So, today I went to my first PND/Positive Parenting meeting and discovered that I am not the only one who is often ashamed, mortified, saddened and generally depressed about aspects of my mothering.
I discovered that I am not the only one who regrets her words the instant they leave her untamed mouth. Nor the only one who struggles under the weight of all this guilt. I discovered that I am not alone on this fiery path towards motherhood. And it was good.
Still, I found that even as I recognised myself in the other women present. Even as I felt that shiver of relief in our shared experiences, I felt set apart. Maybe we all did. Maybe, deep down, everyone was still thinking, ‘Yes, I agree. But still, if you saw me when I (fill in the blank) you would see how bad/how hateful/how childish/how vengeful/how resentful/how evil… I really am and you would judge me.’ Maybe everyone still thought that they were the ‘worst’ mother in the room. But not me. I’ll admit that this is definitely what I normally think. But not today. Instead I felt blessed to be me. I felt blessed that my life was not as contaminated with sadness and anxiety as some of these other women’s were. I saw their pain on their faces. I heard that tremble in their voices as the struggled to speak through all that self-anger and hopelessness they often felt. I felt myself reaching out to soothe, to offer words of support, words of comfort – even though I myself struggle with the self same issues that they do. I wanted them to feel better. I wanted them to know that just being there, in that group, offering the gift of their honesty despite the shame, put them streets ahead of other mothers. Being there was one big neon sign of love for our children. We want to change. We own our problems and we want to deal. We need to. I felt humbled and I wish these women could see what a gift their journey was to me.
I was beautifully reminded that despite my shortcomings, I have support. I don’t have a husband who dismisses me, who comes home after work and offers nothing but criticism for those shortcomings. Or who spends all of his time belittling my struggles and pointing out everything that I am doing wrong. I was blessed by that reminder but I wished I could have hugged the mother whose story this is.
My empathy for other people’s suffering runs fairly deep. (The one and only time I ever did coke, I spent the entire time weeping and crapping on about Tibet and the plight of the Dalai Lama!). This is not always a good thing. I can so easily put myself in someone else’s shoes that it can be a bit of a burden. I get depressed/upset/angry for them. I want to fix everything – make everything better for them, which is really not my place. Still, the good effects outweigh the bad I think. Often it makes me realise, as it did today, that my struggles are not so bad. That my struggles don’t have the bitter sharp edge that some of theirs do. It reminded me that if I can show compassion for their sufferings, their struggles, then it should be just as easy to show the same compassion for my own. After all, they are the same struggles for the most part! That was also comforting. It was like being given a ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card for my bad days.
That’s not to say that I won’t still spend my time analysing, reflecting, and yes, often beating myself up, about those bad days. It’s more that I can now draw on that experience and try to remember to treat myself as I would treat any one of them, without hesitation. Which is kindly, respectfully, gently and with understanding. One of the women said her sister, who had also struggled with motherhood, had a badge made up that said ‘Hello. I Am Trying My Best!’ I think we would all wear one because we all want people to understand that we really are trying our hardest to deal. We are embarrassed and often ashamed of ourselves or our children’s behaviours. We feel the eyes of judgment shifting in our direction and we feel more stressed as we try so hard to get it under control. What wouldn’t we give for a knowing smile that says, “I’ve been there honey. I know how you feel,” or “don’t worry, this too shall pass!.” It is so very rarely there though and this is a great shame. Motherhood seems to come with a lot of unnecessary judgment. Each one of us makes choices to raise our children to the best of our ability and with the best of intentions. It doesn’t always run smooth. It doesn’t always run at all! But the truth is everyone is doing their best. There are not many truly awful, careless, cruel mother’s out there and so this is not so much of a sweeping statement as it is an acknowledgement that everyone, even those mother’s who do things that make us take in a sharp breath every now and then, are doing their best. Or are trying to and maybe what they need most right now is a hug, or a kind smile or a compassionate comment rather than hostility and judgement. I know there are days when I feel like screaming. Days where Beanie seems to just have her compass set to ‘naughty little minx’ and turned all the way up to 11. I can hear my frazzled voice, my irritation, a feeling of wanting to just run away and leave her in the store whining about yet another Easter Egg and trying to sneakily pick away at the chocolate without me knowing. And all it takes is another mother to smile and say, ‘they are cheeky at this age, aren’t they?’ and it allows me a pause in the moment to know that I am not alone. Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes.
In all this struggle and particularly at the end of (very long) days like this, it’s really all about finding my faith in myself as a mother. Trusting that the decisions I make (and agonise over) will be the right ones for my children. That if I can’t go with my first choice, I can go with my gut. That I won’t be making life-long, soul scarring mistakes if I choose wrongly occasionally. And that is hard for me. It’s hard for me to make mistakes. It’s hard for me to know that I am not perfect when I am a perfectionist. I actually think that many of the women in my group suffer from the same malaise and maybe that’s another reason we are all there. We set the bar so high that we can never hope to attain it and then punish ourselves over each and every fail. It’s hardly a recipe for good mental health, is it? So, how do I go about finding my faith in myself? How do I manage to stand in the midst of all the chaos (inner and outer), and still find the self-belief to know it will all be alright? To trust that there is a divine inner guidance operating and to allow that to lead the way? I honestly don’t know. I do know that finding some inner, if not outer, quiet would be a start but then that’s a subject for a whole other post.
I would love to hear how faith operates for you in your lives, as mother’s and as people. Where do you go to find your own nourishment, the sustenance you need to continue to be a good mother, partner, wife, employee etc? What do you put your trust in? Or who?