Finding the “I” in Motherhood

cropped view of child holding tray with breakfast, mothers day card with heart sign and mom lettering, while mother stretching in bedOur second Covid Mother’s Day is upon us. How will you spend it? Will your children bring you breakfast in bed and give you loving cards? Or will you be on duty once again, feeling resentful of the mothers who get breakfast in bed?

The role of mother has expanded in this pandemic year. Staying home has necessitated adding homeschool teacher, zoom coordinator, anti-distraction motivator, health-care provider, mask enforcer, playmate and screentime police (even more often)—all while trying to manage your own work.

Mothers are exhausted, drained of reserves, fed up with demands, lack of time, and the power struggles. They dip into hopelessness and fears which lie in wait to be triggered by a fight, a demand, a name, an eye-roll, instantly exploding into words and reactions never intended. Many mothers I work with express difficulty even thinking straight. The Covid fog of fear and doubt has led to its own epidemic of low self-confidence.

One of the characteristics of low self-confidence is a lack of selfishness. Confidence means be willing and able to say, I don’t want to do that. I need a few minutes. I want you to do x, y, or z. I need help. Notice the “I’s”. This is extremely hard for many mothers to say. I believe this is a result of being parented in the days of too much selfishness from parents who disciplined children with coercive punishment to avoid being affected by children’s negative, explosive emotions. When children are punitively silenced for the sake of their parents’ convenience, expressing themselves at any age becomes dangerous territory. Emotional expression was seen as selfish and unnecessary.

Now we have flipped in the opposite direction. You don’t want what you had but your learning tells you that expressing your needs is selfish. You end up giving and doing until resentment leads to explosions. A comment from my Facebook page says it all:

I’ve unwittingly put my needs on the back burner & it comes out sideways at times, like my Inner child is screaming “what about me??” I try to be a machine but turns out I’m not. A lot of it too is struggling with what I learned in my own upbringing that I’m not worthy or capable so I’m fighting my inner critic, too, that tells me I should do more & better. It’s a process but I’m trying to be kinder to myself, for my own sanity but also because I want to model self-love & respect for my boys, so the voice in their heads say nice things to them.

Full length portrait of African-American woman doing yoga at home with little girl in backgroundHere is a list of some ways to find self-love—the “I” in motherhood:

  • Refer to yourself as “I” instead of “Mommy”. You are so much more than mommy. When you take on the habit of saying, Mommy wants you to…., you are speaking in third person. What is that about? Model the multi-faceted person you are.
  • Go for balance rather than sacrifice. Do you know, and believe, that your needs and rights are just as important as everyone else’s in your family? If not, your work is to determine where you got the message of unworthiness—because it’s not true. You don’t want your kids to learn that women don’t require or deserve much. Modeling self-worth has far-reaching effects.
  • Find moments during the day to tune into yourself and notice what you are thinking, feeling or doing. I’m feeling overwhelmed. I am walking upstairs to get the baby from her nap. Right now I feel like strangling my child. I am washing the dishes one at a time. I am folding Sam’s baseball tee-shirt and wondering why he can’t do it himself. This is mindfulness and honestly does make a difference. When you notice what you are thinking, feeling and doing, you bring your attention to the present away from the past or future occupied with fears and expectations.
  • Go to the bathroom for an extended stay as long as your kids are occupied and old enough to be left. Breathe deeply ten times (or as long as you can). Then wash your face. Think of going to the bathroom as reset time.
  • Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment try, This will have to wait until I am calm. You might precede that with, Stop! But no more. Think of this as your right for time and space to step out of your emotional upheaval and into your rational mind. Revisit the problem or repair when all of you are calm.
  • Teach your kids about the importance of taking a break to feel stronger inside and be a better person. Ask them what makes them feel stronger and better? Talk about things people need when they feel tired, disappointed or defeated.
  • Practice self-talk. You likely have voices in your head, similar to my facebook commenter, telling you that you’re not good enough, etc. Speak the voice out loud. Acknowledge this is not fact nor the truth. The truth is you are tired and in need of some refueling.
  • Model making mistakes. If you are going for perfection, understand that beneath the drive to do everything right is the fear of getting it wrong. When something goes wrong, talk about it out loud so your children hear. Let yourself feel the anger, disappointment, frustration and put your feelings into words. Then say out loud, I know I can figure this out.
  • Know that everything you do is a choice. No one can make you do or feel what you do. When you feel trapped and drained, remind yourself that you are choosing what you are doing and perhaps unrealistically expecting your children to be appreciative. Perhaps this Mother’s Day it’s time to make some different choices.
  • When you’re low, try this exercise:
    • I have…. (name the external supports you have available to you)
    • I am…. (name the inner resources you have to get you through this)
    • I can…. (name all your capabilities you can call on to help)

On Mother’s Day we give mothers that pat on the back, a card and maybe some flowers—done. I challenge each of you mothers to think about what you want and ask for it—at least on this day—and do not do what you don’t want. And allow your children to feel whatever they feel without trying to make them feel different. Let’s turn the cycle around so our children know they deserve their own thoughts and feelings—and plans for their futures.