I was taught, by my parents and society, that I should strive to succeed, achieve and do worthy and lucrative work. In addition to that I should try and look a certain way and have a thin, healthy body; I should add to my knowledge and possessions and grow into a good daughter, friend and partner by caring for and serving others. When I became a parent I projected all of this striving, seeking and trying onto my role as a mother. It was an arrangement that was doomed from the start. The way that we define the role of “good mother” is an impossible ask.
It is hard enough to succeed, learn, work, stay healthy as a single person without kids. There’s a LOT to do to maintain your self-worth. It’s another thing altogether when you tie your worth as a mother to some young, unpredictable humans with their own unique direction in life.
My children refused to help.
They were not conventionally “good children”. Instead, they grew in their own untameable, passionate and wonderful ways. You cannot be a “good mother” unless you are judged to have “good children” and to many people that means quiet, compliant, sweet-natured and studious. Your success is measured by the achievements and “good behaviour” of your children. It also helps if you continue to earn money, stay thin, have a beautiful home and keep helping your family and friends – all while being incredibly kind and loving to your darling children.
My children’s lives did not fit comfortably with my plans and aspirations.
They did not follow the program.
They were incredibly strong-willed and expressed intense emotions of all kinds freely. They fought, screamed, played boisterously and wouldn’t fit in to the mainstream world of childcare and school.
This threw my plans to be a good mother into chaos and triggered a frenzy of self-judging thoughts. There were a lot of fears about what other people would think of me: they would see how my children behave and how they spend their days and condemn me as negligent. My mind made constant comparisons with other people: How come my friend’s children ate homemade, healthy food at every meal? The mind went into overdrive, generating numerous “Problems with my children” and “Problems with me” and also trying to think of a way to fix them. How could I possibly keep up my career, home and fitness goals and give my children the attention they wanted? The stress and exhaustion was shattering.
I started to wake up.
At some point there was shift. The futility of all that striving, serving and fixing was revealed to me. I realised with a jolt that trying to be a “good mother” was totally unsustainable, impossible to achieve and sending me into an ongoing tantrum of resentment.
My beliefs about the role of “good mother” started to fall apart and fall away. A process of gradual unlearning began. I questioned beliefs that had been programmed into me as a child: was I really only worthy if I was “good” and “successful”? Ideas that I had been passionately committed to no longer held any certainty and began to crumble: maybe I don’t need a job and a thin body to be OK. Instead of striving to build a more solid sense of myself as a good mother I found freedom in discovering who I was NOT:
I am not my achievements, knowledge or possessions. I am not the role of mother. I am not my body. I am not my beliefs and stories about myself. I am not my thoughts.
Through a process of unlearning these beliefs and connecting to the energy within myself I discovered still, calm Presence. I meditated. I read Eckhart Tolle, Adyashanti and Byron Katie. I practiced self inquiry.
Who am I really?
Who am I when I’m not thinking?
Is that thought really true?
These questions became the focus of my attention and my children did not suffer for it. You don’t have to become a hermit in a cave or live in an ashram in order to explore and expand your inner world. You can do it while you wash the dishes, play with your children or walk down the supermarket isle, although it helps to have some quiet time alone too.
I discovered the flame of light, love and knowing that is my true source and home and always has been. Flowing with Presence makes family life a joyful adventure rather than a crushing burden.
The roles and beliefs about myself did not all disappear at once. It’s been a gradual process that is guided from within and nourished by sharing the journey with other women.
It has become my passion to guide and support other women through this process of unlearning the “good mother” role and remembering their true self. This helps me continue in my own unlearning and awakening process as well as bring me the gifts of joyful serving and giving.
The wonderful irony is, that the less I try to be a good mother, the more close and connected I am with my children. We share honestly about our thoughts and feelings. We respect each others’ unique journey and passions. We play and cry and learn together and alongside each other. We enjoy rich, intimate and challenging relationships that flow from the heart.