When years ago, I was asked to write an article about motherhood, I started by describing how much mothers are venerated in this world. What came to mind were Madonna paintings, statues of Mother Mary, all the symbols in art and culture where mothers are depicted in an aura of holiness and reverence. The person who was supporting me with writing the article frowned as she read that section and said ‘mmm, no, mothers are some of the most abused and disregarded beings on this Earth’. As she gave examples I could see how there is Motherhood as a Concept, an idea that is revered and adored in our consciousness, but when it comes to the actual people, the moms themselves, that isn’t necessarily the case. I could see that… somewhat. However, it’s only now that I’ve become a mother myself that I really grasp what she meant.
It’s a thankless job, being a mother. When we as women are at a peak in our own lives, still young enough to have the energy and gusto to start projects, or new ventures, eager to see what we’re capable of and what we can create this life – but also with a maturity to know how to go about it responsibly, sustainably, to not just follow some whim but doing things because they matter – at this age and stage in a woman’s life is when children tend to be born. And little do we really know what it means to raise a child until it’s here, little do we know what dedication and care really mean until it is required of us to fully live those words not only for our own sake, but for that of another. Little do we know what it means to put the breaks on our personal goals and lives to make way for a new one.
When becoming a mother, the game is suddenly ‘on’. Our ideas of ourselves are challenged to the max and put to the test. Our inadequacies are mercilessly revealed and we are demanded to change them yesterday. We’re scrutinized by other family members, friends, and in this day-and-age, parents across the world. We’ve got a job description that no sane and self-respecting person would be willing to accept, no matter the pay… (Would you respond to an ad asking for: “a personal assistant (down to clothing, feeding, ass-wiping), a nurse in cases of injury or illness of your employer, an advocate, a life coach, a project manager, an event planner, a chauffeur, a crisis manager, a conflict resolution expert, a teacher, an entertainer, a maid, a waitress, and whatever else may be required to ensure the day to day well-being of your employer, whose life you will be 100% responsible for. Your employer also has no way of expressing themselves effectively, so most of the time you have to guess what is asked and needed of you and hope you’ve got it right. Objects may be thrown at your head if you get it wrong. Your time, body, life will no longer be your own and will stand in complete service of another.” No, you wouldn’t – but a stay-at-home mom works this job 24/7 with no pay at all.)
So, while we’re facing the most challenging task of our lives, and do our damnedest to be the best mom we can be (but most days, really, are happy if we can just keep up and don’t lose it in one way or another) – we go through quite a process of change. Yes, there are actually many moments of growth, accomplishments, lessons learnt, breakthroughs. The thing is… they are often internal, or with external ones, they often just seem too insignificant to be worth a mention or a consideration from the outside world (so you found out why your child has diarrhea and managed to nurse them back to health with diet change… uhh… okay, great, I suppose…). Contrary to the Concept of Motherhood, actual mothers are not continuously met with praise, worship, recognition and gratefulness. More often than not, it’s disregard, discontent, misunderstanding, preconceptions, opinions and judgments they’re met with. Mothers, their responsibility and their task are taken for granted. While you may want to demand respect or recognition for some accomplishment, or really, just for being a mother without losing your marbles – how do you frame that demand? Because, you see, there’s so many moms out there, and they all seem to be doing ‘just fine’, and there’s been moms since the dawn of time, so whatever idea you’ve got about your little victory or accomplishment being worthy of… anything… well, you might as well just forget about it.
And what about the tiny humans you’re doing all this for? Well they may say thank you when you hand them something, or give you flowers on mother’s day, they might even recite you a poem. But when it comes down to seeing what you’re going through, what you have gone through, what you’ve given up for them, how you’ve fought for them, how you’ve kept it together for them, how you’ve reinvented yourself for them – well, that’s just who you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to be, I mean, you’re mom.
The worst perhaps are not the days when you run around all day, stretching yourself thin, barely making it to appointments and classes, at the end of the day being exhausted and swiftly falling asleep… those are still okay, because at least it feels like you did something. The worst are the days where what’s needed of you is just to ‘be there’. Hours of living on standby – can’t really get into anything else, because the interruptions are too frequent and you’re still moving around and following your kid(s) around to keep them within eyesight, perfecting that balance of being there but also keeping a distance because they’re learning about independence. A seemingly constant state of ‘doing nothing’… And then come the imaginations of all the things you would’ve been able to do with this time if you didn’t have to just ‘be there’ for the kids, imagine what you would’ve accomplished by now. And at the end of the day, you feel like you did nothing, accomplished absolutely nothing, and tomorrow you start all over again – just being there, on standby.
