Motherhood is the most challenging yet effortless, frustrating yet rewarding, exhausting yet invigorating…(okay, you get the picture)…job on earth. It could quite easily be the ultimate dichotomy: a big, beautiful mess — literally and figuratively. How are we, as mothers, to deal with all this emotion? Here are some thoughts from one mama to another on Finding Your Tribe, Mama Guilt, and Mom-Shaming.
A Dream Analogy
Motherhood is all-consuming. Even when you’re sleeping or out with friends, you’re on the clock. It’s the job that never stops. Ever since my babies were born I have a recurring dream (nightmare, really) about protecting them. The circumstances change, but the essence of the dream is always the same. One such dream happened last night.
I dreamt we were visiting my sister Meghan in Florida and there were alligators everywhere. Literally everywhere — even inside. I was frantically running around the house, putting up gates in an attempt to keep my boys contained in a protected space, only to find that when I blocked one entry another would open up. Someone would take my gate down. Or it would fall down. Or it would get knocked down. So I’d pick up my babes and run somewhere else to start all over again. There was no rest, and I couldn’t understand how everyone else was laughing and having a good time as if nothing insane was happening. (By the way, I do realize that baby gates wouldn’t keep alligators away in real life, but in my dream it was a solid defense).
Pretty dramatic right? But actually a good description of the pressure I feel on a daily basis to raise good little boys to become good men. Teaching them right from wrong in a broken world. Teaching them to forgive everyone always even when they aren’t sorry, because Christ forgave us while we were still sinners. Teaching them to respect people and to respect life. Teaching them life lessons that make running from alligators seem like a piece of cake. Maybe this resonates with some of you. So — what’s the solution? I don’t have the answer, but I have some thoughts on how we can help ourselves and other fellow mamas.
Find Your Tribe & Love ‘Em Hard
We all know the old adage “It Takes a Village” – could anything be more true? Find your village. You know who they are. These are the people you can call all hours of the night. The people who don’t dismiss your irrational fears, because though theirs may be different than yours, we all have them. They’re your biggest fans on social media. The people who know no judgment toward you. The people who share openly and don’t pretend like they have it all together, because none of us do. The people who have seen you at your absolute worst and still think you’re an incredible and resilient rockstar who deserves a medal at the end of every day (because you are, and you do). These are the people who love you unconditionally and support you endlessly, all the time, no matter what. Find them, share with them, support them, and love them so hard! They just might be the only thing holding you together in the early hours of the morning when your toddler is already awake screaming for milk you don’t have and your infant hasn’t allowed you a wink of sleep. Also, make an intentional effort to expand your tribe! Maybe you need them. Maybe they need you.
Mother or not, we all know guilt and how much it sucks. But Mama Guilt is different. How? I think the main difference in the way guilt presents itself in motherhood and why Mama Guilt stands in a category of its own has less to do with severity and more to do with scope. The weight of the remorse, embarrassment, and shame I felt when I got caught having a party at my parent’s house in high school was pretty similar to that I felt when I reacted to my toddler’s bad behavior last night by yelling at him and putting him to bed without his bedtime story (hmm, wonder what prompted the anxiety dream..). The difference is that Mama Guilt is constant:
- I stopped play time and insisted on baths even though my kids were having so much fun.
- I ran around outside with my kids all night and they really need a bath, but I skipped it because I was too tired.
- I shouldn’t have given my toddler that cookie.
- I shouldn’t have denied my toddler that cookie.
- I shouldn’t have gotten so upset when my toddler accidentally rolled over onto his baby brother.
- I should have been firmer when my toddler accidentally rolled over onto his baby brother so that he knows how important it is to be gentle.
Sound familiar? How do we break the vicious cycle? Here are some reminders for all you mamas out there:
- Your kids won’t remember 99.999999% of the things you feel guilty about.
- Cut yourself a break. You’re a well-intentioned mama and want the best for your children – that’s a fact regardless of the ways you may react or the decisions you make.
- You’re a person too, and you deserve attention and care and respect. If that means you order greasy pizza for dinner because it’s easier and you don’t feel like fighting or you skip bath time so you can go to bed earlier – that’s okay.
- You are perfect in your kids’ eyes.
I don’t have much to say about this, except: if you’re a mom and participate in mom-shaming in any capacity, you’re an asshole. At the same time, we all make mistakes. Here are three simple steps to make sure you aren’t contributing to the problem:
1) Acknowledge the fact that if you are a mom and you participate in mom-shaming, that makes you an asshole.
2) If you are participating in mom-shaming or observe others participating in mom-shaming and you recognize it as such in the moment, stop yourself and others immediately. Remind yourself and others not to be assholes.
3) If you participated in mom-shaming and only later realize how shitty you were, repent and vow to never do so again. Contact those you were mom-shaming with and admit you were assholes.
Let’s support each other, encourage each other, cut ourselves a break every once in a while and hold each other accountable — because we get it, we’ve been there, and we need each other.
We got this, mama bears! From my beautiful mess to yours, we’re in this together. 🙂