This essay was originally published on amyandilana.com.
There is information out there that is fully accessible to us if we know how to look for it. There are words available that define the experiences we’re all living right now, because none of them are actually unique to us. Words are the bridge that connect our internal selves with our external selves and that allow us to live genuinely and authentically every single day of our lives. Look for these words in books, in internet articles, hear what the women around you are saying and open yourself to receive the messages being offered. These messages are the key to finding balance in our lives as mothers and as women.
Finding Balance In Motherhood
Is it even possible to find balance in motherhood? Isn’t this idea one of those ideal constructs designed to make us feel badly about ourselves and work harder to try to make up for our lacks? Our gut instinct was to tell you all that there is no such thing. It’s a ruse. It’s a joke. It’s an illusion. It doesn’t exist. But this isn’t a helpful approach and it doesn’t address the fundamental issues that challenge us, as mothers in 2016. What does help is to have an open, honest and REAL discussion about what motherhood needs to look like, in all its beautiful shades of the rainbow, to US, the holders of the title.
Suffering thrives in the space between expectation and reality. Suffering is defined as, “the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship.” Suffering tends to be considered a default state of the human existence. Many cultures hold suffering up as an ideal state, with the implication that joy, bliss and pleasure are all pathways to sin and eternal damnation. None of this is absolute. None of this is even true! None of this makes room for the potential of our spirits, for our capacity to give and receive love, to nurture, to nourish, and to fully live our birthright as women and mothers. Suffering is a choice, for the most part, and we’re hoping that by the end of this talk you’ll see where we are coming from.
“Many of us find ourselves living far from the communities we thought we’d be raising our kids, and without the support of extended family.”
The Wide Spectrum of Mothering
In Dr. Christiane Northrup’s book, Mother Daughter Wisdom, the author floats the concept of mothering styles. It is so helpful to determine where you fall on the styles spectrum.
On the one end of the spectrum is the full-time, stay-at home mother who is completely fulfilled by the act of nurturing her children. On the other end is the driven mother with her own passions to pursue outside the home. And in between are many, many beautiful shades of pink and purple and yellow and green and all the colours of the rainbow.
Remember, life is fluid. Rigid thinking, self-denial, martyrdom, deprivation – all words that have been attached in some way to the state of motherhood – none of these states are at all helpful in any way, shape or form, past driving us deeper into that space that encourages our suffering.It is important to understand that your mothering style is yours alone to choose, and cannot be imposed upon you by external factors.
When assessing your position on the spectrum, please take a few moments to consider context. We are not our mothers. We are not mothering in the same era as our mothers. Often we are not even mothering in the same cultural context as our mothers. Many of us are finding ourselves living far from the communities within which we thought we’d be raising our kids, and without the support of extended family. Raising children, as a biological imperative for our species, is meant to happen in small groups of 50 or so people. It does not happen this way for the vast majority of North American families. The Judeo-Christian nuclear family is a relatively modern, post-agricultural revolution construct that does not take into account the community oriented nature of the human condition. And for better or for worse, depending on your viewpoint, this idea merits considerable focus when talking about why it feels so hard to find balance in motherhood.
So back to mother styles – I was so completely gratified to find my own archetype so clearly laid out in Dr. Northrup’s book. Her description of her own mother’s style suited me to a T:
At one end of the spectrum is the nontraditional mother or nurturer, the woman who is primarily turned inward toward meeting creative needs that come from deep within her. This type of mother has to take care of these needs if she is to remain emotionally balanced and physically healthy. My mother falls into this category. In women like my mother, activating the motherhood and nurturing circuits tends to take a toll physically unless they also have a lot of practical support. Though they love their children as much as anyone, they are not biologically wired for motherhood to fulfill them totally at the deepest levels. For my mother, skiing and other outdoor activities were as necessary as oxygen. When we were little, instead of missing a day of skiing, she’d bundle us all up and take us with her, putting one of us on skis between her legs and one in a backpack. We all learned to ski by the age of two! – See more at: http://www.drnorthrup.com/embrace-your-unique-mothering-style/#sthash.EZjLEyI0.dpuf
My business partner, Amy, sees herself as existing not quite as absolutely on one end as I feel I do. She might have identified with the full-time, stay-at home mother who is completely fulfilled by the act of nurturing her children archetype early on in my mothering career. However, she felt she was plain old lucky and had some inspired guidance from trusted women around her to help her be able to adjust and adapt as my circumstances and my desires so dictated. That is a huge lesson: life is fluid and can and should change. Just because we “sign up” for something early on in our lives, doesn’t mean we can’t change that as we grow and as our needs change. She now identifies as a blend of the traditional mother and the archetype with which I identify. She enjoys and see the value in nurturing her children, spending time with them on long hikes or helping them with homework. She also finds immense gratification in professional, physical and emotional fulfilment that mothering alone does not provide. And, best of all, she recognizes the latter as not just okay, but vital.
