Being a Mum can be so hard!
When we think about what makes motherhood hard, we tend to think about all the stuff we must do. We think about getting babies to sleep, managing toddler tantrums and doing all the homework in such a rush just after school not to mention managing teenagers. And of course, we think about doing all this AND looking and feeling great AND nailing our careers … and maybe our husbands sometimes too 😉
All those things do make motherhood hard but there are a few things that we often don’t think about that make motherhood hard as well.
In my work as a clinical psychologist, I have seen many mums stumble through motherhood. Heck! I’ve stumbled many times myself. And when that happens, time and time again it is because of these 4-little pain-in-the-arse reasons. I’ll be honest. They aren’t so ‘little’.
But I promise, if you can get your shiz together and work on these, you’ll find a whole lot more ‘happy’ in motherhood.
1. Not Knowing Your Parenting Values
Now one of the things I see often in my practice is that parents just wing this parenting gig. Now I don’t want you Type A, perfectionist and perhaps even ‘ambitious’ mums to study for parenthood like you would an exam. But I do know that it is going to make parenting a heck of a lot easier if you know what’s important to you.
One thing I’ve learned in my own 16 years of parenting is that it involves endless decision-making. And it begins even before you’re up the duff when you decide (for those of you who did … my first was a ‘surprise’ too) when to start trying to conceive.
It does not stop there. Parents are constantly making decisions about what to do (or not do) in their parenting. I could fill a book with the decisions we face but I’ll give you just a few so it’s clear what I’m on about.
How long do we wait before we address our difficulty conceiving? Do we find out the gender? Do we have those tests because we’re considered ‘geriatric’ at like 30 these days (just jokes … but it does feel like that)? Public or private? Do we co-sleep? Breastfeeding is killing me should I change to the bottle? Should I return to work? When? Daycare or grandparents that I struggle with?
And let’s just fast forward and now talk about those school years. Public or private school? Music AND sport after school? Sleepovers with the kid you don’t like? Electronic device use. Social media. Girlfriends. Boyfriends. And so it goes.
No wonder we’re all so bloody tired. The cognitive load decision making adds is huge. And yes, cognitive load is also a legit phenomenon that those smart researchers at universities have proven cause fatigue.
So here’s the deal. Work out your values, live them and use them to decide what’s right for you and your family. It becomes crystal clear which ‘Option’ helps you raise your children in the way that feels right, with the beliefs that you hold and with the principles you want them to live by.
2. Trying to be Someone You’re Just Not
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen mums try to fulfil this ‘ideal’ mum that they’ve conjured up in their head, tire the crap out of themselves trying to ‘be’ her and then beat themselves up when they don’t cut it.
I committed this crime in my early parenting years too. I wanted to be this calm, Zen, earth-mother but I am so freakin’ far from that woman. Yep. The only Zen I get in touch with is if I’m sleeping. I do have very reflective moments but I wouldn’t call them Zen-like. When I’m sitting in a café and having my latte, fully engaged in my business planning or when I’m in a supervision session, I’m contemplative and reflective. [Just fyi … to make sure we offer the best service and to maintain our registration as clinical psychologists we engage in supervision which is a beautiful process where we get to stop and reflect on the work we’re doing with clients, where we might be stuck and why.]
In my early parenting years I also tried to live life as if I wasn’t a working mother. You know, going to everything my kid has going on. It was almost like I pretended I didn’t work even though I did.
I’ll work while my baby sleeps. ‘C’mon my beautiful baby boy please go to sleep, Mummy has work to do’. ‘Okay, you’re having a bad day. I’ll do it tonight’.
‘You have a special parents’ baking day at daycare. They’ve really put it in the middle of the day even though most of you are in daycare because your parents work? Okay. Of course I’ll be there sweetie. Let me just reshuffle my diary’.
‘I’d love to come to your music class for parents. I’ll just reshuffle my diary.’
‘You’ve got your assembly item? I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Let me just shuffle my diary. Again.’
‘How many freakin’ activities do you kids have? Don’t you ever just, you know, learn and play?’
So, my natural style of parenting (well, living really) is anything but earth-mother. The bottom line is that I’m busy busy busy. I am constantly confused about all the additional activities my kids have on at school, including the ones that I’m ‘supposed’ to be at.
I’ve not made their swimming carnivals for years. I have 4 kids and there are 3 swimming carnivals between them because of their ages (plus they also have 3 athletics carnivals etc.….). Nope. Beyond dropping them off and picking them up most days each week, I make their assembly items, their awards days and their ‘show off their school work’ days. I don’t get to anything else.
I do NOT float around the house singing ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ (I googled the spelling). I don’t do craft with my kids. I don’t handle tantrums and meltdowns with supreme calm all the time because yes, I do lose my shiz sometimes.
