Thursday, May 7, 2009
What do you want your children to remember?
As mother's day approaches I've spent some time in contemplation about the things I want my children to remember of me. This sounds like a morbid topic but really it isn't. What I'm referring to is how they will have perceived me as a mother and what they will take with them in the future as an example of how to mother, when they have their own children. Even more importantly though, it's about how they will perceive themselves as women after they become mothers.
Yesterday I attended a meeting with a lovely lady in town who has agreed to let me use her facility plus will help me with setting up a series of events, workshops, informal meetings along the theme of women outside of being mothers. The working title I have for the series is "Other than Mother". We're kicking it off with a screening of the movie The Shift with discussion after. Then further events will include finding your passion, women's health initiatives, physical fitness for women, meditation. We'll have speakers, discussion and refreshments. It's mostly about self-exploration with the secret plan of giving women a reason to get out of the house and do something beyond mothering. It's about preventing the woman from being lost inside her job as mother.
As a woman with four daughters, it's important to me that they see me as something beyond mother, that they see the person who is their mother. While they always are my priority, it's imperative to their mental health and their lives as future mothers that they know they are important as women and mothers and to find a way to amalgamate the roles so that they have balanced lives.
A common mistake women make when they become mothers is they wait for someone to come and take care of them. Giving all you have to your children will empty your vessel very quickly. If you are fortunate you will be surrounded by people who understand this need to be taken care of but more often than not, this doesn't occur. It's sad and true. We do have to ask and we aren't always good at simply asking.
I'm also often dismayed about the term "self-care". It's buzzed about lately, women must take care of them selves. But it's a sad reflection of society's priorities when women, the caretakers of the family, have to take care of yet another person, themselves. I, personally, in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle of caring for small children, do not have the time to take care of another person, even if that person is me. The act of taking a bath involves making sure children are asleep, and then deciding, is a long hot soak in a tub a priority over an extra fifteen minutes sleep. Sleep usually wins. It's just something else to do and I don't often want to do anything else.
I remember when my third daughter, Sophia was born. My husband is a truck driver and had been off nearly 6 weeks waiting for her to be born. She was born at home. A few short days after she came I was left alone with a newborn, a 9 year old and a 12 year old. Alone, completely alone. The first night I got up to use the bathroom and on my way back I was overcome by a weakness of some sort. I barely made it back to the bed. I'm not sure what happened, I was freezing cold, shaking and scared. Alone with three children debating if I should call an ambulance or wait it out. I chose waiting. It eventually passed but I was sick for several days after that. It was a very scary time. I never told anyone.
Now I look back on that time and wonder "What was I thinking?" Further to that, what was everybody else thinking? Self care? I needed other care. Someone should have been caring for me. I could go on and on with examples of this type throughout my mothering career but this one is a good one. It was very difficult and is very difficult to no have support and care when you are mothering.
Self-care is better than no care but what society needs to be doing is systematically caring for its mothers. Husbands should be arranging childcare and taking mothers out, mothers should be caring for post partum-daughters so they can give more to their babies, post partum doulas should be common and available and government funded. There should be places where women can go to explore themselves as women outside their mothering roles, where their passion can be engaged for other things, where they can fill up their emotional cup and return with more to give to their families and children. Fathers shouldn't need to be asked to do things, they should be taught before the children come what their role is as a father. Mothers of sons should teach that, fathers of sons should model it.
What I want my daughters to remember is that while I am there for them, I am a whole other person apart from them. I am a poet, I write stories, I write books, I help other women who are mothers stay true to themselves so they can be better mothers, I am a loving partner to their father, I volunteer, I work, and I play.
It does my daughters little good to model martyrdom to them, they need to see a feminine example of a woman who is well-rounded, grounded and whole, where motherhood is but one facet of the whole woman. They need to have the support when their turn comes to become mothers, so they don't have to live in the all or nothing mothering paradigm. And they don't have to wait until the kids are out of the house to do it.
As I finish this post it leaves me thinking. I've listed a litany of the way things should be but no real insight on how to get there. I guess the key is to start providing support, each of us, to the mothers we see. Get together as women without the children, invite other mothers to our homes for gatherings, go to the pub for a beer and a man bash, go to the theatre, join book clubs, sailing clubs, rowing clubs..whatever we love, make the time and space to go do it. And ask for help when you need it. My wonderful husband would have taken another week off had I asked him back when Sophia was born but I didn't ask. He trusted I could do it all and had no inkling it was so difficult. That was unfair to him in a way as well. I didn't give him the opportunity to be there.
As mothers day approaches, take time out to look around and see the women in your lives, not just your own mother, but other moms who might be struggling, look for opportunities to help out, step in and step up for them. Even a chat over coffee can do a world of good.