You’re probably wondering why we’ve asked you to look at where you feel you fall on the spectrum of styles. It’s less important to understand where you fall because, again, life is fluid and your alignment on it can change with time, than it is to understand what seeing yourself fall, in the contest of all the different styles, and all the variations on the theme, means.
“Suffering can be caused simply by setting standards so high that we can never hope to achieve them.”
It means PERMISSION. And permission, fellow mothers, is a major gift that we deny ourselves and that we deny each other. We deny ourselves the permission to mother our children, and, even more fundamentally, to mother ourselves, in the manner that truly, and most deeply, suits US.
Suffering, in this context, means the inability to meet the expectations we’ve set for ourselves, and the pain we experience because of this. Emotional pain, even though it leaves no obvious marks or bruises, is pain nonetheless. Over time, unaddressed emotional pain manifests as physical pain as the body does what it needs to gain our attention and find solutions to the problems we’ve created for ourselves. Suffering is the result of setting ourselves up for failure by setting standards so high that we can never hope to achieve them.
Without granting ourselves permission we cannot bridge that space between reality and expectation, so we remain in the suffering. And because we are conditioned, by virtue of our time and place and cultural restrictions/limitations/biases/choices, it doesn’t occur to us to to even begin to question the root of our unrest.
What’s Wrong With The Current Paradigm of Motherhood
If it is the case that everyone else is thriving within the current paradigm, and we can’t seem to figure out how to fit to it, then there must be something wrong with us, right? All those other women are out there pursuing careers, while at the same time managing to keep perfectly tidy homes, make it to all the kids’ soccer games, regaining their beach bodies by the time their babies are six weeks old, going out to dinner without the baby and with their spouses, etc. On the other hand, there are all these women who are happily spending their days fully immersed in the joys of their children’s childhoods, stomping in puddles, Pinteresting perfectly, feeding their kids three healthy meals a day, and LOVING it.
It certainly looks like all of that, anyways, especially through the warped lens that is social media. And if they are all appearing to make it work and we don’t feel that we are then we must be the problem, right?
Wrong. Firstly, we’ve read this time and time again but somehow our eyes, our desires, our self-judgement and our ever-present, well-designed drive to seek to improve our situations, do not allow us to see past the gloss and filters to the truth of the situation – we can never find anything resembling balance if we do not understand that by conforming to the dictates of poorly fitting paradigms we are compromising our souls.
And while compromise, as a concept, is an essential and powerfully constructive tool for navigating relationships, in this case we are referencing the term in the context that it implies “a weakening of a principle by accepting standards that are lower than is desirable”. We are lowering our standards too far, and in order to cater to the condemnation of external forces. And this hurts, a lot.
“How do you want to live? What is your ideal motherhood scenario?”
The Power of Choice
We have all chosen, whether or not we’re ready to accept that, the circumstances that have led us to our current states of existence. This is a huge discussion and bears enough weight that it could fill the agenda for many, many talks. But it is important to keep the concept at the forefront of this conversation, though, because it is incredibly relevant and critical.
We’d like to take the opportunity to ask you to consider the choices you are making that you don’t realize are choices. We both speak with a lot of women on a daily basis and an overwhelming theme, especially amongst mothers of young children, is to justify the outcome, usually unfavourable, by suggesting that she had no choice in the matter. To what extent is this true? To what extent is the place that that mother is in now an outcome of the series of choices she made along the way? And how broad does her perspective need to be in order to fully be able to appreciate how much control she had over said choices, which influenced the, possibly avoidable, outcome?
How do you want to Live?
How do you want to live? What is your ideal motherhood scenario? Does it involve staying at home full-time and participating 100% in your kids’ childhoods? Or does it look like a full-time, fulfilling pursuit of your passions, whatever they may be, with your kids happily doing their own thing in parallel, learning from your example? Or does it fall somewhere in between?
