Motherhood. One of the hardest jobs there is and no matter how many books you read whilst pregnant (I devoured a library) and no matter how much advice is proffered your way (a supersized container shipful) it is a cliché, but so true, that absolutely nothing prepares you for it. You learn on the job, a baptism of fire, and you keep learning as the situations change, and you keep fighting the fires. There is the oft used phrase it takes a village to raise a child (and I’ve heard too that it is the same to raise a mother). This news hadn’t reached the village I found myself in and so I found myself a new mum in a new place, surrounded not by loving support but by what felt like judgement and, albeit well meant, unsolicited advice. This constant questioning made me question myself, rather than empowering me and so I felt alone with this Herculean of tasks – motherhood. I met lots of lovely, like-minded mums but they were in the same boat as me, constantly bailing out to stop the boat sinking and watching the horizon for the next stormy squall.
It is only now, years later, as my children are at the upper end of primary school that I finally get a chance to have a small breath and reflect properly on this. In the ‘Time for You’ writing group I’m attending at the moment, our skilled guide Jo shared this quote which I thought summed it up: “Birth of a mother is not one event but a process of trial by fire.” It is from a book called ’The Birth of a Mother’ by Daniel Stern. Such a monumental one way, life changing process – in every way and at every level – and yet we just don’t have a language or a way of discussing it in our society. As mothers we are expected to just get on with it, as well as to balance a career and everything else into this mix/bombsite/zombie dystopia that it can so often feel like. So much advice, billions of parenting books, and yet actually I discover I know best. And you do too. You know your children best. You know yourself best. Though all the time around me, I was being fed the story that society knows best, and I got lost in the chasm between the two, nearly killing myself (slight exaggeration, I just broke myself for a bit) trying to do it all.
For the last month I have been reading ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It is a rich, flowing and beautifully written book, chock full of resonation and 'aha moments' for me, and I have read slowly, trying to absorb it into my very pores. This week being half term week for us, and my children at home, I have snatched moments of reading it either late at night, or whilst locking myself in the loo. There was a question posted on the Psychologies Magazine ‘Life Leaps’ this week, of which I am an Ambassador, from a mother feeling overwhelmed by conflicting responsibilities and feeling like in her words she is “wading through treacle”. I thought hard before responding, and when I wrote back, I was as much writing to myself as well as to reach out and metaphorically hug this other mother, as I know exactly what this feels like. The answer, like all struggles in life I’m finding, is in lowering the bar away from perfection; continually practising kindness with ourselves and recognising the reality of life right now, it won’t always be this way; as well as to get help and accept it wherever I can find it – something I still find incredibly hard to do and often don't notice I'm doing it, as I have spent the past 10+ years battening down the hatches and ploughing on because I felt I had no choice. I’m learning that I don’t always have to do it all myself, in fact it is imperative that I don’t.
In my snatched reading this week, I came across this quote in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s book which I paused to reflect on: “It is obvious that, with all the energy going outward, there has to be some source of energy coming in which nurtures and revitalises the parents from time to time, or the process itself will not be sustainable for long. Where might this energy come from?” One direction he talks about is externally through obtaining that support from others wherever we can find it and through allowing ourselves to do the things we love (even if only occasionally or for short bursts) and the other direction is through inner support, which I am building through being kind to myself and taking time to do the things that nourish me. And finally, but most importantly, I'm going to add not to feel guilty about it – still always that twinge of guilt that was birthed with my children – but I will no longer listen to it as I know the hard way that it is imperative, key, for everyone involved that I do this. This also means that when I am with my children (which to be fair is most of the time) I am more likely to be in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s words “... centred yourself, fully present and open and available, (which) is a great gift for them. And mindful hugging doesn’t hurt either.”
Sending you mindful hugs too. Clare x
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