A few months ago, I had to dig my college student’s birth certificate out of our locked fireproof box. My daughter needed it to apply for a passport for her “cross-cultural experience,” a graduation requirement at her school.
I found the certificate and unfolded it to make sure it was the official version with the raised seal and not the scrapbook version for moms who do that sort of thing. I glanced at it and was stopped in my emotional tracks by one section: “mother.” My name was filled in there, and I was hit, suddenly, by the honor of being the name in that space—the honor of being the person in that space in my daughter’s existence.
Moms have reserved seating in their children’s lives. For many years, we get to go where no one else does. We have the all-access pass. If there is one ticket, we get it. If there is one person allowed in, we’re that person.
Dads have their own places of honor, of course. Fathers play a role in the lives of their sons and daughters, that no one else can play. But moms have a place of honor in their children’s lives, minds and hearts that is theirs alone.
We are our kids’ first emergency contact when they’re away from us. When they are hurting or sick or scared and want someone, “mommy” is usually who they want. Even when our children are no longer technically children, when they are hurt or sick or scared, most of them still think, “I want my mom.”
These honors were part of my own “welcome to motherhood” package. They were gifted to me. I did not have to apply or qualify for them. My children did not choose these designations for me.
But now that my babies are mostly grown, they’re making more of their own choices. I’m no longer writing my name in all their blanks. More and more, they’re looking at empty lines and deciding if they want to fill my name in.
There are lots of blanks now that will be or should be filled in with someone else’ s name. There are (or might be someday) friends or spouses whose names go on lines of their lives that are reserved for key people.
But when there is room for me—when I’m not taking someone else’s rightful place—I want to keep earning a place of honor. Maybe, down the road, that place will be in a fitting room with lots of mirrors and even more satin and tulle. Maybe that place will be as one of the last people before the bride to come down the aisle at a wedding.
Maybe that place will be in the room when grandchildren are born. Maybe that place will be taking care of my babies when they have their own babies, as my mom did for me. Maybe that place will be in their homes for holidays. Maybe that place will be hosting them in my home that will always be theirs, too.
I don’t want to just be an obligatory choice. I don’t want my children to pick me out of guilt or tradition. I don’t want to be a default option just because there isn’t someone better. After all the years of occupying the place of honor in my children’s lives that came with simply being their mom (if anything about motherhood can be considered “simple”), I want to earn that place going forward.
I want to earn it by being flexible about other people’s claims on my kids’ time and affections. I want to earn it by being understanding and patient. I want to earn it by being someone my grown children can trust with their hurts, hopes, struggles, and triumphs.
A few weeks ago, I was updating my paperwork at my doctor’s office and came to the question of who could have access to my files and be given information about my medical condition, should the need for either arise. I listed my husband and then, for the first time, filled in my young adult daughter’s name ahead of my mom because, God hear both our prayers, she’ll be alive longer than my mom.
Later, I told my daughter what I’d done.
“I’m honored,” she told me.
And I thought, “I know the feeling.”
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Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.