Sit with that. Think about it. Hold it. Taste it. See it. And now, as yourself what it is that is stopping you from living that vision and making it your reality?
The answers may come to you immediately. Or they may only manifest over time. There’s no rush. But it is an essential question to ask ourselves if we want to really understand how to find balance.
We will go back to the word permission as one of our central themes over and over again, and we’re going to inject it into the discourse again right now. Keep it in the forefront of your thoughts.
The Overriding of our Intuition
Living in North America in 2016 is highly advantageous in so many ways. We have access to quality health care, to nourishing food, to social support, to clean air and water. But speaking from this position of relative privilege that so many of us are blessed with, we can tell you of one MAJOR disadvantage – we are conditioned to completely ignore our intuition as mothers.
Whatever your belief system, whatever your connect or disconnect with the higher powers, the simple truth of the matter is that our authority to mother our children, however they have presented themselves to us and in whatever form, is our divine right. And by suggesting otherwise, by virtue of having been conditioned to believe that motherhood is a privilege that needs to be proven and earned, our connection to our innate wisdom and intuition is violently severed. And the damage from this act of violence can run deep and extend in many directions.
“We have the ability to transform any energy that comes our way from something negative to something positive.”
Let’s talk about a few of the factors that can interfere with our connection to our instinct.
From the second a woman decides to become a mother, society springs into action to find ways to lead her to question her inner wisdom. Did I get enough folic acid in my diet to prevent possible neural tube defects? I had a few drinks and didn’t know I was pregnant and what are the possible implications for my baby? My due date is set and it feels like a directive and an absolute. My baby right have genetic abnormalities and I have to have very invasive testing to determine that s/he is “okay”. I haven’t been eating properly so I have to be on prenatal vitamins that make me sick. I want to give birth in the comfort of my own home but this is dangerous and risky and I’m selfishly putting my baby’s life at risk.
And once the baby comes we are sleep deprived and sometimes irrational. Our community is lacking. We feel pressure to be back on our feet, attending to our household tasks and other children, within hours. We have no experience of nourishing, nurturing mothering because our own mothers weren’t available so we have to figure out what that looks like. The baby’s father or grandmother needs their own desire to connect with the baby met on their own terms, so we consent to allowing them to bottle feed the baby when we feel strongly about exclusively breastfeeding. And so on and so on. And because we’re drowning in the truly exhausting reality of our now, we grab, in desperation, to any life raft that gives us some hope of being able to keep our heads above water, to keep breath flowing through our bodies. We compromise where we shouldn’t be expected to. In the meantime, we are sucked dry of all our resources, with no opportunity to replenish, no way to plug into the current that would recharge and refresh us. We are dried up shells of who we once were, chewed up, partially digested and regurgitated by the great beast of the disconnect.
The Power to Transform
But the damage is reparable. We are born to heal. Life continues. Energy can never be destroyed. It can only be redirected and converted, channelled, cultivated, expanded and reinterpreted. We have the ability to transform any energy that comes our way from something negative to something positive. And the first step to achieving this goal is by bringing awareness to the potential. If you didn’t know before that YOU have this power, well, now you do!
Life as mother to small babies/children tends to be short lived. Assuming no extenuating circumstances, kids grow up and become more independent. They start sleeping through the night, on their own, without forcing anything, around the age of 3 or 4, and begin to develop their own autonomy between 5 and 7. We start finding ourselves with maybe a smidge more time on our hands. We start to catch up on the years of missed sleep and regain some energy. We find the space to start reflecting on who we were before we had babies and who we might become now in this new version of ourselves. We’ve died and been reborn with each new being we ushered into this life with our bodies and our souls. We’ve undergone profound physical, emotional and spiritual evolutions and may only now bear a passing resemblance to the women we once were, if at all. Those women may not even exist anymore.
And yet, we’re EXPECTED to identify with our pre-baby selves. We’re expected to give birth and then be ready for intimacy again six weeks later. We’re expected to be happy on three broken hours of sleep, with swollen, painful, leaky breasts and oozing incisions. We can’t find people who will listen when we talk about the bleakness and the feelings of hopelessness and despair that threaten to drown us. And if we can find someone who will listen, their solution will come in the form of measures to further mute our pain and our voices and these very real feelings and drive them deeper into our souls where they will fester and grow and manifest in physical ways down the road. The body does not distinguish between emotional and physical pain.
“Balance can never be achieved if the needs of one person are sacrificed to the cause.”
