We Are the Mothers Who Have Always Mothered

Middle school girl holding baby
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There are a lot of us out there.

You may spot us by how others describe us: the “old souls” or the “responsible” ones. You may know us as the girls who always got the good grades, the ones who did our homework and collected our gold stars, even as we grew indifferent to their accumulation.

We were the ones dubbed “little mothers.” The girls who tucked our baby dolls into bed. The ones who took on the responsibility of mothering little ones for adults at family gatherings and holiday parties as they watched from a distance and cracked open a beer.

We are the mothers who have always mothered.

Maybe you were born the oldest daughter with the natural birth-given role of leading the flock that followed. Maybe you grew up never realizing that not every girl is expected to hold her sister’s hand, change diapers, and take on chores. Maybe that’s just the way it was. Eldest daughters are known to be the most successful, ambitious, and intelligent of the bunch. And we know this to be true because we didn’t always have a choice.

In a way, we’re the forgotten ones. We’re the ones who never needed much.
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Maybe you’re not the oldest. Maybe you fell into mothering out of chance, a stroke of bad luck, a loss, or life circumstance that forced you to step into a role you weren’t ready to take on. Maybe you learned early on how to do what so many still cannot — juggle the cooking and cleaning and child-rearing with a baby on your hip, while you were still a baby yourself.

In some ways, you are grateful because it shaped who you are today: the responsible one, the one who recognizes danger, the one who swiftly intervenes before a small child impales herself on a stick no one else sees.

We are the mothers who have always mothered.

In families, there are middle children, lovable babies, inbetweeners, only children, beloved sons, the goofy screw-up who always seems to scrape by somehow, black sheep, and outcasts. But as for us? In a way, we’re the forgotten ones.

We’re the ones who never needed much. We slipped by, integral but unnoticed, steadfast and sturdy, responsible and respectful. “We never had to worry about you,” our parents might say and we would smile, knowing how heartbreakingly true that was.

We are the mothers who have always mothered.

And once we became mothers of our own, we slipped naturally into the roles — the hand-holding and the diaper changing, the shushing and the comforting, the schedules and the responsibilities that were second nature to us. “We never wanted that crazy lifestyle,” we will say. We were never much for late nights anyways because we’ve always been mothers at heart.

We never learned to be carefree, and sometimes, we wonder if we’ve ever truly been free.
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Others will nod their heads at us, never noticing the transition from little mother to actual mother as the natural path of our lives unfold. Of course we would become mothers. Of course we would remember to have our children take their vitamins, brush their teeth, and go to bed on time. Of course we would leave the party early, cook a healthy meal, drive the minivan, and research the schools.

Of course we would. We’ve always been the responsible ones. But they? They don’t know how we do it.

We do it because we’ve always done it. We don’t know another way to live where we aren’t expected to be the responsible one. We never learned to be carefree, and sometimes, we wonder if we’ve ever truly been free.

And maybe it will hit us someday. Maybe while we’re folding laundry and our to-do list is flitting through our mind and we have to remember to pick up the birthday present and do the shopping and schedule the check-up, we’ll wonder if any of it was ever true. We will see the carefree and feel a pang when yet another person comments how we never relax, chides us to “live a little,” or just looks right past us the way they always have because we’re invisible.

Are we the mothers who have always mothered? Or are we the mothers who never had a chance to do anything else?

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Article Posted 3 years Ago

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