I’ve just finished reading a newly published book: Motherwhelmed: Challenging Norms, Untangling Truths, and Restoring our Worth to the World by my friend Beth Berry.
For those of you who are seasoned mothers, this is a must read; for those of you who have recently become mothers, keep this book in mind as it may be a great support in the future.
Motherwhelmed came into my life at the perfect time. These past few months of being home with my family amidst the Covid-19 pandemic have allowed and required me to focus on my role as a mother, and consider what it means to me.
Before the Covid shutdown, I was dropping my kids off at school each day, filling the time away from them with a huge to-do list that grew faster than I could mark things off. A lot of what needed to be done was based on what this culture has told me I ‘should’ do. I love my work, AND I now see that I was GIVING more care than I was getting. I struggled with anxiety. It seemed like something was missing, but I didn’t know how to articulate it. Then Covid-19 came along and shut down my work, our kids’ schools, and our social lives. The elements of my life that fed my self-worth and bank account are no longer present. Allowing life to simplify and focus on home and family has allowed the intensity of my anxiety to decrease. I still struggle with the way that my worth is based in what I am able to get done each day, but I am coming to appreciate the slow languid days of late spring, which remind me of my molasses-land postpartum experience. Beth writes: “Pretending everything’s fine and taking it upon ourselves to endure our circumstances (the unrealistic expectations, the unrelenting stressors, and our deeply unmet needs) for the sake of our children’s well-being and the preservation of our identity as “good mothers,” is noble and sometimes necessary, but it’s also perpetuating these new forms of oppression.By “keeping up” with status quo motherhood and allowing our dysfunctional culture to determine the quality of our lives, we’re unwittingly becoming complicit in our own suffering and disempowerment. The good news is that women have never before had so much collective voice, privilege, or authority to change our circumstances and better our lives…we can begin to release ourselves from the spells of inadequacy, unworthiness, shame, codependency, and fear that we’ve inherited from the mothers and grandmothers before us. This positions us for the world-healing work we were made for.” - Motherwhelmed (pg 178-9) American society hands its mothers an agreement that looks something like this: All will be well and your children will be great successes if you: make money; keep the house clean; prepare and serve your family home-cooked, organic meals; enroll your children in the best schools & extra curricular activities; maintain a sexy girlish figure; exercise; meditate; research all sides of decisions that need to be made; heal your childhood wounds; make sure your children are safe, healthy, and feel comfortable telling you when they aren’t; show up on time; maintain familial relationships and friendships that make the other people in those relationships comfortable; remain calm amidst a global pandemic lest your children be traumatized; become an expert on child development and appropriate discipline; be a supportive and interesting spouse and life partner; … The list goes on and on….and HELLO! WHO CAN DO ALL THAT? This list distracts us from who we actually are: human beings, not human doings. It distracts me from what is truly important in my life: my health, my family, enjoyment of simple things like nourishing food, walks in the woods, and meaningful connection with others. So as I sit here and write, I feel anger well up for 2 reasons:
I now see that I have been trying to succeed in a rigged game that is impossible to win
Due to the pandemic, I cannot work with postpartum families and prove my self worth (in said rigged game) through productivity.
My business is waiting. We are all waiting. It remains to be seen how all this global shut down will shake down. Yet, I am grateful for this uncomfortable, and necessary, pause that allows me to breathe, rest, read Motherwhelmedand ask myself some hard questions that this book presents. What are my deepest needs? Can I find a way to simply be with myself, with my kids, with my husband – without feeling pressure to hurry up and get on to the next thing? Who am I actually – now, stripped of a lot of control, ability to plan trips or potlucks, meaningful work, etc – who am I? My role as Mother has become my highest priority, and I have become aware of how much my kids still need me (they are 7 &13), and the gifts in this intense time together. We’re sharing all of our meals, exploring outside a lot, paying more attention to the ways we communicate, and what we enjoy doing together. I almost don’t remember what it was like to send my children off to school each day and have a handful of hours to work, take care of tasks, and be alone. My pre-Covid business and distraction sent my beloved children the message that my work was more important than them… My anxiety fueled my action and desire to appear to be super woman, even as I counseled new mothers to take it easy. Now I am leaving my phone for hours at a time in order to intentionally focus on these amazing humans that my husband and I created. Its not all roses and rainbows; they fight often, and struggle with missing their friends, boredom, and desire for more screen time. I still need (and we’ve worked out a schedule so I can get) a few hours to work or be alone each week. We are living our way into a new normal in which this family is the most important priority. My experience of the world shut-down due to Covid-19 and my experience reading Motherwhelmed will forever be intertwined. This book has helped me see the soup I have been swimming in – the cultural expectations that I provide for all of my children’s needs; the pressure to be a mom AND successful business woman, artist, outdoors woman, chef, writer, musician, beauty etc… the shame of imperfection. It has allowed me to talk back to my inner critic who tells me I'm not being calm enough, planning ahead well enough, or providing for others’ needs successfully. It is easy to blame myself and think if I just try harder, I’ll do better. Beth writes: “We are all trying—as best we can and know how to—to narrow the gaps we feel. There’s nothing mysterious about these gaps. They’re exactly what they sound like: distance between one place and another or, in this case, one set of realities and another. I used to think I was among the struggling few who felt this way, who couldn’t seem to get her act together. Years of supporting and bearing witness to the journeys of dozens of friends and hundreds of clients, however, has shown me just how central this theme is in most every mother’s life… It’s affecting our confidence, our prioritization, our sense of what matters most, our inner peace, our perceptions of one another, and most importantly, our perceptions of ourselves.” - Motherwhelmed (pg 5-6) Motherwhelmed is a gift to all mothers and mother lovers. Beth Berry asks me to be still for a moment. She asks me to articulate my unmet needs and allow space for them to be met, to let go of the belief that suppressing my needs is the best way to care for my family. She points out that I’m not alone, gives me permission to express my frustration with this situation I find myself in, to connect with others, to give and receive support. She sees me and my struggle to do/be it all. She offers a healing path forward. For all of this, all of THIS (including staying home and letting my body,mind, spirit, and business rest) I am grateful.
Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.