What do we really need?
What we need that we don’t get, and what will help curb the rising epidemic of postpartum depression, is not more silencing of our voices. It’s a two-fold offering of help without strings attached or expectation of repayment, and, more importantly, it’s us understanding that it is okay to ASK for help, ask for what we need, and that we deserve to get what we are asking for. It’s permission to admit that we are not feeling happy in these roles that many of us yearned for from the time we were little and that others of us have found ourselves fulfilling without quite as much premeditation. It’s okay to say that the labels don’t fit, that they feel like shackles and chains and like our oxygen supply is being cut off. (insert image of a goddess in chains) Only when we give ourselves permission to voice these feelings, and many more, when we’ve owned the fact that it was our decisions and choices that led us to be in the uncomfortable, unjust, unfair and unrealistic positions that we find ourselves in, that we can realize that it’s not, in fact, that we can’t fit the box, but rather that the box can never fit us, only then can we figure out how to exist, with any modicum of balance, in the role of motherhood.
What is balance?
Let’s define the word “balance”. As a noun it means an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady. It also implies a condition in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportion.
As a verb it means to keep or put something in a steady position so it does not fall, and to offset or compare the value of one thing or another.
All definitions can be applied quite easily to the expectations of motherhood, can they not? But balance can never be achieved, no matter how we choose to define it, if the needs of one person are sacrificed to the cause. Again, it is a Judeo-Christian construct that martyrdom equals goodness, but this construct can never account for the deeply damaging impact on humanity that such sacrifice will imply.
Recognition of what we have lost
Parenthood involves sacrifice. NO question there. Sacrifice is defined as destruction, of surrender of something for the sake of something else, or something given up or lost.
We have experienced loss. Fellow mothers, we have lost a lot. We have sacrificed. This is an inevitability when we chose motherhood. We know this. We accept it. Most of us would be willing to sacrifice our own lives for our children. But in order to find peace with this loss, in order for balance to have a hope of being regained, we need to give ourselves permission to mourn our losses. And we don’t. And, as a counterweight to this argument, we might discover that we have given up and written off as lost more than we needed to.
“Balance can never be achieved if the needs of one person are sacrificed to the cause.”
The “Good” Mother
A “good” mother is a nurturer at all times. A “good” mother lives through her children. A “good” mother doesn’t grieve for the loss of her flat belly, her perky breasts, her sex drive, her sex appeal, her time to pursue her passions or read a book, her ability to finish ONE task without interruption, etc.
Well, screw the “good” mother label. I certainly don’t fit it. Amy certainly doesn’t fit it. We’ll tell you what we think a “good” mother looks like.
A “good” mother is real. A good mother is raw. A good mother is tired and drawn and sometimes yells at her spouse and her children at the slightest provocation. A good mother owns her rage and her anger and her desire for far more than external forces have conditioned her to believe she’s entitled to, because she understands her value. She understands that giving birth does not erase her identity and does not limit her to a lifetime of servitude if this is not what she chooses for herself. A good mother understands that she still exists, that she still has needs and desires and wants and passions.
We are Still Women
Mothers are still women. While most of us disappear into the role because the construct to which most of our societies now conform is SO poorly designed and it turns into a survival game, the fact is that by drawing attention to very real problem we’re taking the first steps towards reclaiming our identities.
From a species-driven perspective it can be argued that motherhood is the essence of womanhood. This doesn’t mean that if we haven’t physically birthed children we can’t be women. Creation is actually the essence of motherhood, in the sense that the seat of all creation lies in our pelvic organs and forges our connection to the Divine. And giving birth, as a concept, is not limited to pushing a new human being out of our bodies. We can give birth to projects, to ideas, to scenarios, to space, to OURSELVES, over and over and over again. When our desire or need or opportunity to procreate physically comes to an end, for WHATEVER reason, a space opens that allows the birth of the rest of us, and of all the other aspects of our lives that require mothering. This can also happen concurrently, as we physically birth our children. There are no rules and the fewer boundaries we impose on ourselves, the freer we become to live authentic lives.
What do you think of that? What does this idea do for you? How does it change your perception of yourself? Does it leave you with feelings of sadness or feelings of joy? Does it leave you more confused or does it give you perspective and clarity on your situation?