When first stepping out of my usual routine to make space for being a mom, I could see things with new eyes. Where before I was clouded by the experience of ´not having enough time´ with all the different things I was already juggling, stepping back from it, I could suddenly see so many opportunities, so many things to do and create, so many new ways to go about things. Yet, it sucked, cause, I had a daughter now and had decided to dedicate myself and my time to her, so while all these ideas were pouring in, I had no way of pursuing them. Later, I told myself, time will open up again, patience. When two years later that time has not really opened up as much as I´d hoped, it became harder to remain optimistic, I started losing touch with those sparks of passion and started feeling disconnected from myself, feeling like I was a ghost of my former self, reduced now to just a presence.
Sure, it’s worth it, you know all those hours, days, weeks, months, years spent, will (hopefully) amount to a functional human being in the future. Unfortunately, there’s no visible link with what you’re putting in and what may be coming out. At the end of the day you don’t feel like you just finished the project of creating ‘responsibility’ in your child and tomorrow it will be on to the next goal – no, you hope that who you were and what you did contributes to planting and nurturing a seed of responsibility, you did your best, maybe something will come of it, maybe not, no one knows, time will tell.
I had come to a point of quiet acquiescence – letting go of any hopes of recognition and understanding, let alone gratefulness.
And just as I let go…, I started noticing something…
Even if I’d had days of utter frustration, demoralization, boredom, exhaustion, lethargia, or all of the above – there comes that moment when my daughter is finally asleep and I put her in bed, turn off the light, and am ready to close the door, and just as I’m about to pull the door closed, I look at her… and I pause… and I just stand and look at her, and I find myself overcome with gratefulness, my heart filling with humble pride (if there is such a thing), bathing in the honor of watching and helping this little one grow, of walking life with her, of being her mom.
It’s the strangest experience, to be looking for something for days, weeks, months, years, thinking I must give up on ever receiving it from anyone, to in a moment be full of it – that gratefulness, that recognition, that honor, that understanding. Puzzled by those experiences, I looked over my days and I could see how often that experience is actually here in and with me: when I see her interacting with other people, kids or animals, when I see her learning something new, when I see her celebrating what seems to be a completely ordinary event, when I see her make funny faces or make a joke, or when she looks straight in my eyes and smiles. But it’s one of those experiences I hadn’t really taken note of, I would barely even ‘register them’ consciously, almost actually thinking I shouldn’t be feeling that way. Afraid, perhaps, that I’ll let my adoration for my daughter ‘go to my head’, afraid, perhaps, of being ‘one of those parents’ who think their child is particularly amazing, special, extraordinary and deserving of a higher status and position in some way because of it. So, as soon as those moments and experiences of gratefulness would come up, I would suppress them, deny myself them, keep them at bay – until that time at night, when no one is watching and it’s just me and my daughter and she’s off to sleep, only then, finally, would I surrender.
So, I decided to find out: what was I feeling so grateful for? I wanted to understand my own experience, check if there was some delusions of grandeur playing a part or what else this was all based within.
There is a ‘something’ about being a person’s mom. I don’t have a word for it, it’s quite indescribable, so forgive me if my attempt doesn’t quite do it justice…
It’s like having access to a secret world, a world where every detail matters, where moments are wondrous, where experiences are savored, where life is celebrated, it’s like being part of this common world we all live in, but also being part of this other, hidden, thriving one where anything is still possible. Seeing your child interact with the world invites you as their parent to see the world through their eyes as well. We’ve taken so much of what exists for granted, most things fall to the background of our awareness, no longer worthy of our attention or exploration. The natural world, the feel of a surface, the patterns in objects, the ways you can make different objects fit together, or not. The background of our lives is as much a part of it, and any child will treat it equally to anything and anyone else. So, we open our eyes, remembering there is more to life than the tiny fraction of this world that we’ve deemed as important enough to notice and interact with.
We also witness a child, a boundless potential, shape themselves, over time, develop and create themselves, helping us to see and realize the potential of life that is here, the extent of self-determination that exists and the ability of our physical bodies to learn, change and adapt. A body that is not yet conditioned and molded by the perceptions, inputs and beliefs of this world, is a different kind of body altogether. But as I would observe my daughter in her body, a part of me recognized her relationship with her body, a part of me remembered that I too was once in my body to the same extent as she was, living more physically, and less up in my head. It triggered a curiosity and I’ve allowed myself to reconnect with my own body, get to know it again, learn to communicate with it more effectively and create a partnership with it. While I considered myself to always be quite in tune with my body growing up, with my experience as a dancer, it’s only in recent years that I realized and admitted to myself how far from the truth that belief really was. I had to work on my ideas, beliefs, perceptions, knowledge and fears around my body, put them into question and put them to the test, creating space for new understanding and a cautious, new trust in myself and my body.
