Motherhood and the Struggle with Shame
I was 30 when I got pregnant with my first daughter and to be honest, I felt pretty prepared! I was skilled at caring for babies, I knew what to expect and what not to expect. My childhood had prepared me well. I was the oldest of a big family and I experienced many things ranging from day to day child rearing issues to major events like my brother getting third degree burns. I learned to handle things calmly, not to panic and I developed a lot of patience. I was well aware of the time and personal sacrifices that I would be making when I became a parent and that wasn't a struggle for me.
However, nothing could have prepared me for the mom guilt as people refer to it. I prefer to say mom shame because guilt infers that we have done something wrong and in most cases I think its simply feeling the end of ourselves, knowing we are doing all that is within us and yet we can see we still fall short. We aren't perfect and that feels like a mortal sin. With one child, I felt pretty together. We had a routine, things went according to plan. I often had people asking me for advice and I felt like I was doing a fairly good job. Well, God didn't give me the chance to become proud over it. Scarlett was 11 months old when we got the joyous surprise that our second baby was on the way. 6 weeks later we found out we were moving to Atlanta away from our entire support network and that's when things got crazy.
It wasn't long before I had an infant that screamed all the time, rarely slept more then 90 minutes at a stretch, and a toddler that had two year molars coming in. My husband and I both got bronchitis and the girls were sick off and on and we had very little help. The mom shame set in pretty early. I felt shame that I was too exhausted to be a great mom to Scarlett, I felt shame that I cried over my screaming infant, longing for a break. I felt shame that I was poor companion to my husband in my sleep deprived state. Those nagging thoughts started to fill my head." You aren't good at this. You are wasting these precious years. They aren't going to feel loved. They aren't going to love you. You don't do enough. You aren't enough. You aren't treasuring them. You can't get this time back." The thoughts rained down upon me like arrows, attacking me every moment and stealing my joy. And as I let my joy be stolen, I would heap more shame upon myself . It got hard for me to leave them, because I felt so ashamed of how badly I needed the break.
I kept moving forward, loving them, caring for them but feeling less and less worthy each day. I would call my mom and cry and ask her a million questions trying to figure out IF I was a good mother. There is no handbook, no grading scale. I would watch other moms and try to see if I was missing something, if they were better mothers than I was. It weighed heavily on me. I was so hard on myself that ANY criticism was hard to take, even people I don't agree with could send me into tears with a negative word. There are so many things in my life that I am confident in and feel like I do well but motherhood hasn't been one of them. All I could see is what I was doing wrong and when they would finally fall asleep at night that moment of relief was quickly followed by thoughts of all the things I could have done better that day. "Did I spend too much time doing the chores? Did they feel ignored? Did I look into their faces today? Did they feel loved? Was my voice too harsh when I told her to get back into bed for the tenth time." The regret was so sharp at times that I would want to wake them from their sleep to make sure they had felt loved that day.
In my family, we were raised to ask questions, to dig deep, to believe the truth, to fight against thoughts that weren't helpful or true, and because of that, I have been able to stay in a somewhat steady emotional state but I have had to fight for it. I've had to fight my own ideas of what motherhood would look like as well.
I quit my job when Scarlett was born and I have no regrets about that, but I loved my job and I grieved the loss of what I had built and what might have been. Somewhere in my subconscious, I felt that to be a good mother, I needed to not work. I can get obsessed with work, I love it, I feel good at it and sincerely feared that to work would mean that my children would suffer. This year, it became clear that my desire to work was important and that I needed to do something for myself and I really struggled with all of my fears. I get to work from home, I am never away from my children but I was worried that I wouldn't be present for my daughters, that I wouldn't be able to balance it. I decided to try and,yes, I have had to keep it in check. I have had days where I spent too much time working, and then I have had days where I didn't spend enough time working because my kids needed me and I chose them. I was so afraid to make a mistake that I was sacrificing a part of myself that didn't need to be sacrificed. Friends, we don't need to fear making mistakes! We are going to make them even if we never do anything great with our lives, so why not do something great and figure it out as we go along?? I realized that looking perfect was what I was trying to do. If I didn't work, no one would be able to see that I place it above things when I shouldn't. I wouldn't have to feel the shame of making a mistake and having to remedy it, but that's not solving the problem. That's putting it on the shelf! I can't grow in that environment, no one can. So for me, working again is me willing to work on my flaws and willing to live vibrantly.
