How to be a good mother isn't an easy tick list. As adults we get to a point where we succeed at most of what we do all day, every day. Then you become a mum and leaving the house is no longer as 'autopilot and easy' as it once was.
Not only can simple daily chores be a huge challenge in the first few months of motherhood, we also contend with giving birth, postnatal depression, sometimes postpartum psychosis (opens in new tab) and all while trying to function on a distinct lack of sleep (opens in new tab). Author and psychotherapist Anna Mathur (opens in new tab), is also a mother herself and here she shares her own challenges in motherhood. And, how the life-changing turning points are not always the ones you might expect...
"My motherhood life-changing moments are not from the obvious highs and precious milestones, instead they're from the murky, foggy times. I see this in my clients too. The moments that shape them in the most wonderful ways are more often in the deep dark valleys of motherhood and not upon the sunny look-at-me mountain tops.
With that in mind, here are a few of my biggest learnings for mothers battling with the stigma of not ‘having it all together’…
How to be a good mother: my biggest learnings
Not good enough is good enough
Mums, more so than dads, are bombarded with colourful and motivational promises. Promises like ‘You are enough’ and 'you've got this' and 'super hero'. And, while that is lovely to hear, it's not always a comforting message we can easily absorb.
I now realise that, often the reason you don’t feel good enough is because you are only one person. You aren't created to fulfil the number of roles you have - mother, wife, teacher, chef, employee, cleaner etc - to the high standard that is set.
So, the next time you don’t feel ‘good enough’, question whether it’s because you need to try harder, or because the bar of your standards is sitting out of your reach. We need a margin for humanness in the standards we place for ourselves, or the standards we accept as the norm.
How can you lower that bar to take your circumstances and resources into account? We are created to lean on one another. We humans are designed for community, but these days we so often feel like to lean on, depend on, or need others is seen as failure.
Let me tell you this… If vulnerability was a weakness, it wouldn’t be so challenging. Leaning on others and recognising where you have met your limits is both strength and bravery.
Consider how good it feels to support someone you care about. Perhaps this is a time to afford someone else the honour and joy of supporting you? If you feel able to speak to one person openly, be it a partner or friend, how might they advocate for you in the challenges you face? Perhaps they are able to hold a boundary around how many social engagements you agree to, or come with you to an appointment to be your voice if you find it hard to articulate how you’re feeling to someone you aren’t familiar with.
Ask once, and then ask again
Being a mother can feel lonely. It can feel like you're forgotten about. Well, did you hear about the #AskTwice campaign (opens in new tab)? It’s asking one another, and perhaps even yourself, if you’re really okay. When you check in on a fellow mum friend, ask her again how she’s doing. Perhaps she might feel more able to go a little deeper or more honestly into her answer, if she gets the sense you’d truly like to hear it.
Often, we can feel a bit fearful or defensive when we are struggling. We worry about burdening or overwhelming someone with the truth or fear seeming a failure. When actually opening up is the best thing we can do for ourselves and our children.
When someone asks you whether you’re okay, and they ask again, if you feel safe to do so, how might you share a bit more about how you’re feeling? Someone may not be able to fix or change your situation, but it’s a powerful thing to feel heard and have our feelings validated along the way, and this may lead to more avenues of support if you need it.
Surrendering isn't failing
My most defining moments are when I waved a metaphorical white flag of surrender. In a culture that resolutely proclaims ‘I’ve got this’ yet is struggling behind fake smiles and closed doors. It can be a renegade and life-changing thing to surrender and say, ‘No, actually I haven’t got this’.
When we have a tough time, it doesn't mean we are failing. Instead, we are being a mother and having a human response to our circumstances. Our circumstances, in the flesh, often look different to the filtered squares of social media that so easily becomes the ruler we measure ourselves against.
Sometimes, seeming like you have it all together is a defence against falling apart. It hides a fear that if you were to say the truth, you may never pull yourself back together enough to parent. It’s a ‘keep out’ sign for those who might worry, because if we seem to be externally coping, then others tend to assume that behind closed doors, or the doors of our smile, tells the same story.
But I will tell you with certainty that those moments of surrender, those utterances of ‘you know what? Actually, I don’t ‘have this’’, are often the ones where those on the side-lines, be it friends, family or professionals, can step in to support you.
You are not created to do this thing called ‘motherhood’ on your own. And, waving the flag is an acknowledgement of this fact. How might you wave the flag today in a big or small way? Consider a need or a feeling, and how or who you might express this to.
Where there is help, there is hope. So, try it. Take a step forward today and let someone support you. Whether it’s asking a friend to allow you to download or rant, or making a call or an appointment. As mothers, we need each other and those around us. It is not failure, it’s being human. We need mothering too.
Anna Mathur’s new book The Little Book of Calm for New Mums (opens in new tab) is publishing 26th May 2022 (Penguin Life).
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Anna Mathur is a mum of three, psychotherapist and bestselling author. She's passionate about taking therapy out of the therapy room and sharing her own personal and professional experiences to support mums through motherhood. Psychoeducation is a big passion of Anna’s as she believes that knowing yourself and understanding your thoughts and feelings is a huge part of enabling change.
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