Motherhood: The Challenges and Joy of Being Fully Present
By Ronnie Biemans, Dec 16 2016 05:44PM
Expectations and the Real World: You Can’t Have It All at the Same Time
There are all types of mothers who face all types of joys and challenges. The roles and responsibilities are limitless: baby incubator, birth-giver, nurturer, nurse, playmate, cook, chauffeur, executive secretary, care coordinator, advocate, housekeeper, laundress, social event planner, masseuse, therapist, teacher, to name a few. Along with our family’s needs and expectations we mothers have our own yet find it hard to accommodate them amidst the needs of others. Expectations of ourselves run very high with little thought to the costs of overdoing. Doing with no downtime takes its toll on body and mind. We cannot be all things to all people all of the time. No one can.
In their book More Than a Mom, Amy Backin and Heather Fawcett say it well: “For many moms, our realities may not sync with what we were taught to believe when we were younger. If you grew up in the seventies or eighties, you were probably told you could have it all: You could work full-time, be promoted without limits, have an equal partnership with your spouse, enjoy quality time with your children, manage your household, and still have time to pursue your passions. What no one probably mentioned was that, while you might be able to have all those things in your lifetime, you probably couldn’t have them all at once.”
In his book Mother Nurture, Rick Hanson, PhD comments on the unique challenge faced by mothers who often put others needs before their own: “Experiencing some resistance to taking time to reduce stress is normal. Many women were raised to put everyone else's needs first, and they can have a hard time asserting their own. And for mothers it just gets worse. Commitments to the children's welfare is so primal that it's hard to pay attention to one's own needs --it can be hard to think about taking a nap or a bath when the children need something--plus other people can add guilt for daring to try. This view is pretty darn crazy. Nurturing one's own needs is what enables mothers to provide the best care for their children.” Today’s fast paced lifestyle and pressure to always be available via cell phone or the Internet make it particularly difficult to make space for taking care of oneself.
Distractions: Overscheduling and Overstimulation
In her book Mindful Parenting, Kirsten Race, PhD describes today’s parents as “generation stress.” Many of us are not only members of the baby boomer set or generation X but we are an overfunctioning, overscheduled, overstimulated generation of well-intended souls trying to do right by our children. A major contributor to these constant “life-on-simmer” stress levels is the tendency to overstimulate ourselves with electronic gadgets that have us texting, streaming, posting and blogging. And then there is the tendency to book our children for hours of structured activities to give them a developmental edge and to keep them constructively occupied.
For parents of children with special needs there is often the worry that the demands will never relent as our children mature. Backin and Fawcett state, “In families with typically developing kids, parenting intensity often diminishes over time. Children grow up and become more independent, allowing their mothers more freedom to pursue other activities. While this process may be delayed or stalled for years for mothers of children with special needs, eventually, each of us needs to reclaim lost dreams or embrace new ones.”
We cannot maintain a life of constant responsibilities and activity without respite. This path is unsustainable but there is a more sane path within reach.
The Gifts of Motherhood: Being and Playing
Mothering children provides moments, big and small, that enrich our lives. Many years before I became a mother I remember observing one of those small moments as a young mother stood relishing her son’s spontaneous play. It was late spring and there was a torrential downpour that began as I pulled into a parking lot. I stayed in my car hoping the rain would stop. As I gazed out my window I noticed a small boy in an electric yellow raincoat and hat and oversized red rubber boots, splashing and splashing with great resolve and total absorption. I was transfixed as I watched this adorable little one completely absorbed in the joy of water and rainfall and mud. I also noticed his mother standing nearby chatting with him about what he was discovering. As the rain slowed down, I got out of my car pausing to smile and chat with this young Mom. I told her how much I enjoyed watching her little boy play. She smiled and said, “Yes, I really try to remember to stop and enjoy.” That moment and her comment has stayed with me over the years. In later years, when I brought my babes into the world, I, too, tried to stop and notice. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes not as life got in the way of the simple joy of being and playing. Nowadays, we might call those captured moments experiences of mindfulness. It’s nothing fancy or studied, just simply being in the moment, aware, and without judgment.
Make Room for Mommy: You Deserve A Break Today
"By and large, mothers and housewives are the only workers who do not have regular time off. They are the great vacationless class." -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Consider following the prescription for surviving and thriving in motherhood described in Rick Hanson, Jan Hanson and Ricki Pollycove’s Mother Nurture: 1. Lower the demands on yourself; 2. Increase your resources and 3. Build up your resilience.
Here are some simple ways to follow their advice:
• Simplify by lessening the demands on yourself. Do less and share chores more.
• Ask for help from family members. It’s okay to have others in the family pitch in.
• Take a mini-vacation! It can be five minutes to yourself or a real day of pampering. Make it happen. Carve out a special time for yourself to simply take a breath and savor a cup of tea or a favorite snack.
• Find the green. Spend some time in nature.
• Take a breath and let it out slowly for a count of four. Repeat a few times and savor the release.
• Rediscover a favorite hobby or activity.
• Repeat a favorite saying or prayer.
• Get some exercise. Enjoy the motion.
And here are some suggestions for finding and favoring quality time with the kiddies:
• Carpe diem – Try to be open to recognizing the smaller moments that arise every daywith your child or children, pause to enjoy them, take a breath if only for a minute.
• Avoid using your phone or other screens when your child is present. Talk, eat a meal, play catch, jump rope, read your child a book, or simply hang out with your older child or teen listening to their music for a change!
• Limit your children’s use of screens as much as possible.
• Allow your children more unscheduled opportunities for creative thinking and spontaneous activity. Unschedule yourself so you can join in.
Mindful Parenting by Kirsten Race, PhD.
More Than a Mom: Living a Full and Balanced Life When Your Child has Special Needs by Amy Baskin and Heather Fawcett
Mindful Motherhood: Practical Tools for Staying Sane During Pregnancy and Your Child’s First Year by Cassandra Vieten, PhD
Mother Nurture by Rick Hanson, PhD, with Jan Hanson and Ricki Pollycove
About the Author:
Informed by over 25 years of professional training and work experience as well as her many years of meditation and yoga practice, Ronnie Biemans, M.A., L.C.P.C., is guided by a core philosophy to focus on strengths, not deficits or pathology. By discovering, restoring and optimizing each person’s unique ability to thrive and meet the demands, of today’s fast-paced, stressful world, those who have encountered physical and emotional health challenges can discover ways to improve their lives and well being. Operating from her home office and in other community settings, Ronnie provides guidance and support to individuals, families and groups seeking to live healthy, balanced lives.