I was in a session today with one of the beautiful mamas I get the honor to work with.
She was bravely sharing how she is finding herself not enjoying motherhood as thoroughly as she would want; as thoroughly as she expected. So many of us can relate; I know I did for a long while and it played a key role that brought me to my mission to support mothers.
In the glimpses of calm, in the fleeting moments of stillness, at times of play when enveloped in the purest sound of joy: a baby's laughter, I genuinely cherished being a mother - even during the period of parenthood that felt like a big tanged ball of overwhelm.
Yet, I was haunted by the thought that something must be gravely wrong within me that feelings of agitation, anguish, and even anger would occupy the majority of my day.
I failed to look at the situation objectively. Like my fellow mama, I felt shame if I expressed or insinuated that I had a “difficult” baby.
What I know now, is that I had a baby who was experiencing a really, really hard time. And my expectation that I, as his mother, should instinctively know how to console him placed an unbearable burden on my shoulders.
Beyond the constant pacing, the endless breastfeeding marathons, the hours of trying to burp him or calm him from his colic, or the debilitating, consistent sleeplessness, my exhaustion stemmed from the psychological burden I was carrying to make it all OK because, well, I’m his mother!
I denied myself the grace to admit I didn't have all the answers; to accept that I wasn't flawless. I delved into every book, sought advice from every expert, and sifted through a myriad of blogs and scientific papers, thinking that knowledge would be the beacon in the fog.
But, if I am honest, this was just my way of trying to exert control on a situation that required acceptance. I was grappling for something so elusive; a manual of sorts as if human nature is predictable (and if you want to challenge me on that, just think of how in medicine, the epitome of science and research, you will often get doctors who, for the same ailment, will give you completely different interpretations and potential solutions of how to deal with it - go figure).
Most of all, I denied my son the room to cry.
Not cry it out, but just cry.
Cry in my arms because he was in pain.
Cry because he was exhausted.
Cry because he, too, could not know when this ordeal would end.
At least I knew it would, yet this was not comforting in the overwhelming tempest of what was then my reality.
I felt I needed to “work on” myself and my reactions, when motherhood is a calling to BE, not DO.
What I really needed was to let go. Of the control. Of the perfectionism. Of the [toxic!] notion that if I couldn’t soothe my baby at an instant then I was not fit to be a mother.
Coming to acceptance did not happen as soon as I’d hoped. The colic came and went. The reflux surged for months and I was still holding on for dear life, all the while missing much of the joy I longed for.
“Wait till the colic is over,” they said.
“Wait till the reflux settles.”
“Wait until he is able to communicate his needs to you.”
But, as the wise mama I was coaching today said: each stage will present its own unique challenges “and I fear I will carry this discontentment with me there as well.”
If we persist on clinging to the misguided belief that our competence as mothers is determined by our ability to master every challenge that arises, no amount of "waiting" can mend our broken spirit. Every cry, every tantrum, every refusal, every rejection will trigger the same notion, the same disillusionment, the same, oh-so-familiar sense of failing our child(ren).
I do not know when I finally befriended acceptance. Certainly it was quite recently. And, like aiming at a moving target, maintaining this friendship is something I must continually prioritize. Not by exerting more effort, but by purposefully letting go and having faith that all will be OK.
Motherhood is a Journey, Not a Destination: Every phase has its challenges, but this is not said to minimize the struggle we may feel; rather it's important to understand what limits our tolerance, which is usually self-berating and self-doubt.
Silver lining: that's totally reversible!
Self-compassion is Crucial: It's okay not to have all the answers. Grant yourself the grace to learn, adapt, and grow with your child.
Acceptance Over Perfection: Trying to control every aspect of motherhood can lead to exhaustion. Sometimes, it's about understanding rather than mastering.
Your Worth is Intrinsic: Your value as a mother is not defined by your ability to solve every challenge that arises. Your love and commitment to your child are what truly matter.
Daily Mindfulness Practice: Dedicate a few minutes each day to practice mindfulness or meditation. This will help you center yourself, let go of the need for control, and embrace the present.
Create a Support System: Find or create a mother's support group, whether in person or online. Share your experiences, listen to others, and remember that you're not alone in your feelings.