Motherhood

This Parenting Poem Took My Breath Away

photo by Nikaela Marie

How have you been feeling lately? The other day, some women I know were talking about the ups and downs of parenting. When one of your children is having a hard time, it can really consume you. Then, our friend Erin sent us this beautiful poem…

The Raincoat
by Ada Limón

When the doctor suggested surgery
and a brace for all my youngest years,
my parents scrambled to take me
to massage therapy, deep tissue work,
osteopathy, and soon my crooked spine
unspooled a bit, I could breathe again,
and move more in a body unclouded
by pain. My mom would tell me to sing
songs to her the whole forty-five minute
drive to Middle Two Rock Road and forty-
five minutes back from physical therapy.
She’d say, even my voice sounded unfettered
by my spine afterward. So I sang and sang,
because I thought she liked it. I never
asked her what she gave up to drive me,
or how her day was before this chore. Today,
at her age, I was driving myself home from yet
another spine appointment, singing along
to some maudlin but solid song on the radio,
and I saw a mom take her raincoat off
and give it to her young daughter when
a storm took over the afternoon. My god,
I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her
raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel
that I never got wet.

“The Raincoat” is from The Carrying by Ada Limón, published by Milkweed Editions, via The Slowdown podcast.

Don’t you just want to burst into tears? So beautiful.

P.S. My motherhood mantra, and home as a haven.

(Photo by Nikaela Marie.)

  1. Years ago, I was having one of those all-consuming defeated mom type of day. Our four year old was struggling and we’d exhausted all efforts to turn the situation around. While making coffee in the office kitchen, I unexpectedly started to weep. A colleague ran to me, rubbed my back, and shared something so simple, yet profound: “As a mother, you will forever be only as happy as your unhappiest child.” Five years later, this still rings true, and I expect it to always be. My daily joy and ease of life is so intertwined with the wellbeing of my child, as if the rhythm of my heart was some how tuned to follow hers on the day she was born.

    Damn. Motherhood! Who knew?! (Every mother knew. Ha.)

  2. this is so beautiful and made me cry! i have a four and a half month old daughter, and before she was born, i asked friends to send me poems about parenting and motherhood. i’m going to add this to the collection. thank you!

  3. Lindsey says...

    Thank you for the well timed poem. My husband has a chronic illness that is currently making life very hard. I’ve been having to help fight his medical battles along with the help of his mom and my mom. I sent the poem to both of them and thanked them for being our raincoats ❤️

  4. Leslie says...

    This might need a warning! Kidding but I wasn’t prepared for all the tears. Super lovely – shared with my mom. 💜

  5. Caraline says...

    Shivers, shivers, shivers! What a beautiful poem and made me start thinking about a deeper appreciation of my mom. Lovely content, as always. :)

  6. Melisa says...

    I SO needed this today! I have a four month old (my first) who is a total joy, healthy and happy and easy as far as it goes, but we’ve been dealing with a feeding aversion and reverse cycling and for the last month I’ve felt at my wits’ end, my body’s end, and just surviving from day to day, feeling it’s all some kind of cruel ironic punishment – so how much did you want to be a mother again?! And wishing my own mother lived close by instead of thousands of miles away and in my phone. Anyway, this reminded me that some day my own daughter will think of me the way I think of my mum, like a raincoat keeping as much of the torrents and the storms away from me when I needed it most, and all the lines on her face and the deep muscles in her arms were all to keep me safe and loved, and then hopefully we’ll be on an even footing. And even if we’re not, hopefully this will keep me going for another day or two! Sending out lots of love to all the other parents struggling today and every day to be their best selves for their children when they’re barely keeping it together for themselves <3

    • brenna says...

      being at your wits’ end, body’s end and just surviving is a hard feeling. you are supported and in the company of many moms who have lived the same overwhelmed state on hard days. please know you aren’t alone in these feelings. you are doing it. every day. despite how hard it is. hugs, mama.

  7. Want to burst into tears? Just did!

  8. So beautiful. And heartbreaking. Yes, absolutely we give the raincoat and do the drives and all of the other myriad things that make up mothering. I’m sure my mother did them for me, too…I think. Posts like this hit me hard as I walk through loving my own precious girls, and navigating how to do that while experiencing judgement and separation from my own mother. It seems that most mothers do love their children in these selfless ways. But what happens as the children (and the mothers) grow older? Is there a switch that flips, and the child suddenly has to earn the giving, the love? What happens to cause the mother to decide that her child is too much to deal with, so the listening and loving won’t happen anymore? Will I do that to my daughters? (please, God, no).

