Remember when…

Holding your baby’s tiny hand.

Hearing the heartbeat.

Knowing, for certain, that you were going to be a mom.

Embracing your little one. Meeting her for the very first time.

 

How did mothering first make you feel? Nervous. Excited. Overwhelmed. Lucky. Grateful. Exhausted.

 

And how long did it take for your Joy at becoming a mom to turn into anxiety, fear, and doubt?  When was your first moment of guilt? How quickly did you find yourself in despair or depression, wondering what in the heck you had done?

I have a visceral memory of a late night about two weeks in to my first time mothering, lying on the bed watching my partner do everything—warm the bottle, feed the baby, rock the baby, pat the baby’s bum—all the while concern & love emanated from his every molecule out to where I lay. Rather than being grateful for the immense help and strength he was providing, I felt hopeless and smug. Thank goodness he’s here, I thought, followed immediately by, He won’t last long.

Maybe you are there now or were there yesterday or will be there tomorrow. The feeling doesn’t last—thankfully—but it also never really goes away. Our insecurity at mothering is at once completely understandable and totally without merit.  Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone fails. Everyone changes their mind and loses their temper.  Why would mothers be any different?

 

The culture of Motherhood is stunting our growth as women.

 

The Queen Mum, Hillary, Marissa Mayer, Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Brittany Spears, Angelina Jolie, your neighbor, the mom you see in school pick-up line, your mother, daughter, sister, friend, long ago childhood confidante you now know only through Facebook updates…they’re all doing it better than you. Or, they’re all doing it wrong. Are they failing or succeeding? How do we know? These women are not Motherhood; these women are individuals, who also happen to be mothers.

The culture of Motherhood would have us believe some mothers are “good enough.” (If they’re good enough, what are the rest of us?)

The culture of Motherhood would have us believe some mothers can “have it all.” (If they can have it all, what are we left with?)

The culture of Motherhood posits that parenting is a “this or that” profession. (If this isn’t that, and that isn’t this, then where do I go when I want both or neither of my options?)

Answer the following questions honestly:

  • Why do we need to label our mothering? Is this a game that some women win and some lose?
  • Why do we need to defend our mothering? Is this a court of law where some women are innocent and some are given a lifetime sentence?
  • Why do we need to make mothering even harder than it already is? Is this a job that women need to be “good” at so they will be promoted and win awards and get a raise, a corner office, and a brand new car?

If we agree with the culture of Motherhood that mothering is hard, our fate is predetermined. Many of us fought our way into mothering, whether wrestling with our own demons or going to the greatest lengths to get pregnant or experiencing loss, pain, and heartache along the way, and—for this reason—we feel passionately about this institution. We love mothering and feel that means we have to love the culture of Motherhood too.  This allegiance is difficult to let go of.

 

To truly be at ease with your role as mother, you must resist the culture of Motherhood.

 

When you first make the choice just to mother the best way you know how, life gets even more challenging. Thinking is always more difficult than following the crowd.  Over time, this starts feeling less like growing pains and more like the Joy you expected to get out of mothering. Soon, you begin to see how easily enjoyable the challenge of mothering can be. 

Referring back to your core values and long held ideals of mothering occasionally helps, but that can also backfire.  Inevitably, you will let yourself, or others, down.  Instead, the concept of Motherhood needs to change: the language, the rules, the requirements, the standards, {the number of coffees we can have in any given day}.

 

Success Comes from Freedom.

 

You are an individual. Your child is an individual.  No parenting book in the world is going to have the magic formula that makes being a mother easy.  Instead, you blend instinct with experience, intention with reality.

One of my highest values has always been Independence, and I was lucky enough (ßread smart) to find a partner who felt the same way.  Naturally, we expected our child to follow suit, so much so that “Independent Playing” was coached, scheduled, and rewarded.  To be frank, it still is!

Our two sons do not like to be by themselves, for wholly different reasons.  The eight-year-old is a lethal combination of anxiety and obstinacy; the three-year-old is an extrovert whose greatest joy comes from making another person feel good.  How could we have known this is the pair we’d get? We couldn’t have. Until a couple years ago, I tried very hard to ignore my children’s personalities and, instead, mold them into mini-lee lees.

Once I began parenting with the mantra, Parent the child you have, in mind, I began to learn who my children really were.  My life isn’t a piece of cake but I feel less guilt when I indulge my child in one more late-night hug, and experience more relief when they play—with each other or on their own—without needing me nearby.

 

Confidence Leads to Empathy.

 

I have found my worst and loneliest of days to be those days when I have judged a fellow mom.  Where my focus is, my growth happens.  Who wants to grow in their capacity to judge? Not me!

This is tricky business—not being judgmental.  I was raised in a very strict “we’re right and they’re wrong” culture, a mindset that’s hard to shake. I have to experience time and time again the negativity I feel about myself when I am being critical of others.

I think: I wouldn’t get along with that mom. I feel: That mom doesn’t like me.

I think: I would never dress like that mom. I feel: I wouldn’t look good in an outfit like that.

I think: How could that mom let her child do ______? I feel: What have I let my child do today that I shouldn’t have?

I could go on, and on.  Judgement of others is indicative of how I feel about myself—not of how I feel about the other person. Why should I care what that mother says, wears, or does?  I honestly don’t.

