips with the fact that “control is an illusion.”
We talk about that at length, actually, and we come to the conclusion that kids are little chaos machines meant to bring you down a peg. Motherhood is the perfect example of plans not meaning a damned thing, and that seems to be the case no matter what you do. Kendra’s OK with it though: “I don’t hear them complaining too much, so I must be doing okay.”
If you take nothing else from my talk with Kendra, take what she means to demonstrate to her children, and to anyone who watches her: her condition does not define her. Others do not define her. The only definition that she will allow to matter is the one she writes for herself. And you? You reading this right now? You should know that pursuing your passions — or even just pursuing yourself — can and should be done after entering motherhood:
“There’s this assumption that there are ‘people’ and there are ‘mothers.’ And that I should feel guilty for having needs that should be met…that whole idea is bullshit, that mothers should suddenly not have anything that they want, and that it there has to be something that they need to do to justify wanting to be away from the children. It’s misogynistic…Whenever I get into this negative self-talk, I just try to remind myself that I’m showing them what it means to love yourself, and to have interests and passions. I’m not just telling them to go out and be a good person, I’m actually showing them.”