    • Leslie says...

      Aw, Ginny! No you won’t! The love that shows through in this post makes me 100% sure of this.

  9. Anna says...

    I am on that same path, and I’m holding your hand from a distance. You can do this.

  10. Melanie says...

    Gorgeous! Have you ever read any of Vicki Rivard’s poems? I gift her book “Brave New Mama” to all new moms. It is magic.

  11. Ceciel says...

    That is the boost I needed today. My youngest, 4 year old brilliantly clever funny little boy, is struggling. Tantrums and hitting and biting and so much anger and confusion and I wonder all the time what’s wrong and what am I doing wrong? But I always give him my raincoat and my love so this poem reminded me that of course, it just is what it is. Babies be babies and 4 year old be 4 year olds. And 40 year old mamas be 40 year old mamas. Giving and loving and taking care in so many ways (by taking breaks and seeking help and forgiving and getting enough sleep and letting laundry pile up and reading Ram Dass all those things). Thank you.

  12. I did burst into tears! This is how I feel about my mom now as an adult, and hope my children will have the same realization some day. THank you for sharing.

  13. Meagan says...

    Oh I did just burst right into tears! The way motherhood breaks and rebuilds your heart over and over a million times!

  14. Claire says...

    My daughter has scoliosis (we do bracing and PT) and this poem was so moving. Thank you.

  15. Sarz says...

    As a scoliosis sufferer and the kid of two wonderful parents, of course I’m moved by this poem. It was a bit of a rough childhood, physically speaking, but would it not have been so much worse had my father not stayed up at night with me as the pain rendered me an insomniac? Or if my mother hadn’t used every bit of her disposable income to buy me treats from the hospital tuck shop? I wonder what they might have accomplished for themselves had my health needs not stolen so much of their time and resources, but of course, a parent would never consider any other option. Having never had children of my own, I can’t fathom what it feels like to have a piece of your heart living outside of you. Perhaps, though, it’s not unlike what comes over me when I see them. I am 32 years old, but it seems I will always be the baby.

    Thank you, mamas and papas.

  16. Erika says...

    The connection between a parent and child going through a medical ordeal becomes so profound- the pain, the fears, the solution, the routine, the relief all shared. And because, of course, because of the pain and the fears the child inevitably does get a little wet and that experience binds you in an explicable way. Makes me quite grateful for my own mother and access to wonderful drs when I needed them.

  17. Rose says...

    Fun fact: I’ve never met the poet, but her dad (a really lovely person) is married to my stepmom (my dad’s ex wife, also a lovely person who is still dear to me). Ada’s poetry has popped up in so many places since I met her dad: NYC subways, United Airlines magazines, New Yorker, and now my Cup of Jo!

  18. Claire says...

    I love it- the spirit of it, and the image of the mom umbrella, and how it goes from past to present.
    Here is another one, that I got via the American Life in Poetry weekly email, which I subscribe to .
    The author is Marge Saiser.

    Weren’t We Beautiful

    growing into ourselves
    earnest and funny we were
    angels of some kind, smiling visitors
    the light we lived in was gorgeous
    we looked up and into the camera
    the ordinary things we did with our hands
    or how we turned and walked
    or looked back we lifted the child
    spooned food into his mouth
    the camera held it, stayed it
    there we are in our lives as if
    we had all time
    as if we would stand in that room
    and wear that shirt those glasses
    as if that light
    without end
    would shine on us
    and from us.

    • Clare says...

      Thank you so much for this! The poem is beautiful, and I’m so excited to discover the American Life in Poetry weekly email. I used to receive the Writer’s Almanac daily email with a poem and information about writers and historical figures born that day in history. After the revelations about Garrison Keillor, I was heartbroken that others at APM didn’t continue it. I so miss that little part of my day, and I’m thrilled to have found another new poetry source to hopefully fill a bit of that hole!

    • Claire says...

      Clare- I really miss the Writer’s Almanac too! I used to start every day by reading it.
      American Life in Poetry is only 1x / week, but I usually love the poem they share. I am glad to be able to share it with you!

  19. Catherine says...

    So beautiful indeed! Feeling better about doubting my parenting abilities-raising 2 teenagers is hard! This helps! :)

  20. Angela Thompson says...

    well, that made me cry.