Recently, I was at a playdate with several moms, one of whom began talking about losing her baby weight.  I went through a range of emotions and a plethora of responses, all of which were negative, none of which I voiced aloud (thank goodness!).  I wasn’t expecting to judge another mom for wanting to be more comfortable in her own body, yet there I was.  This, of course, is because I’m uncertain about my own appearance, and still getting comfortable with not wanting to be my pre-baby size.  My reaction to her feelings—which had nothing to do with me—was a reminder of how much more love I can give to myself.

 

Growth Happens in Stillness.

 

Growth, for me, isn’t about goal-setting or milestones or lbs. gained, inches added, sizes moved up. I spent 30 years of my life keeping track of life’s ups and downs, planning for the worst or best case scenarios, and analyzing every single moment along the way.  I have “grown” more over the past ten months than for those entire three decades because—instead of dictating every outcome—I have started trying to appreciate the moment I am in.

My older son and I had a special relationship when he was a toddler. We were a lot alike, in ways that made us want to be together. We loved to read. To laugh. To take naps. To people-watch. To do nothing, side by side.  That boy is now a teenager trapped in the body of a child. Mood swings; control issues; temper flare-ups; the desperate need for attention that it’s “not cool” to admit needing…we have seen it all.  On the surface, he’s a hard person to get along with. I spent several years (!) in a fog of wistfulness, lamenting the loss of my sweet baby boy. During that time, I missed out on a lot. Most notably, I missed out on the fact that he is still exactly like me.

These days, I try very hard to just be Here, in this place, where I am the mom of an eight-year-old boy. *sidebar 2 near here My life isn’t everything I ever dreamed it would be, nor is my life the worst it has ever been.  By just seeing him for who he is and trying to experience whatever that brings, I have {re}discovered how quirky he is, how eager he is to be included, how patient and kind he can be to his younger brother.  How much I still love him. How special it is when I turn out his light and he yells “Love You” as I walk out the door.

***

As a new mom—almost a decade ago now!—I wanted so badly to be a good mother.  I had very purposefully gotten pregnant and this sense of purpose brought with it the added responsibility of doing everything the way it was supposed to be done.  I had so many opinions on Motherhood; I knew exactly what kind of mother I wanted to be and exactly what kind of child I wanted to have.

I do not think this rigidity was completely due to my own neuroses, though there was (and still is) plenty of that.  I “studied” motherhood, read the guides and bought into the rules.  When I discovered that there were “proven methods” to bring about “desired results,” the competitive side of me was activated to the nth degree.  I was going to give Motherhood a run for its money.

The problem with such high standards is that failure is practically guaranteed. In my case, I took it to the extreme and convinced myself that because I wasn’t good at being a mom all the time, I didn’t deserve to be a mother at all.  Motherhood was not the be-all, end-all.  I didn’t love every minute of it. I hated breastfeeding. Cloth diapers turned out to be disgusting. I get anxious every time I watch a child start taking toys off a shelf or out of a bucket.  I’m not someone who should be taking care of children, I told myself.

Fortunately, I recognized my own craziness and got some help, along with some much needed time away.  During that time, the most important thing someone said to me was, “It’s not too late to establish a relationship with your kids, no matter how old they are.” Believing that took a lot of faith on my part, due to where I was in my growth journey.  But it turned out to be true.

Today, due to the growth I have embraced, I actually believe that it’s not too late to change the culture of Motherhood, to reclaim this concept, to once again love this role.  I have witnessed firsthand the power of women being honest and vulnerable with each other.  I have been shown how beautiful just loving someone where they are can be.  I have learned how much more fun I can have when I live in the present and look for the good in the people I am with.

The challenges of mothering are not going away. Like any other part of being alive, there are very high moments that get us through the times of sadness, boredom, and total exhaustion.  However, the culture of Motherhood—telling women what they can and cannot do, feel, wear, or say—IS a form of oppression that we can eradicate.  If we look at mothering as a gift, as a time of growth—even as a wild, unpredictable ride—then we can experience mothering to the fullest; embrace mothering with grit and grace; and enjoy mothering in the way we thought we would, way back when.

 

 

Parenting Book Junkie

 

One of my favorite advice nuggets I got from my parenting book obsession was to never make a big deal about something that will resolve itself. The author gave the example of a child who doesn’t use silverware. How many adults do you know that don’t use silverware? Do you think your child will be the only person who grows up and refuses to use silverware? This simple advice has helped me choose my battles and also provided me with a laugh whenever I catch myself bemoaning my child eating with his hands.

 

 

Love the One You’re With

 

To spend more time in the present, and love the child you have (not the one you thought you’d have), reframe the character traits you have trouble loving. A child who is stubborn is also a child who can stand up for what they believe in. A child who is needy is often very good at nurturing others when the time comes.  A child who is a picky eater may grow up to become a chef who specializes in a niche market. Seeing these “negative” qualities in a positive light helps you connect with your child by replacing tension with hope.

This article was originally published in The Perpetual You magazine… check it out!


 

LeeLeeThompsonLee Lee Thompson is the Creative Director & Managing Editor of the online magazine for women, The Perpetual You. A writer by trade, designer by heart, and mother by choice, Lee Lee seeks intentional practices and a positive mindset in all areas of her life.  You can read more of her work by visiting www.theperpetualyou.com/magazine. If you happen to be in Hamden, CT — stop by her front porch! You can connect with her on Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.