Empty Altar Essays: Show And Tell


Every mother knows that what we say matters very little, but what we do makes an immediate and lasting impact. We can tell our children about consent all day every day, but when we violate their boundaries or allow them to violate ours they learn that we don’t mean what we say.

I don’t know if my children will become parents. I do know that if they become parents I want their experience of parenthood to be different from mine. I dream a world for them free of gender restrictions. I dream a world for them with true community and networks of support. I dream a world for them where the generational trauma that I have lived with is but a mere story. I dream a parenting journey for them with much less judgment and much more grace.

But there is so little that I can control about how their lives will turn out and even less that I can control about the world they will inherit. What I can control is what I do.

I can do my best to heal myself and to stand in the center of my family as a whole human being. I can help as many mothers as possible to do the same.

I can teach them to see me, to consider me, to respect me. I can teach them that I will make mistakes, that I will fail, and that even as I stumble I am still worthy. I can show them that anger doesn’t need to be feared and that boundaries are beautiful. I can teach them that consent is essential and that they must ask for what they want.

I can tell them all of these things. I can lecture and teach and preach. And I do. I’m a talker and I can’t help it. But I also show them. I show them my humanity every day. I show them my truth and it’s amazing how much and how quickly they are learning.

I don’t give them everything. I don’t lay all of me at their feet. I don’t make them the center of my universe. None of that would be fair to them. Or to me.

From the time our children are conceived or brought into our families, we begin a long slow journey of separation. It is a push and pull, a dance of hearts and minds and bodies drawing closer and away, closer and away. At times we can feel as if we are one person, as if our whole life is tied up in theirs. It’s never true. The great and terrible truth is that your life is only ever yours. How will you live it?

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