  21. Kim says...

    That is heartbreakingly beautiful. As I finished reading, was feeling grateful to my mother and hoping I am doing the same for my girls.

  22. A says...

    Thank you for posting this poem today, Joanna. It has struck a chord with so many of us.
    I am reminded of a poem by Robert Hayden that, though from a different perspective, never fails to make me cry. My father was also not very demonstrative. His love was “acts of service,” like the father in this poem. He is gone now and I miss him terribly.

    Those Winter Sundays
    by Robert Hayden

    Sundays too my father got up early
    and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
    then with cracked hands that ached
    from labor in the weekday weather made
    banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

    I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
    When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
    and slowly I would rise and dress,
    fearing the chronic angers of that house.

    Speaking indifferently to him,
    who had driven out the cold
    and polished my good shoes as well.
    What did I know, what did I know
    of love’s austere and lonely offices?

    • Angela Thompson says...

      beautiful

    • Anna says...

      I read this before and forgot to not the Author’s name. I’m so glad you shared it. “love’s austere and lonely offices?” So haunting.

  23. Dana says...

    It reminds me of this poem by Maggie Smith.

    It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I realized all the things my own mom shielded me from, and not in a way that made me naive, but a way that allowed me to always feel safe and so fully loved.

    Good Bones

    BY MAGGIE SMITH
    Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
    Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
    in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
    a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
    I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
    fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
    estimate, though I keep this from my children.
    For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
    For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
    sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
    is at least half terrible, and for every kind
    stranger, there is one who would break you,
    though I keep this from my children. I am trying
    to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
    walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
    about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
    right? You could make this place beautiful.

    • Allegra LaViola says...

      i love that one so much.

  24. anonymous says...

    like so many sentiments shared here in the comments, perfect timing for this post.
    my husband lost his job almost two years ago and i have been supporting our family since then – not just financially but emotionally. my heart aches for my husband and i’ve done my best to hold him up. i try my best to make everything seem “normal” for our four year old. i try my best to care for our infant (and yes, i was pregnant when this all went down. we had some complications and i feel it was from the stress) so she enjoys the same positive environment her brother had as a baby. i try my best to be good at my job even though i’ve been carrying this weight – in addition to be exhausted as i adjust to being a mom of two. i so wish someone would give me a rain coat, i’m barely above the water.

    • Jill says...

      You sound like a strong woman who needs a little respite. Pls look for someone to talk to or help you in some way. We all need a soft place to land at times. U can do this.

    • Cheryl says...

      I second what Jill says! You are incredible but self-care is so important. Your children will look back with gratitude at all you are doing. And while I understand why you’re anonymous, if you are comfortable sharing your husband’s field and state, there may be someone here who can help make a connection. Wishing you the best.

  25. Kelly says...

    I wept at the raincoat. I have a nearly 14 year old boy that is beginning to not be so yummy. He is a wonderful boy that I have adored raising. I know he is just growing and needs to be a man. I so miss that scrumptious toddler and holding his hand, though. And, feel guilty I didn’t savor every second.
    I really appreciate the poem for reminding me I am not alone. Thank you Joanna.

    • Kerry says...

      Same here, with my son. 14 has been heartbreaking and necessary.

    • Jo says...

      Those feelings of missing the sweet littler ones fades as you become closer companions with the younger versions of
      yourself. Hold on to the memories while you ride new waves. You’ll do wonderfully x

    • Michelle says...

      I think even if you savor every second, you can’t properly soak it all up. It never feels like enough. My baby is eight months today and I’m really grappling with how bittersweet this mothering thing is. I’ve never wanted time to reverse, stop, and speed up all at the same time.

      Sending a hug to you, Kelly!

  26. Nicola says...

    I am wearing a teflon coated raincoat right now as I am trying to keep the black cloud of depression from smothering my teenage son. Motherhood really does keep throwing up challenges at us at all ages and stages. This I think is one of the most difficult challenges we have faced. We are getting help and I he is talking about it, but I feel scared and heartbroken for my beautiful, sensitive boy who cannot see his own light shining out.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that sounds so heartbreakingly hard, nicola. sending you and your sweet boy so much love.

  27. elinor says...

    Just a note…. bracing and PT/massage/etc don’t have to be mutually exclusive! I have scoliosis and wore a brace for three years when I was young. I also got weekly massages and went to a PT/chiropractor. I truly think the dual approach helped stabilize my spine and avoid surgery!

  28. Andrea says...

    I’d love to see parenting posts about adoption, from birth parents, adoptive parents, and adoptees.

