With Mothers’ Day fast approaching, and with it the prospect of receiving another adorable round of glitter-covered picture frames and half-raw pancakes, it may be time to reflect on what mothers really need.
Most moms readily declare that more sleep would be a singularly precious gift, or perhaps the metaphysical power to halt time! Yet, it’s worth considering our inner lives as mothers – the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that shape our experiences as moms, and how we can nurture these.
The pressures on the 21st century mother are enormous – as our culture ratchets up its expectations of our young ones (Earlier potty training! Younger phonics acquisition! More Omega 3’s in the diet!), it’s typically mom who bears the burden of facilitating this ever-growing checklist.
The pressures to produce more, faster, better, can be overwhelming for children and certainly for their moms. In addition, the cultural shift in favor of “attachment parenting”, while positive in many ways, can further generate internal pressure to be unrealistically “attuned” and emotionally responsive at all times to the needs of our small ones. So, in a culture that seems to expect more from its mothers all the time, combined with the daily grind of home life, scheduling, cooking, chauffeuring, cleaning and organizing – not to mention working externally, for many of us – how can we gift ourselves internally? How can we delineate an inner space that is nurturing and fortifying?
Much as I’d love to hand out vouchers for more sleep to my fellow busy mothers, or that magical remote control from some Adam Sandler movie which actually freezes time, I’m going to share three basic ideas which can hopefully serve as psychological Mothers’ Day gifts to soothe and fortify you.
The first idea has to do with your state of mind. It is important to try to talk back to that inner voice that demands perfection as a mother. Donald Winnicott, a pediatrician and psychoanalyst known for being down-to-earth and compassionate (and famous for contributing the notion of a “transitional object” to our lexicon), developed a theory in 1953 called the “Good Enough Mother,” which bears ongoing relevance. In short, Winnicott proposed that mothers need not be perfect, and that most mothers are, indeed, adequate parents; that good-enough parenting is an ongoing process that satisfactorily, if imperfectly, meets the child’s need for love, consistency, and the emotional room to develop.
The wisdom behind Winnicott’s idea lies in its acknowledgement that our resources, internal and external, are not unlimited. What’s more, Winnicott’s vision allows for the frustrations and lapses of real life – a key ingredient in raising mentally healthy children is teaching them about life’s imperfections, and the many ways to cope with these, rather than zealously shielding them from inevitable disappointments.
The second idea: Mother thyself! When you are feeling really tapped out, please make sure to mother one more child. What?? Yes – I know it sounds corny – but don’t neglect to nurture the little girl inside of you. Just as you strive to provide your children with a physically and emotionally healthy routine, try to do the same for the pigtailed little one somewhere inside of you. Get her to bed on time, try to ensure she’s eating healthy food, and that she’s not overly sedentary. Remember – the latest research shows that simply moving, not necessarily going for a level 3 spinning class, provides enormous cognitive and health benefits.
Try to minimize those momentarily gratifying but ultimately unhelpful behaviors like drinking too much, staying up too late surfing the internet or watching TV, or eating too much junk food. Plan play dates for this little girl! Research shows that female companionship and support can play a powerful role in improving mother’s mood and mental state and even the quality of parent-child interactions.
Finally… Soak in the good! Like the desert plants I learned about on my son’s class trip to the Botanical Gardens, suck in every drop of the good stuff. Every moment of childish wonder, every goofy flash of innocence, of youthful exuberance – inhale that! It can inoculate you just a bit against the deluge of needs and challenges in our lives. So often, just as you feel yourself slip into systems overload, little Max will suddenly flash you a smile, and tell you proudly that he figured out that when mittens grow up, they will become gloves – or some other uproarious insight. Take this in, let your whole self smile.
Let it imprint deeply upon you when you see one child generously sharing the prized, sticky contents of a goody bag with his sibling. And don’t just wait for the magical moments to present themselves – create opportunities for them to occur. It doesn’t have to be an ambitious day trip or a pricey vacation. It can be playing hookey from life for a Saturday morning – unplugging, cuddling in bed, watching home movies with bowls of popcorn, blasting Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” and breaking out your weirdest dance moves (Mom you are sooo embarrassing). The research is inconclusive on whether parents or childless adults are happier overall, yet there are clear findings that parents log in more moments of heightened joy. This is our currency, moms – so stuff yourself as full of these moments as possible!
In conclusion, enjoy those semi-cooked pancakes, be compassionate to yourself, and absorb the moments of joy in your family. It won’t be perfect – life never is – but, just as your wise mom-self would tell your own child: All that you can ask for is that you tried your best!
Dr. Shulie Rubin, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice for 13 years in Englewood, New Jersey, and the mother of three children. Dr. Rubin works with children, adolescents and adults on issues including anxiety, depression and relationships. Dr. Rubin has a special clinical focus working with and emotionally supporting mothers at all stages of parenthood. Her professional style has been described as a combination of “deep listening and practical problem solving.” Dr. Rubin can be reached at (201) 503-1446 or [email protected].
The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.