Before a child is born, a woman may have existed, but a mother is born the moment a child is born. It is true that some of us are more adept at mothering than others. For some of us, the dream of raising and nurturing a child has been one we have had since we were children. For others, it comes upon us by surprise after years of wanting nothing to do with kids. Either way, the day our children are born, we are born. And now we are faced with a kind of love for something that is literally unparalleled by any kind of love that we have experienced or ever will experience towards anything. What do we do from there?
There are no classes in school that we can take that teach us how to be good mothers. Instead, we are left to our own devices. Sure, the hospital staff shows us how to diaper our baby and give them a bath if we ask them to. But after that, we're on our own. Given the loss of community within western society, most of us did not grow up in communities where we have seen the full process of menarche to menopause. Because of this, most of us have not seen all that goes into mothering first hand. And for some of us who have, we can consider ourselves lucky if we have seen it done well instead of poorly. The bottom line is, most of us don't know what to do so we find ourselves falling into the all too common pattern of trying to cram ourselves into a box of what we think a mother is "supposed" to be like. Often this means emulating what our own mother did.
There are two main problems with falling into this trap of emulating what we think a mother is "supposed" to be like…
The traditional idea of what a mother should be like is unrealistic and calls for a mother to sacrifice themselves for their children.
Our own mothers who also fell prey to this idealistic role taught us terrible habits.
Trying to fill the role of what we think a mother "should" be like does not work. And it is also the reason that we have such a negative connotation with motherhood in today's society. In our society today, there is a collective belief that motherhood is when a woman's life ends and her children's' lives begin. This could not be further from the truth. But many of us who are mothers feel like it is true because we allow our whole selves to be lost to the role of mother instead of letting the role of mother be one part of our lives as a whole.
Guilt is another unnecessary part of mothering that has become an integral part of motherhood. As mothers, we feel guilty for what we do and for what we don't do. We feel guilty for what we think and we feel guilty for what we don't think. We feel guilty as if the guilt is what is separating us from the women who we have been taught are "selfish" and therefore "bad". This guilt is the warden that keeps us locked up inside the prison of how we are supposed to be. And so if we are to set ourselves free and really be the mothers we want to be, we have to let go of guilt and change our ideas about mothering.
To start with, there is no such thing as an ideal mother. Every single woman on this planet is different. So every single woman on this planet should allow themselves to be a different mother. The idea that there is such a thing as a perfect mother or a perfect way to parent where no one gets their hands dirty and everything goes smoothly is complete fallacy. Behind closed doors, every mother feels as if they're doing something wrong. Behind closed doors every mother will admit to you that mothering is hard. It is time to let go of the need to keep up the façade. It is time to stop focusing on where we think we are falling short. We need to abandon the comparison we are all convinced we're falling short of and instead we need to focus on being the mothers we really want to be. And we become the mothers we want to be by making the decision to never be out of alignment with ourselves.
Most of us have been spoon fed the idea that the time to stop thinking about ourselves is the day our children are born. We are taught that the good mother is the one who sacrifices their own joy for their children's joy. We are taught that anything less than this, is selfish. The result is that we do what so many of our own mothers did before us… We become unhappy people. We are not taught the difference between selfish and self -full. Selfish people feel so much lack in their lives that they feel they have to take and take from others. If we are to look at people as if their lives could be compared to cups, the selfish person's cup is never full so they must remain self focused, trying to fill up their own cup. People, who take the time to find their own alignment and happiness, are self-full. Their cup is full, so they are able to then spill their focus towards other people.
Many of us had mothers who confused self-fullness with selfishness. They sacrificed themselves for their children in the name of "proper mothering" and in doing so, they started to feel empty. Without even realizing it, many mothers (who thought of themselves as the least selfish) became the most selfish people in their respective house holds because they kept trying to extract appreciation and good behavior from their children to fill the void of happiness in their own lives that had been created by sacrificing their own joy to the role of motherhood. We will only ever be good mothers if we let go of sacrifice and begin to be self-full. Becoming self full and staying in alignment with our own joy does not (contrary to our worry) mean that we are going to become absentee mothers. The nature of loving our children means that being near them is a big part of our happiness. Instead, we are simply ensuring that when we are self full and in alignment with our own joy, the times we are around them will be mutually beneficial and even mutually wonderful.
At the end of the day there is really only one way to teach, and that is by example. All we are doing when we sacrifice our true selves and our happiness for our ideas of what a mother "should" be like is teaching our children to do the same. We are teaching them to be out of alignment with themselves. We are perpetuating a damaging pattern within society. And we are committing emotional suicide.
There is not only one way to be a good mother. Our children want the real us, not the version of us that tries to be someone we aren't for their sakes. It is not an act that we can keep up for long anyway. And the real key to parenting well is to remain in alignment with who we really are. When we demonstrate what it looks like to stay in alignment with our own joy and be honest about what that is, we are giving our children a real gift. We are showing them how to stay in alignment with themselves. There is no more valuable lesson in the entire world for a child to learn. It is the only thing that will sustain them when we are no longer there to guide them through their lives.
Children want to spend time with us. But they do not want to spend time with unhappy versions of us. We need to do whatever it takes to stay in alignment with our own joy even if that means spending more time each day on ourselves. We need to stay in alignment because when it comes to our children, three hours a day with a parent who is in alignment with themselves is more beneficial than twelve hours with a parent who is not in alignment with themselves. We need to be brave enough to ask ourselves what it means to us to be in alignment with ourselves and our own happiness.
Instead of trying to emulate what we have been taught a mother "should be like", we need to really look for what kind of mother we are deep inside. We need to uncover what our true beliefs about parenting are and seek out the techniques, philosophies and methods of parenting that are in line with those true beliefs. The benefit of the information age is that we aren't just restricted to a small sphere of learning when it comes to mothering. We don't just have to do what our mothers did. We can look for what suits us and our children as individuals. We can parent in a way that maintains our joy instead of diminishes from it.
Our children are a reflection of ourselves as children. They are a mirror of the child within, that is still alive within us. Our children are meant to trigger our painful emotional imprints (the suppressed feelings from our childhood that we never let ourselves fully feel) so that we can integrate them into our lives and become whole. By becoming whole in this way, we will stop the transference of emotionally painful experiences from one generation to the next. This process is not easy. In fact it is one of the most difficult processes to commit to. How does our internal child want to be parented? That is how we should be parenting our own child.
Motherhood can be one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences of our lifetime, if we can learn to allow ourselves to be our own, unique kind of mother. And we will all be the mothers we want to be so badly, if we can allow ourselves to prioritize staying in alignment with our own joy before anything else… including our children. Because the secret of truly exceptional mothering is: To prioritize our own joy, is to prioritize theirs.