    • Margaret says...

      As an adoptive mom, I would love to see posts about adoption!

    • Stef says...

      As an adoptee, I agree!

  29. Lauren E. says...

    Wow. How beautiful.

    I just spoke to my mom last night and she told me about taking my (36-year-old) brother to physical therapy and I said, “He’s so lucky he has you to take him! Otherwise he’d have to take a cab, or the MediVan” and she acted confused. Like, of course she would take him. How absurd to suggest she wouldn’t. After all these years she still doesn’t see how grateful we are for her simple acts of kindness. She’s the best.

  30. Stef says...

    I love this Motherhood series and would also love to hear more on all sorts of mother figures. I’m a stepmom, which is also really hard. The same work and none of the credit. I’m constantly questioning if I’m doing the right thing (I have no kids of my own) while fearing that these two little girls who I have grown to love deeply will never love me. I’m also adopted and understand that giving birth to someone does not make you a mom. Motherhood is an act, not a right. Again, would love to read articles and interviews with all different types of families, moms, dads, stepmoms, stepdads, grandparents, etc.

    • Dena says...

      I’d like to wrap this comment in my arms and hug tight– family, parenthood, mothering: the biological definitions/descriptions here are only part of the story. Being any kind of parent is hard but what you’re talking about sounds like an added layer on top of all that. Those kids are lucky to have you, and (particularly here on my morning which has been ROUGH, man) it’s good to remember that it’s all the *doing*, hard morning after hard morning, that makes the road.

    • Katy says...

      Stef – I would guess you are doing a great job – if nothing else because you are questioning it, which means you care deeply. Your girls might have a hard time adjusting to a new mom figure, but eventually they will recognize the act of being loved.

    • Stef says...

      Dena & Katy – these comments made me cry. Thank you both.

    • Lizzie says...

      Stef- just a little note to say I can only imagine how hard it is, but I believe they do love you and will love you even more as they grow. I have a step mom who came into my life when I was 13, at a difficult time. For many years I resented her and resisted any parenting she tried to give. Years later we are very close and I am so deeply thankful that she came into my life at that time when I needed her so much more than I could ever know. Your bond doesn’t have to be the same as a biological mom to be profound and deep. Just stay steady and keep loving them and they will appreciate your presence. <3

  31. jeannie says...

    Beautiful.

  32. Cynthia says...

    Being a mom is a tough job, and it doesn’t end when your children grow up and leave home. Our oldest had growth hormone deficiency and I had to give her a shot every night. She was just 9 and eventually she was able to give herself her own shots. She was able to stop them at age 15. Giving her the shot was the hardest thing I ever did. Because growth hormone is a protein substance, it would be digested if it were a pill, so shots were the only option.

    • Aly says...

      I had growth hormone deficiency as a child/teen. You are a sweet mama for finding treatment and administering those shots. I’m sure much harder for you than her as I don’t recall them hurting much (although other aspects of the deficiency and treatment were difficult). Hope she grew tall and strong!

  33. Nadia says...

    Thank you for sharing this. It brought tears to my eyes as a mum of a 10 week old. I have just forwarded it to my own mum.

  34. Amanda says...

    I’m going to go call my mom as soon as I stop crying at my desk…

  35. Rosie says...

    Thank you for this. Yesterday was a tough day in my household and I was not the most banner parent of my 11yo daughter. Always learning, always trying to do better.

  36. Catherine O’Connor says...

    Such beautiful sentiments

  37. all in a day’s joy when a mother! The instruction book is blank and you do the best you can…..making errors along the way that you remember forever and pray that no one else does….
    Motherhood! The hardest job in the world, yet the most rewarding!❤️

  38. Barbara says...

    This poem was beautiful, but I was tearing up reading the comments, this time.

  39. Callie says...

    Damn.

  40. Ceridwen says...

    How do you know what need at the exact right time? Thank you

  41. Anna says...

    This morning I put on my coat at 2 am and drove to find my daughter pain medicine and beat myself up for not having it in the house. I spent the last 3 days feeling ashamed of myself for letting her watch too much TV while she was sick. Guilt and motherhood seem to go hand in hand. This poem is a gentle reminder that the things I am doing are actually exactly what she needs and that we moms are enough. Thanks for the lovely post.

    • Charlotte says...

      Yes, we have to give ourselves a break from the guilt. You are a good enough mom. And good enough is actually what our kids need. Perfect is overrated anyway :)

    • Nadia Aljunied says...

