It seems to me that mothers of my generation (that is, mothers in their 30’s to early 50’s) have never had so many choices. We’ve been brought up to believe that we can “have it all”. What that seems to have translated to in reality is that we think we can “do it all”.
Motherhood has become such a stressful occupation with all the shoulds and coulds we’ve internalized. It’s as if becoming a mother is a “guilt”-edged invitation into a world you feel ill-equipped to join. Until you become a mother, the only experience you have is that of having been mothered. Suddenly, you’re the role model and the one in charge of “mothering” and you cannot find anything on your resume that seems to qualify you for the position. The one obvious person to turn to for advice is your own mother who isn’t necessarily the person best qualified to help you. She may be the one who has placed many of the “shoulds” and “coulds” related to motherhood in your subconscious in the first place.
What tends to happen is that we unconsciously repeat or reject the role model we experienced in our own mothers. I’ve tended to reject my mother’s precision in the housekeeping area of motherhood. We are on our second sofa in seven years of family life (not including the numerous sofa cover combinations in a desperate attempt to extend the life of the original sofa). My mother has the same sofa that she bought when she married 40 odd years ago and it still looks as good as new.
My experience as a daughter was that taking such great care of “things” came with a price. That is, that you couldn’t really relax and feel “at home”. Home didn’t feel like a place where you could bring your friends and feel comfortable. My reaction as a mother has been to reject the high standard but I’ve possibly gone slightly too far in the other direction! Even though I’ve rejected my mother’s high standards, on occasion (when I’m particularly tired), I still find myself stressed when the children are eating on the sofa and I see a trail of crumbs. In those moments, although I’ve rejected the standard of behavior, I’m still holding on to the judgment attached to that behavior. In those moments, my children are effectively being mothered and disciplined by my mother rather than their own.
The mother I want to be went to Ikea and chose a leather sofa that can be wiped clean. The mother I want to be explains to my children that they need to take care of things so we will put towels or picnic blankets on the sofa when it’s a particularly messy snack. I get real pleasure from seeing the girls with their friends snuggled up on the sofa eating popcorn while watching a movie. Even when I find popcorn kernels in the deepest crevices.
The mother I want to be wants my children’s friends to want to spend time at our house and for it to be a relaxed, welcoming place to hang out. That’s a vision of family life and motherhood that is very clear to me.
Having been a mother for ten years and a daughter for forty one years, I’ve reached a conclusion about being the mother (and daughter) you were meant to be instead of the mother (and daughter) you think you should be. You’re welcome to take this advice with a pinch of salt. If you do, I highly recommend it be applied to the rim of a margarita glass …
What I’ve learned is that the stress and anxiety that often accompanies motherhood is when you are striving to attain a model of motherhood that conflicts with what you really want from the experience. This is also true when you feel stress in other areas of your life.
The moments (and they can be fleeting!) when you feel most satisfied as a mother are those when you are being yourself and bringing your unique strengths and talents to the role of motherhood. Motherhood is simply one of the many roles you will play in life. It doesn’t require anything of you other than for you to be yourself. You don’t have to become a baker of gourmet cupcakes if that isn’t a skill you bring to the table of motherhood. If it is, go for it. If it isn’t, join me in line at the supermarket deli. What matters to your child is that cupcakes appear from somewhere.
I love the fact that my three children are exhibiting great senses of humor – each of them has a very different sense of humor but all of them are really very funny. That’s something that I’m extraordinarily proud of in them. I can see how much they love to make me laugh. They light up with such pride when they see that they have genuinely made me laugh out loud.
I also love the fact that my children are incredibly affectionate and tell me on a daily basis that they love me. That’s also not something that I grew up with. This isn’t meant to be an article bitching about my parents. I don’t blame them in the slightest. They were simply repeating the role models they experienced in childhood. The first time my oldest daughter told my mother that she loved her, my mother responded “And Granny loves you when you’re a good girl.” Nothing like good old-fashioned conditional love to make a girl feel good about herself.
My daughter recently said to me, “I’ve just realized Mommy that Daddy takes us to the beach and to parks and you take us to movies and shows and read to us.” It’s a pretty accurate description of the way my husband and I have split the parenting roles. Daddy is the physical one who will play monster with them in the playground and take them skiing. I’m the one who does homework with them and encourages their love of reading. It’s a great use of both of our natural strengths and talents and it means that they get the best of us. Trust me, my unique talents are not apparent while on skis.
So my advice is to think about the unique skills and talents you have and bring them to your mothering in the same way that you bring them to other areas of your life. It will allow your children to experience the very best of you. It will also give them a valuable role model of what an authentic life looks like – in action.
A helpful exercise to get a clear sense of who you really are and your unique characteristics is to list the following information:
City Where You Live
Where you were born
Which schools/colleges you went to
How many children you have and their names
The accomplishment you are most proud of
I now want you to describe yourself without mentioning any of the above information. It can be quite shocking to realize how firmly we identify ourselves with our “labels” – profession, mother etc. Without such labels, we can be at a loss to describe who we are. Take a little time and see what qualities and characteristics you come up with. I guarantee that it will be someone far more interesting than your labels and it is the real you – the person your children would love to get to hang out with.
Crumbs and all.