And that’s just my relationship with my body – then there’s my relationship to every other aspect of this reality that I have to question, investigate and change if necessary. Because who I am was shaped over time and much of it happened in moments where I was not even aware that I was shaping myself. So, here I am and who I am as a person is the a result of years of decisions and choices that I made without even really fully knowing or understanding what decisions and choices I was making. Every day begs a new question about a part of myself and whether that part of me is really the example I want to set for my daughter, every question leading me on an inner quest firstly, to then share my correction with my daughter in my living actions.
Another major aspect I am grateful for, is that within rediscovering the world, and rediscovering myself in my world together with a child naturally starts bringing up parts of myself that I had long lost touch with. Parts that I hadn’t allowed myself to see and live since I was a little girl myself. In going back to simple things like playing with toys, drawing, kicking a ball around, it’s like I have the opportunity for a second childhood, this time, choosing not to forget this inner child, but merging it with my adult self to become a more wholesome, and, well, plain… happy human being.
Then there’s the intimacy and depth of relationship that I have with my daughter that I didn’t really know was possible between two people. To feel her being and body sinking into mine when I hold her, to pick up on her pain when she needs me to help her, or understand what she’s going through, to ‘instinctively’ know what to do in moments where my mind with all its knowledge and education has no clue what’s going on or what to do about it. Well, that’s a topic for a whole other blog… But it’s shown me what is possible, what to strive for not only in my relationship with my daughter, but also in my relationship with myself and others.
That’s a lot to be grateful for. Yes, my bursts of gratefulness come out often as I see my daughter, and it’s easy to believe that this means that my gratefulness is only for my daughter, that it might mean I think the world of her and only her, that she’s somehow special for making me ‘feel’ this way. But the truth is, it’s not about any of that. She’s been my catalyst, helping me get in touch with this secret world of parts of life that I had taken for granted, that I had disregarded, that I hadn’t honored. Every child can be that catalyst for someone, she just happens to be mine.
So, what is my point here, what am I getting at? From ranting about the ‘worst’ of motherhood and all my displeasures, to summing up all the things I am grateful for in being a mom, it might seem a bit bipolar, or it might seem like the latter is a means of suppressing the former. So – allow me to expand.
I had been looking for recognition, appreciation, understanding ‘out there’, waiting for others to recognize me, appreciate me, understand me – feeling alone and lost in a ‘mommy-is-all-I-am-bubble’ and waiting for someone else to tell me it’s all worth it, that I am doing great, waiting for someone else to see and recognize what I am doing even if it ‘looks like’ I am doing nothing… This appreciation and gratefulness that I was craving from others, however, had already been here, with me – from the moment I first held my daughter, all the way through to today. I just hadn’t allowed myself to really live it, to embrace it, in a way fearing the intensity of this gratefulness that I would at times be overcome by. Where was it suddenly coming from? Why would I feel this way with my own daughter and not with another child? Am I delusional?? Lol. I needed to understand this gratefulness, open it up, see it for what it is and realize it’s not just my child I am grateful for, it’s also myself and this second chance to discover myself, life and the world.
I had been stuck in a tunnel vision of feeling misunderstood, disregarded, invisible, unappreciated, not realizing the extent to which that is who I am in relation to such a big part of life. Consider the trees who daily provide us with oxygen, we take it for granted, but without them our existence would cease. Is it a solution, then, to say thank you to every tree that we encounter, and thank you to every other part of this physical world that makes our existence possible? Continuously ensuring they know we are grateful, that we appreciate, that we recognize them? It’s not, it’s all we would be doing, lol.
The solution to my dissatisfaction was within me all along, it’s for me to live gratefulness, it’s me who needs to understand and recognize myself.
In that sense, maybe mothers were never meant to be appreciated, maybe it would have stood in the way of finding and accepting the gift of our own gratefulness as we learn what it means to honor, regard, recognize and understand ourselves and the world around us. If we’d kept on receiving appreciation and gratefulness from others, we might never get in touch with our own gratefulness. Having finally allowed myself to be grateful, I realized that receiving thanks and validation from others would have been like a band-aid, would have ‘made me feel better for a moment’, but would not have allowed me to discover my own appreciation, my own gratefulness. And my own gratefulness, it is more than a gesture, more than a few words, more than a moment – it comes from the depth of my being and flows from me, in an instant placing into perspective every hardship, every challenge, every sacrifice, giving me the ability to remember them fondly and respect their place and purpose in the bigger picture – seeing all that was given and received, both ways, embracing that every giving was also a gift in itself.