      You are a great mum! Hope your daughter is feeling better

  42. Diana says...

    Oh. My. Heart. I am this mother. I am the mama driving my sweet child to these exact appointments. Fighting for my child’s dignity and movement and childhood with my soul against the brace and doctor saying surgery. We say yoga , Pt, movement , massage. You have no idea what this meant to me. And I know it’s about motherhood and sacrifice and the aha! Of what mamas do for us all. But it hit so close to home and so deep to have some wonderful poet describe your thoughts , your day, your battle of love for your child. 💖

    • Elle says...

      Beautiful Mama. You’re beautiful.

  43. My God, I needed this tonight. Sitting here with tears streaming. Spent hours this afternoon nursing a sick, wailing newborn while managing a demanding, whining, sometimes-egressive 4yo. This motherhood business is the hardest. Thing. Ever. The magic is so magical, and the hard is so freaking hard. Thanks, Jo.

    • Jenny says...

      My kids are similar ages, and my 3-year-old sounds of similar temperament currently. It’s so hard. But we’re doing it, day by day!

  44. Rebecca says...

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen the story that’s recently gone viral about the 11-year old boy in Wisconsin (adopted from Ethiopia) who crochets, sells the items, and donates his profits back to his orphanage. Definitely Google it, if you haven’t seen it. But, this quote of his, is simply one of the most wonderful quotes ever: “After a very hard, busy, chaotic day in this busy world with school, it’s just nice to know that I can come home and crochet in my little corner of the house while sitting by the one I love most: my mom.”

    • Rae says...

      Oh that quote!

  45. C says...

    Tracy K Smith, the current poet laureate, has a beautiful daily podcast called The Slowdow that offers a window into some incredible (mostly contemporary) poetry. The episodes are all super short–around five minutes a piece. Definitely worth a daily listen. Here’s the episode on Ada Limon’s poem: https://www.apmpodcasts.org/slowdown/2019/01/27-the-raincoat/

    • Kristin says...

      The Slowdown is so lovely!

    • Erika says...

      Thanks for this recommendation!

    • Laura says...

      Thank you for sharing this.

    • Jen says...

      The Slowdown is amazing.

  46. Amanda says...

    This poem is beautiful. I’m a new mom to 3 month old baby boy, my first. He was born with complications from my autoimmune blood disorder. Most days I have moments where I don’t think about what’s going on within his little body. And then there is today: his weekly lab draw. The needle poke in his tiny chubby arm, bruises from the tourniquet, big crocodile tears and his sweet and sad newborn cry. The nurses and lab techs always allow me to cuddle and snuggle and nurse him in a private room afterwards. That’s when my heart gets heavy. So many emotions.

    • Julia says...

      Amanda, I have an 11-month-old who was born with hemolytic anemia and I just wanted to say you’re not alone 😘 I finally found myself comforting our phlebotomist after about a month of biweekly blood draws because she hates it too! Your baby is so lucky to have you.

    • Jo Cohen says...

      You are doing an amazing job, I am sure. Keep it up! You are being the raincoat!

    • Elle says...

      Amanda, sending you virtual hugs. Newborn days are hard hard hard and to add a medical complication and needles and bruised skin to the mix…oh sweet friend. I’m so sorry. You’re doing a good job.

  47. C. says...

    Thank you for this poem
    I have been so struggling as a Mama.
    So many worries.
    So worried about the political climate……
    So worried about Socialism on our beautiful shores of this America I Love. Pray it never comes here.
    Bringing up our children in this sad climate – many worries.

    • Beccalennox says...

      I agree with your concern about the Political climate but I’m curious as to why socialism is your biggest concern. Do you think people in countries like Norway have a really raw deal?

    • Jeanne says...

      I think you’ll find a significant decrease in anxiety correlates directly with a the amount of hours one watches Fox News. Their marketing strategy is to keep its viewers worried and frightened so that they watch even more news.

    • Donna says...

      “Oh yes…Socialism…responsible for so much pain and suffering” (sarcasm)
      – A Canadian on mat leave

    • LaurenB says...

      So worried about SOCIALISM? Um, Trump is the one we should fear. He’s a bad, bad man. Good grief.

    • Emma says...

      @Donna – HAHA! Preach! (From another Canadian enjoying free maternal healthcare while I prepare for my third, year-long maternity leave)

    • CL says...

