These were the exact words I heard uttered by a new father to his wife. They were walking along Manhattan’s Broadway carrying their newborn child in a Baby Bjorn.
I had noticed them at a distance because of their palpable exhaustion. As a chronically sleep-deprived Mom myself, I can spot exhausted parents at fifty feet. We’re like the owners of VW Beetles who feel a sense of kinship. VW Beetles’ drivers even wave at each other as they pass by. Believe me, if we had the energy, we too would wave at our fellow sleep-deprived friends. Instead we give each other the sympathy smile. The look that says “Who knew?” And, if we had known, would we have bought a dog instead?
Had I heard that comment before I became a mother, I would have winced on behalf of the mom and moved on. However, as a mother of two young daughters at the time, that throwaway comment struck a chord deep within me. It led me to reflect on my own relationship with my mother and what I hoped for in my relationship with my girls.
Why is it that moms catch themselves making certain comments to their children and then grimace as they realize they are becoming their mothers? Why do so many therapy sessions and Landmark workshops end with mama taking all the blame?
My belief is that it stems from what psychologists call “mother wounds”. Our mother is our very first female role model and the primary relationship in our development. Motherhood is so fraught with difficulties that it’s impossible to do it perfectly. As a result, many children grow into adulthood with unresolved feelings and emotional wounds caused by (among other things) their relationship with their mothers.
When I became a mother, I was shocked by the fact that the tables had turned and now I was being looked up to as a role model. I threw myself into motherhood, determined to create fun-filled, stimulating lives for my daughters. To be perfectly honest, I was equally determined that if my daughters did end up on a therapists’ couch in later life, I wouldn’t be the main villain in the drama of their life!
As I lived my daughters’ wonderful lives with them (a social whirl of playdates, stimulating classes and fun playgrounds), I met some amazing women who happened to be mothers. What I began to notice was that so many of us were putting our lives on hold to mother our children in what we thought was a very unselfish way. Although our motives were honorable, it struck me that we were teaching our children how to take care of others without taking care of their own dreams and desires. Was that really our intention?
I chose to work from home when I was pregnant with my first child as I knew instinctively that I wanted to be at home with my children. After a couple of years, though, I had this awakening when I realized how sad I would be if my daughters were doing the same thing. It wasn’t the staying-at-home part, as that has been an amazing experience. It was the total immersion in motherhood to the exclusion of all other aspects of who I am.
In response to that “aha” moment, I reflected on the things I had always loved and took a stand-up comedy course. I found myself onstage performing at Stand Up, NY and Caroline’s Comedy Club and was amazed by how energized I was when I introduced a passion into my life. In addition to the energy boost, I felt that finally I was uncovering my true identity. In that moment, the seeds of Stand Up, Mama! (a coaching resource for mothers who want to reconnect with their creative talents) were planted.
Martha Beck, author of “Finding Your Own North Star – claiming the life you were meant to live” says:
“If you don’t keep your dreams alive, you are teaching your children to forget their dreams too. You set the example. Encourage your kids to pursue their dreams while pursuing your own.”
If immersing yourself in motherhood to the exclusion of the rest of yourself isn’t the answer, what should we strive for? The psychologist, Alice Miller, interviewed a number of adults about their mothers. Most said “I know that my mother loved me, but …”. She then spoke to one man who, when asked about his mother, smiled and responded, “my mother loved life.” How powerful is that?
Even the material mama, Madonna, found the prospect of motherhood to be a wake-up call. In an interview with Oprah, Madonna said,
“After I made Evita, I won a Golden Globe and I was about to have a baby. I felt like I had everything, but something was missing, an understanding of who I really was. I think that was my wake-up call. I wanted to understand how I was going to go about finding true and lasting happiness in my life and how I was going to teach that to my daughter.”
She understood that she had to figure out how to love her life first so that she could teach her daughter from experience – surely the most powerful way for children to learn. It isn’t a matter of neglecting our children’s lives or being selfish. Quite the contrary. We are teaching our children by example. It is a win-win situation. The lessons you learn in uncovering a life that is uniquely your own will be invaluable as you help your children to chart their own course in life.
What is more important than ensuring your children have a happy, vibrant, inspired mother? If you can’t do it for yourself, do it for your children’s mother!
So what is my greatest wish for myself and every other mother? It is that, one day, our daughters will be walking along Manhattan’s Broadway or London’s Oxford Street or past the Trevi Fountain in Rome – or wherever their dreams have taken them – and the father of their newborn child will turn to them with a look of true adoration and say… “God, I love the fact that you get more and more like your mother.”