Some of the things that I learned once I started working again were:
1. I stopped taking care of myself. I put my family's needs so far above mine that I was drained of all resources. I had very little to give. I WAS giving all that I had and it felt like not enough because it wasn't. One of the things that is now a daily part of my life again is reading personal development, the insight I gain and the encouragement that I get from those times of study make me a better wife and mother. It makes me more confident. I am gaining a better understanding of who I am, the things that are important to me, and its helping me to design a life that I am excited to live.
2. I need to be the example that I want my daughters to follow. If my actions don't align with what I teach them, it's going to be my actions they follow not my great advice. What they witness will be ingrained in them. Do I want to be the example of a tired, struggling, emotionally depleted woman? NO! I do not want that for them. I want them to pursue things that bring them joy and be passionate about their talents. The best way I can parent them is to be the example, to work on myself, to learn to balance family and work. Will I make a mistakes? Absolutely, but I will teach my daughters that making mistakes isn't the end of the world and show them how to respond with integrity when mistakes are made.
3. We were made for more. Motherhood is very important but its only a season where you are needed so greatly. They quickly grow up and though we will always be mothers, the years of raising children is small in grand scheme of things. What will you do with the rest of your years? It doesn't have to be work related. My mom got trained as a doula and a Le Leche League counselor and served woman in our community for free, later she went back to school and became a nurse. We all have talents and abilities and if we fine tune them and put them to good use, we train our children to do the same, and when they have gone to live their lives, we have built something for ourselves and in the process built them a strong foundation on which they can build their own dreams. We don't have to simple be empty nesters, we can be women living wholeheartedly, finding joy and fulfillment in every season of life!
I am sharing these things with you because I know there are mamas out there that weren't given the tools to process all those thoughts like I was or can't articulate what they are feeling and I want you to know that we all feel these things at some time or another. Maybe you felt like a great mother when your children are small but the teenage years have you in a tailspin. Maybe the baby years you are in are not as enjoyable as you had thought and you feel shame for even thinking so. I am here to tell you that it is hands down the hardest thing I have ever done, and also the most important. All of the feelings that come from raising children are tools. Your love deepens more than you ever thought it could, you grow in your compassion for other people, you become aware of needs that you would have been oblivious to in the past. The fear and shame and other negative emotions reveal things that need to be rooted out. I fight to strengthen myself more now than I ever have because I have two beautiful little girls watching and mimicking me. It's not selfish to spend time studying and growing and working, because the person I am becoming is a much better role model for them than the one I am today.
At the height of my mom shame, I read the book, "Daring Greatly", by Brene Brown and it freed me from the shackles I was wearing. I highly recommend reading it! Here is a copy of her parenting manifesto. I have adopted it as my own and it has changed the way I look at and feel about parenting' I still cry every time I read it. I want this to be my children's legacy and nothing on this list is outside my ability. How freeing! I hope reading this has lightened the mantle of responsibility that you carry upon your shoulders as a parent, but if not, I encourage you to read. If you make time for nothing else, pursue personal development until you stumble across the words you need to hear. Actively seek out truth. The more that you soak in, the less shame has a hold on you!
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"And Aubrey was her name. A not so very ordinary girl or name."(Or so says David Gates ;) I'm a wife to Phillip, a mother to Scarlett and Juliet. We live in the beautiful city of Thornton, Co. I'm a recovering red bull addict. I love to read. I hate to cook. I seek to be inspired and also to inspire others. I am a Beachbody Coach on a quest to be truly healthy mind, soul, and body and challenge others to do the same.