      Despite people’s political beliefs, each person has the right to their own opinion and their fears (whether people agree are not) are still legitimately their fears. I know it can be difficult but we should try not to tear each other down especially on such a supportive, loving part of the internet that Joanna has created.

    • Mel says...

      There are for sure a lot of things to worry about in the world right now – and having little ones compounds all those worries. But I think it’s worth opening up the door to the conversation – what people are talking about when they reference socialism in the US is Capitalism with a stronger social safety net. Canada, for example, actually is capitalist. Many US programs in place that people like are Socialist policies – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. The idea is – how do we re-work our tax dollars/cuts/benefits so they better work for us – less to the very top, more distribution to regular families. Elizabeth Warren is a good example of a strong capitalist, her background is really interesting. I’m interested to hear more about your concerns, I have different worries, but I think we all come from the same place in some way.

  48. krista says...

    The poetry lovers commenting here may already know the wonderful poems of Maggie Smith, who tells the truth about mothering in the modern world in a way that sometimes hurts but also feels healing. If you haven’t read her yet, I hope you will! Start with “Good Bones,” and enjoy her book of the same title. xoxo

  49. alison norris says...

    Yes. Everything yes.

  50. Ann says...

    Just the encouragement I needed today. I admire all you writers who can so beautifully put these feelings into words! It was a lovely way to put into words what I’m trying to do as I shield my bright-eyed giggly little two year old while going down a path towards divorce this year.

    • J says...

      Sending you love.

    • Amanda says...

      You are doing a great job. I have a toddler too and just dealing with their emotional cycle alone is exhausting and confidence crushing before mixing in everything else. I am rooting for you and hope you come out on the other side with some peace.

  51. Not for this one says...

    I’m a stepmum of two. I suffer the cold so always take a jacket where ever I go, just in case. I ask the kids to take one as well and they cheerfully say ‘No, I’ll be fine!’. Fast forward to an icy wind, unexpected rain or just a need to be snuggly and cosy – it’s goodbye, jacket. It drives me crazy but I also like that it’s a very typical ‘mom’ thing to do. Jo, I’d really love to read about step-parenting here one day – it’s a world of so much love and growing (for both children and the new parent) and yet there’s the pain of always being an outsider.

  52. Just today my son (who has anxiety and sensory processing disorder) had a screaming, hysterical melt-down/panic attack at school. The school called me, at a loss for what to do, and I could hear his hysterical screaming sobs in the background. It definitely took my breath away and I couldn’t hold back my tears. Sweet timing for me to read such a sweet post. Thank you.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I hear you mama! We have been there. It’s so so hard. I imagine your heart didn’t stop pounding for ages. Sending so much love to your sweet brave boy, who is trying so hard, and to you, his champion and safe haven.

  53. Laura says...

    never did I appreciate my mother as much, until I myself became a mother. And, what sacrifices we mothers make-but oh so worth it!

  54. My middle son is 7 and that’s about the time I, a middle child, have clear memories of family life. I remember playing Nintendo for hours in the basement with my brother. There were times we’d find my mom, asleep in the closet, apparently hiding from us. I realize now my parents were relieved to do what they wanted or needed during that time. Not for a moment did I ever consider what my parents needed or felt as we widdled away time and there’s some relief in that as I now parent – the kids just live their lives, mostly oblivious that I’m trying to live mine too.

  55. Ellen says...

    This has come at just the right time for me. Thank you.

  56. Jenny says...

    Needed this today. In a tough parenting phase with my 3-year-old, who’s struggling with her transition into big sisterhood, and 9-month-old who is suddenly up at all hours is the night. The days are long. The nights are long. There’s no relief but I’m giving it all I’ve got, or trying to.

    • Wend says...

      You’re doing a good job! Mothering is hard, but this stage you’re going through, even the whole active mothering stage, won’t last forever. Day by day, just keep marching. You’re a wonderful mother!

    • Nancy says...

      The days and nights may be long, but the years are short. It won’t always be like this. You’ve got this mama.

  57. Carra says...

    I always felt like my mama moved seemlessly through motherhood, unflappable and steady. And while in many ways that’s true, now that I’m a parent I know what incredible effort it takes to seem like you have it “together”…and how much time is spent taking deep breaths alone with the other room, sometimes wiping away the tears of overwhelm.

    • alison norris says...

      Yes. Everything yes.

    • Nancy says...

