What’s more socially acceptable than being a good mom?? It has been a great place to hide. This might not be your story, but I think you’ll see how this can happen. And why it needs to stop.
I have appreciated the idolization of motherhood as much as the next mom—okay, maybe not—it usually makes me super uncomfortable, and I become profoundly aware of how I am not measuring up. But there have been some lovely benefits: the warm smiles of strangers over the years, helping hands while I manage a new baby, accolades for things my kids have done, and a WIDE and VARIED selection of ‘mom’ jewelry. What more could a girl ask for?
Well, let’s find out, shall we?
If you have read an article or done a google search for ‘how to be a good mom’, you will see info like ‘if you have ever left your house without a shower, you are a good mom’ or ‘a good mom is exhausted’, you know what I mean. And while there has been a shift in recent years towards being a healthy, self-actualized human to be a ‘good mom’, there is a lot of cultural expectations that being a ‘good mom’ means a lot of sacrifice.
(I don’t see this narrative for being ‘a good dad’. Interestingly, the number one thing for how to be a ‘good dad’ on the vast majority of lists was making time to be with your kids. I wonder how dads feel about this…)
I came across Shannon K. Evan’s book Rewilding Motherhood, and I could see my own story in her exposition on the social construct around motherhood and self-sacrifice.
She shares the story of an ancient image of a mother pelican piercing her own body to feed her children with her blood. She found the image very moving as she became a mother, this representation of a mother willingly sacrificing herself to take care of her young.
While I have never injured myself to feed my children (this gives me Twilight vibes, TBH) in my ongoing pursuit to be what I thought a ‘good’ mom was, I built a life that required me to want less and less for myself and more and more for my family. This reality became crystal clear for me when I connected with an executive coach a few years ago. Through a series of coaching sessions, I had a growing awareness around my feelings of resentment towards the awesome lives and pursuits my kids and hubby were getting to chase after. Largely because, in my version of the story, I was spinning all the ‘life’ plates and not making any requests for my own life that would possibly interfere with what they were doing.
Their amazing lives were possible BECAUSE OF ME and the sacrifices I made around my own life plan and happiness.
My friend Heather describes this as like being the safety net under ever growing skyscrapers. Those buildings can keep climbing without fear because they know there is a soft landing. And creating a soft landing when big dreams fall apart does resonate with being a ‘good mom’ for me.
To be clear, my hubby and three daughters have done the work in their lives to build and grow their individual high-rises. They have been brave and sacrificed and worked hard and been ready for the opportunities that came their way. I’m just saying it was easier because they had a super supportive ‘can do’ person in their corner who aligned the family unit to make all the things possible.
(Me, I was that person.)
Why was I mad about that? Helping amazing people you love do amazing things sounds pretty epic, amiright? And it IS.
Until you look around and remember that you ALSO want to do amazing things. The passion and talent and purpose you see in the kids you are rah-rahing, is in YOU, too. And I started to resent it.
The resentment had me thinking it had to be THEM or ME. And I’m a good mom, so of course, it was always them.
Until resentment started showing up as bitterness. And regret. And irritation. Depression. Angst. Sadness.
I could not give my family any more of myself. I used all my problem-solving, strategy, courage and energy to support them—I had nothing for myself. I was spent. As Evans says about that pelican mom,
“No one can bleed forever and hope to live.”
That’s what got me curious. How could I make peace with the THEM or ME thinking I had going on? If I shifted anything away from my kids and husband—wouldn’t they come crashing down? With all the years of sacrifice (mine and theirs) amounting to nothing?? How could I possibly be so selfish as to ask for a little bit of life for myself?
It turns out, that wasn’t the question to ask. Yes, of course there was going to be an impact on our family life if I shifted some of the responsibilities onto the high-rise builders and resources towards me. Balls would likely be dropped. (They were.) People would take things on and not do them ‘right’. (Omg, yep.) There might be a slowdown in the building while family resources shifted around. (This was a hard one for me and meant I had to allow others to participate in sacrificing things for their dreams to support me in mine.)
Because the salient question was actually, “What have I been blaming them for all these years that is really me being afraid to build my own thing?”
Being in the support role creates a really lovely place to hide. And it means lots of praise from our culture because it is what a ‘good mom’ does. My kids are great and doing great and I am standing by with snacks and a minivan to cart them all the places. My husband’s career is going well in part because I encourage him to take on the project with all the travel to advance his skills and visibility. It means I am too busy to think about why I feel unhappy when I have so much goodness in my life! I don’t time to think about what that niggling in my heart and mind could be about.
And it’s actually kinda nice not to know, because if I knew I might want to do it and if I wanted to do it, I would have to look at what would need to change and what’s not working in my life, which would lead me to look at what I was resentful about and if the expectations I was making up about my role in the family was what was keeping me from exploring the nudges and longing in my heart.
(Coaching involved a lot of me crying with these realizations. And once I recognized that I had been using being a ‘good, sacrificial, socially applauded mom’ to hide behind and stay small, I couldn’t unknow it.)
No one in my family was asking me to bleed to death for their cause. And it seems I was doing a lot of self-inflicted bleeding for no reason. It created a lot of pressure on everyone else to succeed at what they were doing because of the sacrifice involved. I don’t think it created the nurturing, safe place I meant it to be for my kids-where falling was part of the journey.
I had to decide if I was going to keep throwing my family under the bus or if I was going to be brave.
Brave meant getting clear about where I was unhappy and finding strategies to change those things. It meant making clear requests for family resources (money for classes, help with household responsibilities, support and cheering as I did hard things!). Being brave meant noticing where I was co-dependent, an area of on-going growth: I can be happy and thriving even if other people in the family are not in this exact season.
My coach asked me to describe my ‘mother’s determination’ that I used to solve problems, strategize and plain get.things.done for my kids and husband. We talked about how my daughters got to see that kind of fierceness and courage for them and what they are learning about motherhood.
And then she asked me what it would be like if I used that for myself. What if I had me cheering me on? I am an EXCELLENT support person for people building awesome things. What if I had me in MY corner?
Well, let’s find out, shall we?