If you’ve never encountered the idea of the pelvic organs being the seat of creation from any other perspective than the black and white version of the picture, then we invite you to now make space for this idea to seed itself. Throughout our lives we pass through stages of our femininity, and in the past, in other cultures, these stages would have been honoured and valued for what they are. NONE of these stages would have paled in comparison to any other. All flow into each other seamlessly (at least in theory) and none can exist outside the context of the other. Our past, present and future selves are one.
And in EVERY stage of our life we exist, and have the power to fully enjoy the now. And because of our own existence many others exist. We are, each and every one of us, critical to the survival of the species.
“Motherhood in 2016 is an isolating and lonely experience for most. It’s not supposed to be like that.”
Making Space. Holding Space.
Amy and I launched our new platform with a vague understanding of why it needed to exist. As linear time elapses and the project roots deeper and deeper within the collective psyche, we’re starting to be able to write mission statements and define our individual roles. These roles will continue to evolve and transform as time goes by and we surrender to the fluidity of our lives.
But the concept that is hitting the hardest is the understanding of what happens when women start to look into their hearts and hear themselves crying, “Hey! What about me? I exist! Please don’t forget about me!”
The second a woman offers her suffering to the collective, and not as a complaint or to further a victim status, but to understand that her suffering is both her responsibility and the responsibility of the collective, and it’s up to her to decide if her current existence is sustainable or something needs to change, she makes space. She makes space for not only her own growth, but she invites others into her space and holds it for them to find the room to make their own space, and to invite others in. This powerful phenomenon is known as the butterfly effect. Though the next phrase is one that is maybe getting a touch overused as an internet meme, it truly is a question of being the change you want to see in the world.
This is what is missing from the current paradigm of motherhood. The holding of space for each other. Motherhood in 2016 is an isolating and lonely experience for most.
It’s not supposed to be like that. If it feels like that for you, hear us when we say IT’S NOT YOU. There is nothing wrong with you. You are doing what you can with the tools you were given. But how can you build a house with half a toolbox? How can you lay bricks if your foundation is crumbling? How can you climb a ladder with no rungs?
We’ve been sold a false paradigm and that’s why it hurts so much. That’s why we can’t find balance.
Without sisterhood, without community, motherhood happens in a void. It exists in a vacuum. And, as we are taught, nature abhors a vacuum. The empty space needs filling. And it’s our suffering that’s going to fill it, because being alone is pain to humans. We don’t do well alone. Alone means no nurturing, no love, no support, no space. Again, our nature is tribal. Our nature is sisterhood. Our nature is community. If we don’t receive we don’t have it in us to offer.
So far it looks like we’ve told you a story of despair and no hope and doom and more suffering. Or have we? We’ve pointed out everything you don’t have and everything you don’t know how to find. YET. That’s the key – the YET. You don’t know how to find it yet. And you know why you don’t know how to find it yet? Because you didn’t know that everything you don’t think you have available to you right now is actually your birthright. That it’s yours by divine right. That you can ask for it and expect to receive. That your reality and your expectation can be one and the same. And that access to all this is in you, right there, under your nose, where you were least likely to look.
The creation of your space needs to start right now. Not tomorrow, not next week, not when you’ve had more sleep or the last child weans. NOW. This minute. You’ve started the cascade by simply showing up here today. You’ve opened your ears and your hearts to us and for this short period of time that we’re together in person, you’ve let us hold you. And by letting us hold you in our space we’ve made room for you to create your space and to live your life there.
Achieving balance is possible. What is not possible is expecting it to look like something you can’t be. And the possibility lies in understanding that finding balance the way society tells you you should be able to find it would require you to be two people – a mother and a woman, as separate entities. This isn’t possible, in this dimension anyways.
Make space for you. Make space to weep and moan and wail and cry and mourn. And then make space for your rebirth, for your power to flow through you and to the full ownership of the circumstances that led to where you are now. Put TIME aside for you. Commit to what looks like self-indulgence on a regular basis, without fail, as a directive from you to yourself. Sign up for a dance class. Join a book group. Get a weekly massage. Book a standing coffee date with a friend. Because none of this is self-indulgent. It’s all a message to yourself that you are not a sacrificial lamb, that you exist and deserve to take up space, to be seen, to be nurtured, to be loved. Because we guarantee you, if you don’t make that space for yourself the people in your life will not offer it to you. But by offering it to yourself you set the stage, you make the space, and then you can watch everything you’ve been missing up until now come pouring in to fill it.
This is how it works. This is balance. This is authentic living and this is life. Give it a try and let us know what you think!