      Yes, but now that my boys are older and in their teens, there has been the occasional time that I have let my guard down and have shown my vulnerability. Many of us have spent time crying in the shower, or have spent extra time in the laundry room just to have a few moments to ourselves, but as I got older, I realized that making our kids think that we always have our act together, and being unflappable isn’t realistic as an adult and can set them up for unrealistic expectations and mental health issues down the road. Yes, they need us to be a rock of support, especially in the younger years, but closer to adulthood, shedding some tears in front of them shows your human side. It’s about finding a balance and meeting the emotional needs of our kids, but it’s okay to occasionally show your humanity through a chink in the wall of parenthood.

    • Rachel Fletcher says...

      There is a time for all of it – holding it together, showing the pain. And then sometimes when your children see your heart break open right in front of them, they astonish you with their kindness and love. I’ve been in a car with my 16 year old son with tears streaming slowly down my face and he will create a playlist of all the songs he knows are dear to me and okay them while we journey home. It’s like an offering of his love when he doesn’t otherwise know how to express it. Those are memories I cherish…

  58. agnes says...

    “My god, I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel that I never got wet.” My god. The following months (year) after my mother died, I had many moments like that. I suddenly realized what she had given me (my love for music, it was you! the stories I tell to my little boy, you again! the way I marvel at anything I see in nature, you!). These moments were so moving because it was too late for me to thank her though it was so obvious I owed so much to her. I don’t think I managed to express myself clearly. ;-) thank you for posting poetry.

    • Amy says...

      Oh Agnes! Your story touched me <3

  59. Jill says...

    The raincoat line has me weeping. What a beautiful tribute to motherhood from a grown child. Thank you for sharing!

  60. maria says...

    I don’t have children but I can see this from the reverse – taking my elderly mother back and forth to doctor, doctor, doctor and yet another doctor – endlessly. I look back at the last years of my mother’s life – difficult years, yes – and SO many doctors, but also so much time together. waiting, talking, laughing – whatever i could do to make it easier. some of the best times shared. I cherish them all.

    “Don’t you just want to burst into tears? So beautiful.”

    yes. absolutely.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh, Maria. Love.

    • Jeanne says...

      Hi Maria. Thank you for this. I needed the reminder that these hard years with elderly parents are more than anything a blessing. It is a gift to be able to let them be under the raincoat.

    • Jo says...

      such a stunning perspective. thank you!

  61. Courtney says...

    So lovely. Thank you. What a warm spot in my heart today :)

  62. Megan says...

    Thank you!This poem couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m about to go back to work after my 2nd mat leave and we’re trying to get my 3.5 year old back into the swing of full time preschool and it’s so hard. He’s so anxious to be going and it’s making me question my every parenting move and if what I am doing is right for him (and his sister). Hopefully they will see it this way when they’re older

  63. Leigh says...

    Beautiful. My little girl has cerebral palsy that requires a lot of back and forth to doctors, especially when she was younger. She does physical therapy once a week and sees other specialists regularly. (It’s working and she’s doing amazingly well!)
    If I could write poetry I’d write it from my perspective; a mother in awe of a daughter that has a strength unmatched, and has overcome and persevered through more in her three years than I have in my thirty three, all while bringing such light and joy to others. She is amazing and funny and strong willed and kind. She is my joy.

    • Sasha L says...

      That’s so beautiful Leigh. She sounds like her mother’s daughter.

    • Eloise says...

      Leigh, I started crying mid-way through the poem and am sobbing after reading your comment. I don’t have kids but have CP and an amazing mom. Your daughter knows and will always know she does, too. Trust me.

    • Julie says...

      My cousin has CP and watching my aunt be such a wonderful parent and cheerleader for him has been equal parts joyous and heartbreaking. You sound like a lovely mom, my best to you and your daughter.

  64. YES. What’s so crazy about motherhood (at least for me, as someone who is not naturally very nurturing) is how you don’t even think about taking off your raincoat––a storm comes; suddenly your child is wearing your raincoat and you are getting wet. There wasn’t a decision made, just an impulse of love and maternal protection.

  65. Amy says...

    This was perfect. Thank you. It brought tears to my eyes. I know that other parents go through challenges, too, but so often it feels that we move through those really tough moments alone. Often, I don’t even have the energy to talk to anyone else about how tough it is. This poem was a beautiful, quiet reminder that I am not alone, and that my love for my child will allow me to do great things and have a strength that some days feels impossible. Thanks for being a bright, thoughtful spot in my day, Joanna.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      You are definitely not alone, Amy. I’m sorry you’re going through these hard times. It sounds like there’s so much on your shoulders. Thinking of you and sending you a hug. Lots of love xoxo

    • Alison Briggs says...

      oh goodness does this hit so close to home right now. I can so totally relate to not having the energy to talk to others about it. what a good reminder that we are not alone – we are all in this together! xo

    • Sasha L says...