What do I do well? I make their life work. I get them where they need to be. If I have to drive on 18 separate occasions on a Saturday to get them to their outside-of-school-activities and friends’ birthday parties, I will. I have. More than once. I probably whinge a bit. I did. But I do it.
I show them how to fail, overcome, pick yourself up, put in the hard yards, be creative, think laterally, ask for help, help others, collaborate, work as a team, love each other, consider one another, set goals, fail, overcome and problem solve.
I take 7 weeks leave every year. A week in every ‘middle of the school year holiday block’ and 4 weeks in the Christmas holidays. We go camping every long weekend too. And at those times, I’m with them. No work. Far less Facebook and sometimes none.
So in all that, take a lesson from me. Work out the mum you want to be but please please please, play to your strengths. Don’t put yourself in a box and certainly don’t put yourself in a box you simply don’t belong. We have this way of believing that ‘that kind of mother’ is the better kind. She’s not. She thinks that about you.
Be you. Be your version of a mother. Every other version is taken.
3. Having No Idea of the Baggage You’re Carrying
Just before I started typing this one, I clapped my hands together with glee. This is my favourite one of all time. Because I’m a sick masochist who loves nothing more than facing my shiz, wading through my mud, unpacking my baggage and …. growing!
Yes, I have done and still do plenty of ‘personal work’. Hand on heart it is without any shadow of a doubt the one thing I’ve committed to in my adult life that has seen me become clearer about who I am and happy with who I am. But the paradox is because of the permission I’ve given to myself to be me, warts and all, I’ve grown. I’ve ‘improved’.
It’s really no surprise I became a psychologist. This way of living my life is integral to who I am. It is a journey not a destination so this will never stop. I will always seek to understand what button got pushed, why it’s there in the first place and how I can have it pushed less often. Because when I do, life becomes easier. I am more connected to my true self and therefore more able to connect with those I love. I am a better mother for it.
Parenting from your baggage is rarely easy or helpful. You live a smaller life than you could. You react more easily and less pleasantly than you’d like – repeatedly – and you’re often confused about why that’s the case. If you don’t sort your shiz out, you simply do NOT live your best life and you aren’t the best mother you can be (for you).
If this isn’t your jam, that’s fine. It certainly isn’t in the parenting manual that you have to – because there is no parenting manual. You love your kids and I bet your boots you do a bloody good job anyway. But if something is bubbling inside of you while you’re reading this, even if it’s complete indignation, it might be time to unpack your baggage.
4. Parenting Blindness
The final thing that can make motherhood hard is what I call parenting blindness. This is when we don’t see our children for who they really are and instead, project our relationship with someone else (for example our own mother or father) on to our child. We all fall into this trap. We do. We fall into it because of our baggage. Yep these two go hand in hand. If you don’t know your baggage, doesn’t mean you don’t have it. In fact, the less you understand and release it, the more blind you’re likely to be. And that’s just such a shame for you and your kids.
You see when you suffer from parenting blindness, you can’t see your child for who they really are. You can’t see what’s really going on for them and relate to them as their own unique person. I suffer from this from time to time. It’s really a work in progress. At times my daughter who is almost 13 years, can behave like my older sister did when she was a teenager. She can be a cow.
Now I’ve done a lot of ‘work’ to change this for myself (and her) and most of the time, I’m cool now. But it was hard when this button, which I didn’t even really realise it was there, first got pressed when she hit those hormonal years. What I learned when I unpacked my baggage was that when she was flipping out and acting 50 shades of pissed off, I would ‘see’ my older and more powerful sister in her. I would also ‘feel’ 9 years of age. I couldn’t see HER struggle and in ‘feeling 9 years of age’, I couldn’t be the parent she needed me to be.
If this kinda shiz happens, I’m the kind of person who is going to take myself off to my own psych and unpack it. I do NOT like feeling that way and I do NOT like being ineffective and powerless in my parenting because of my own shit. So, I delved into this baggage now and my parenting blindness has significantly reduced.
I’m not alone. I hear all the time how mother’s see their fathers in their sons or their mothers in their daughters. And if their father or mother was particularly critical or rejecting or invalidating, then all these feelings get triggered within them and it makes it so much harder to parent their child and respond to the situation that’s going on.
So yeah, parenting blindness is a real thing. And its shit. You feel confused, ‘out of control’ and just plain bad. Your kid feels not heard, not seen, and not supported. They find it hard to grow into their true selves.
So, there you have it. The 4 things that make being a mother so freakin’ hard. But really, I’ve given you the solutions! So my quick and dirty ‘advice’ is …
Know your parenting values.
Don’t be someone else’s version of a mother. Be your version.
Unpack your baggage.
Deal with your parenting blindness.
You know I love to hear your stories. So, I’d love it if you could comment on what you see is being a flaw in your personality but more importantly I’d like you to write about the gift that it can provide your child.