Since becoming a mother almost seven years ago, I have been involved in an ongoing identity shift around newly emerging, and at times conflicting, values and roles. Recently I have become aware of the ways in which I unconsciously devalue my role as a mother. As a nurturer.
Its deeply ironic that I am able to negate the amount of time and energy I put into nurturing my children. First of all, I have chosen to be a part time stay at home mom. Add onto that my job as a psychotherapist, where I attend to other human beings growth and psychological well being. Then factor in my training, education, reading, and work experience since I was 18 years old which has been about supporting and facilitating human beings in their personal journeys, while also diving deep into my own. I have studied developmental psychology and attachment theory in depth, worked with children, women, and families since I was in high school. Therapy itself involves attuning, deeply listening, reflecting, and providing informed challenges that support growth, much like parenting. I help clients address early life experiences that have impacted, informed, and shaped who they are today on a deep level.
CLEARLY, I value nurturing and its role in our lives.
Given what I have chosen to study and do for a living, it seems impossible that I would ever question the validity of my role as a mother. It seems that I should value mothering and all of its privileges and responsibilities, the most.
I should be on fire as a mother, right?
Well, turns out, not so much. I was noticing myself exhausted at the end of a full day with my kids (and I’m not in the intense sleep deprivation phase anymore), and enlivened after a day with clients. Doing therapy for a day with clients felt restful and restorative compared to the physical, emotional, and mental demands of mothering. And I wouldn’t say that being a therapist is exactly an easy, or relaxing, job.
If I just skimmed the surface here, I would think that the issue is about wanting to work more, and that I’m not really up for or into mothering. I may start to think that being with my kids isn’t working for me, that I need to be doing something else that feels better, something more empowering.
But that answer didn’t fit. It just didn’t resonate at all. I wanted to figure out what my challenge was in mothering that I could not see. My experience was trying to tell me something.
It turns out it wasn’t changing my circumstances that was needed, or finding the elusive life balance. I needed to get aligned with what I really valued, and that is changing the game.
I realized this: I wasn’t valuing myself as a nurturer, as a mother. I was still in conflict with an old part of myself that believed that my career was the most empowering thing I could do with my life. I was in deep unrest about allowing this foundational belief to evolve into something else, something that included mothering. I was deeply scared about where I would go, who I would disappoint, and what would happen, if this landmark in my psyche crumbled.
Well, it was already falling apart. All of my choices since having my first child reflected that I no longer believed that my career was front and center for me. I just hadn’t faced that truth in myself. It was too confronting to another part of me that could not see the possibility of empowerment through mothering.
I know I can find empowerment as a mother, since I was able to find my job deeply inspiring and fulfilling, despite the fact that it involves some really intense and difficult work with people. I am not put off by hard work, responsibilities, caring for others well being, having to show up no matter what, or even “difficult” people.
The difference with my job is that it was connected to independence, financial autonomy, and was socially validating. These are some of the qualities we associate with empowerment in our society, and are missing from the interdependent, unpaid, and invisible work of mothering.
As a mother, I have to find the value from within, and from new outside sources. At this point, those sources are mostly my own experience, and my connections with other mothers (in person, through books, or blogs) who are also grappling with these issues.
If I get caught in the story that mothering is tiring and difficult (which it is), without also acknowledging my devotion and inspiration for the role, I will feel depleted. If I do not keep revisiting my inspired answers to why I continue to agree to engage so fully in the relentless role of mothering, I will feel trapped. Or stuck. Or limited in my ability to care for myself and the other things I value in addition to mothering, like my marriage, my health, my friendships, and yes, my work.
I find the actual rearranging of everything that comes with these insights is uncomfortable and confronting. It means more dismantling, as if pregnancy and birth wasn’t enough. It means being judged and misunderstood by those who share my former values, but not my emerging ones. But for me, to do anything other than be true to what I value and know about myself now, is a recipe for my own disaster.
If I truly love being a mother, which I do, I know that I can do it in a way that generates creativity, inspiration, has clarity, purpose, authenticity, and thus, empowers me. I know that I can also arrange the rest of my life, within my particular circumstances, to support what I really value. I am determined to create in my own psyche the possibility of empowered mothering.