      Amy (are you my friend Amy?), my friend Amy and I just had this realization together a couple days ago… Our struggles can be so isolating and when we find a friend who really understands because she’s in it too, it just feels like the greatest comfort. To be able to cry, to say how we really are doing, to know our friend can feel it in her heart too, it’s everything. It helps us keep going.

      It’s hard but (and) you are not alone.

  66. Lindsay says...

    So beautiful! As a teenager, I remember my mom saying, “As a mother, you are often only as happy as your saddest child.” And now as a mother to two children, I finally understand what that really means.

    • Rainbow says...

      <3 <3 <3

  67. Brittani says...

    Love. This poem was featured on the slowdown podcast a month or two ago. It struck me and I wrote it down in its entirety.

    • Kathryn L-B says...

      Yes! Was going to mention this reference. Love The Slowdown Show. (A podcast with a daily poem by US Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith)

  68. Favi says...

    Beautiful poem. I’ve been listening to, “The Slowdown” podcast and would recommend if you want a daily poem in your life.

  69. Michelle says...

    Oh man, I love this. I have never been sorry to give up my days driving to appointments but it feels good to be seen. <3

  70. Paige says...

    The Lanyard – Billy Collins
    The other day I was ricocheting slowly
    off the blue walls of this room,
    moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
    from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
    when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
    where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.

    No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
    could send one into the past more suddenly-
    a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
    by a deep Adirondack lake
    learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
    into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

    I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
    or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
    but that did not keep me from crossing
    strand over strand again and again
    until I had made a boxy
    red and white lanyard for my mother.

    She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
    and I gave her a lanyard.
    She nursed me in many a sick room,
    lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
    laid cold face-clothes on my forehead,
    and then led me out into the air light

    and taught me to walk and swim,
    and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
    Here are thousands of meals, she said,
    and here is clothing and a good education.
    And here is your lanyard, I replied,
    which I made with a little help from a counselor.

    Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
    strong legs, bones and teeth,
    and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
    and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
    And here, I wish to say to her now,
    is a smaller gift – not the worn truth

    that you can never repay your mother,
    but the rueful admission that when she took
    the two-toned lanyard from my hand,
    I was as sure as a boy could be
    that this useless, worthless thing I wove
    out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

    • Mary Beth says...

      Lovely Paige – thank you for sharing this. Billy Collins is a favorite of mine!

    • Jill says...

      Beautiful! I can both laugh and cry with this one, Paige!

    • Sarah says...

      When my sister was little (maybe 5 or 6) there was a fundraiser “holiday store” at her elementary school with cheap knick knacks. She wanted to buy a Christmas gift for our mom with her allowance- so sweet. My Dad brought her, and after careful deliberation, she had chosen a beautiful necklace. No matter what he said, she insisted Mom would love it. Turns out it was a Star of David (we’re not Jewish). My mom wore it immediately and still keeps it in her jewelry box as a token of her daughters’ love.

  71. Justine Clark says...

    Ah that was so lovely. I’ve been really struggling as a mother and spouse as my 14 year old has suddenly started testing rules and boundaries; trying my skills as a mama, causing me to worry about how to protect him from bad choices while still giving him room to grow, fail, develop, expand. I hope some day he looks back the same way as this poet about me as his mother. On a related now, would love to see some articles on Cup of Jo about navigating the teenage years as a parent!

    • Yes! I’m in the same stage of life with a 14 y/o son and 12 y/o daughter. I want to protect them from everything but know that they need to be able to navigate situations on their own. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

    • Jo says...

      please remember not to isolate yourself as a mom of teens… especially if your child is more “trying” than your friends children… I walked that road, feeling alone & judged & always on the defensive. Find that trusting friend who listens, loves you and your child, no matter the behavior… give & receive grace and you WILL get through it: better & together.
      you can DO THIS!

  72. T says...

    So beautiful.

  73. JB says...

    Wow, tears. That is so beautiful. And just what I needed to read today on one of those rougher days of parenting.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      <3

  74. Robin says...

    This is so, so lovely. Thank you for featuring a poem, a respite from the day, and a means of moving forward in a good way.