Musings on (Working) Motherhood: What if you could use your left brain to ease mummy guilt?
Week 3 of mindfulness training and I’m kind of flagging. I’m no longer as anxious but I’m also forgetting to be mindful quite a bit. But what I do like is the concept of remaining non-judgemental. Which is something I know us mamas have a problem with. We are our harshest critics, and I’ve been thinking a lot about why this is. Why is it that we often feel we aren’t “good mothers”?
The pressure to be a “good mother” is insidious and relentless; it comes from the messages that our culture delivers to us, and no more so than on Mother’s Day. Here are some of the quotes about mothers that are often shared on social media, and usually framed with flowers, butterflies and images of beautiful babies and smiling mothers. How do these make you feel about motherhood?
Of all the rights of women, the greatest is to be a mother.
A mother’s love is patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking; it never fails or falters, even though the heart is breaking.
God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers.
A mother’s heart is always with her children.
All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.
There is no greater good in all the world than to be a mother.
When we have calmed down, and had a cup of tea or a bit of sleep, or a cry on someone’s shoulder (or in the bathroom alone) we start to think a bit more logically. We’ve taken on a job that allows no breaks, no respite, no weekends. The level of support varies widely. We have irrational, demanding bosses who wake us up at all hours of the night and insist on insanely early starts. I know of no job that asks for all of this. Even carers of disabled or elderly relatives are cognisant of the need for respite – this is arranged on a regular basis, overnight respite is available and short term respite too. But with motherhood, it’s as though the right brain has taken over – the part of the brain that deals with emotions, instinct, human relationships, the big picture – and the left brain (the logical, rational side) has no say. Perhaps we truly believe that we can put up with these conditions because it’s all worth it – the smiles, the hugs, you know the drift.
I’ve been reading a great book called “Whole Brain Child“ by a psychiatrist Dan Siegel who explains how to help your children integrate their right and left brains. When a child is overwhelmed by their right brain – paralysed with fear or extreme emotion – you firstly empathise and connect with them. Give them a hug, use non-verbal communication, and say what you see. “You look really upset”. “That must be really hard.” Then you can start to use the left brain – the logic, the language.
I say that as mothers, we need to empathise – with each other (which most of us do so well), but also with ourselves. Give ourselves a heartfelt hug. Say “It’s so hard being a mother at times”. “Those kids can really push our buttons”. “You’re having a tough day, aren’t you?”. Then start to be logical. “Of course I yelled – I was tired, I haven’t had enough sleep, I need more time to myself. I think I’ll get someone to watch the kids for an hour while I go out for a walk. I need to look after myself better”. Integrate our right and left brains – starting with empathy. Use our left brains a lot more – which is something fathers are a lot better at than mothers. They generally don’t suffer from guilt the way mothers do (though everyone is an individual, I know) – they can talk themselves through a situation and stop short of blaming themselves. When a dad goes to work, he is less likely to worry endlessly about not being some angelic caregiver at home with his children – he just goes to work. Because he is a breadwinner, because he has a career, because he has a mortgage, etc. End of story. It doesn’t mean fathers don’t care about their families – they are simply more rational about how it all works.
So, I’m going to reframe those quotes in a manner that I find more logical. I hope you enjoy them – and that the quotes bring you more joy and less guilt.
Of all the rights of women, being a mother is one of them – as is having personal freedom, financial independence, education, and personal safety.
A mother’s love is often patient and forgiving when all others are forsaking; but it sometimes fails or falters, because the heart is breaking. At that time, mum might just need some time to herself – everyone deserves personal space and quiet time.
God could not be everywhere and therefore he made mothers. And fathers. And grandmothers and grandfathers, and aunties and uncles, cousins, teachers, nannies, caregivers and babysitters. And chocolate.
A mother’s heart is always with her children. But to have the freedom and space to know her own soul and spirit makes this heart a lighter one.
All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my mother, who was not always an angel, but she did the best she could, always. I also owe a lot to my father, my siblings, my extended family, my teachers, my friends, books, walks in the park, time to myself to think, the opportunity to fail, the opportunity to learn from sadness, meditation, and chocolate.
There is no greater good in all the world than to be a compassionate, empathetic human being. If you’re a parent, you’re sent on a journey to discover how to be a better person in order to teach your children the same thing. You are not immediately a better person just because you gave birth to or fathered a baby. But with grace and self-awareness, you just might become a better person.