The Complexity of Motherhood

By Bettina Hemmingsen

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” – Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh

Becoming a mother is filled with extreme emotions, ranging from the highest highs and the lowest lows. But women are often reluctant to talk honestly about the experience fearing they’ll be seen as bad mothers. Being a Mother is the most wonderful, terrifying, fulfilling, excruciating thing that life has to offer. In other words it teaches you about the strengths you didn’t know you had, and fears you didn’t knew existed. Becoming a Mother seems to have a domino effect in all aspects of our life as it affects our marriage, friendships and our relationships with parents, not to forget our parent- in-law’s, even our sex life, and our self-esteem.

art-statue-child-motherThe meaning of being a mother is virtually endless. A mother is a protector, disciplinarian and friend. A mother is a selfless, loving human who must sacrifice many of her desires and needs for the wants and needs of her children. A mother works hard to make sure her child is equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to make it as a competent human being. Although being a mother doesn’t come with a job description you can be sure that it is perhaps the hardest, and also the most rewarding job a woman will ever experience.

Unconditional Love

From the day they are born, a child will test your patience. No matter what they do or say, being a mother means, you will love your child unconditionally. Children who receive love and attention from their mother are less likely later on to fall in love with someone who offers love conditionally, whether with behavior control or abuse. Show your child how much you love them with hugs and kisses. Listen to your child as they recount their day, play games or slip a note in their lunch box letting them know how much you love them.

Safety & healthy

When a woman becomes pregnant, it is her responsibility to provide a safe and healthy environment by reducing risk and stress. This often means avoiding certain kinds of food and drinks that may harm the development of the fetus as well as beauty products and detergents containing harmful ingredients to the unborn child. This responsibility continues once she becomes a mother, whether it’s ensuring her child gets the right nutrition from the very beginning or its providing your child with a safe and secure environment that protects them from abuse and harm as well as helping boost their child’s mental and emotional development.

Teacher

Mothers teach their children important lessons. You start educating your child from infancy when you teach him that nodding his head means, “yes” or shaking your head means “no.” You teach your child how to talk, walk and use the potty. The lessons continue as you help your child to learn the alphabet or complete his homework.

Being a mother also means being there to teach your child important rules and roles of life, from being an empathetic human being to learning how to be responsible of one’s actions. As your child grows up, they are going to face an onslaught of differing thoughts, opinions and values from their friends, films, the Internet, television and magazines. A mother will help guide their child to figure out their goals and values in life as well as teach them the importance of education, manners and much more.

Disciplinarian

A mother will also discipline her child, a skill that will benefit children throughout their life as well as at school, work and life at home. Discipline teaches children the important life lesson that their choices and actions have consequences. The relationship between cause and effect is learned when discipline is given consistently and immediately, but it also needs to be the type of discipline that can teach. Natural and logical consequences are two methods that achieve this goal because the discipline is directly related to the misbehavior. For example, if a child throws a toy at someone in anger, then he loses that toy; if he refuses to stop watching television to come to dinner, he loses television time. Inconsistent discipline sends the wrong message. Parents who sometimes but not always punish a specific behavior create confusion. Even worse, it teaches children that they don’t need to obey rules. Parents who give in after hours of pestering or anger from their child only succeeds in teaching that she will always get her way if she just keeps pushing. This type of lesson fuels ongoing battles at home and can turn into bullying or noncompliant behavior at school.

Caregiving

Mothers are often the primary caregivers for their children. They know their children better than anyone else. That is why a mother is most often the first person to determine if her children are not feeling well. Especially when children are very young and not able to express their feelings, mothers are responsible for determining if their children are sick. Often, mothers nurse their sick children through the night until they can get medical attention in the morning. Mothers are often the at-home pharmacists who dispense medications and pain relievers. Although caregiving involves a significant investment of time and effort on the part of the caregiver, the responsibilities associated with being a full-time caregiver have not always been given the value they deserve. Motherhood is the ultimate example of a job not necessarily appreciated for the results it produces. Unfortunately, the public view has not always acknowledged the economic and social value of the role of motherhood. But with more women today working for pay and providing care to children, opinions are beginning to change.

Work & Career

The trend in recent decades of more women entering the workforce has had an effect on how old a woman is when she marries, as well as whether she expects to have children. Although women are faced with new options related to careers, raising children is still a life’s goal for most. Since most young Western women today plan to work after completing their educations, the majority eventually find themselves facing the challenges of managing the conflicting demands brought on by juggling the dual roles of career and motherhood. The constant pull between your children and career may be a recurring theme and whether you decide to go back to work or you’ve decided to stay at home with your children, you may harbor guilty feelings either way. A working mother may fear that she is missing her children’s lives; while a stay-at-home-mom may worry she’s not contributing enough.

Expectations & Worries

The expectations of motherhood are challenged many times when your child is growing up. In fact, mothering continues throughout your child’s adult life. While some women may have an easier time adapting to the changes in their lives brought on by motherhood, there is little doubt that parenting can have a profound impact on a marriage and a woman’s ability to care for her child. Although first- and second-time moms may suffer from different sources of stress, all women endure stress related to being a parent. Motherhood comes with a lot of stress from different sources. At times, it will be the constant worry that you aren’t doing the best job possible. You’ll worry about your kids in the day, at night and everywhere in between. You may fear something will happen to your children, that you don’t spend enough time with them, or that you’re not teaching them enough. You’ll find that you’re constantly pulled between your child, your partner, your home, your career, your social life and yourself.

Identity change

When you assume the role of a mother, a new and more profound dimension will naturally replace much of your old identity. If you used to be a social person that loved to go out on the town, late night feedings and bedtime stories may take up your nights. If you previously loved your work, you may find it to be stressful and simply quit to stay home. Motherhood can alter your sense of identity and you can feel lost and confused about who you really are. All mothers will experience feelings of self-doubt, inferiority and inadequacy at some point in time. Watching seemingly perfect moms depicted on television, watching other mothers deal with their children or mothers who have more resources at their disposal can make you feel like an inadequate mother. Comparing yourself to other moms is a big problem in motherhood and it takes a lot of courage and self-confidence to find you own way of parenting.

On top of that being a mother can often be a lonely job, being with your children all day with little adult interaction can make you feel isolated. Further more, if you have children and your friends don’t, you may feel jealous or left out when they participate in activities that you cannot attend. While you may have a thoughtful and helpful partner, he may not be available all of the time, which means you need to find ways to stay connected to other adults while fulfilling your responsibilities as a mother

Reality

The actual experience of being a mother can be quite different from a woman’s expectations of the role. What it comes down to is that caring for a child is a lot of hard work. Being a mother is time-consuming, as well as both physically and emotionally demanding. Yet many new mothers are not prepared for just how difficult caring for a child can be. A common reality of motherhood is that a child’s problems are also a parent’s problems, and that sometimes brings on a feeling of helplessness. Often in a mother’s eagerness to make everything all right in her child’s life, she forgets that the role of a mother is not necessarily to fix the problem, but rather to love, guide and support her child as he makes his own way in the world.

Getting your priorities straight

Committing to parenting doesn’t mean that you must sacrifice your own life. What it does mean is that you must make some adjustments. Start by getting your priorities straight and then take charge of your life. Some moms tend to forget that taking good care of a child means taking good care of yourself, too. Like their children, mothers need a safe, supportive and encouraging environment in order to succeed at balancing their own personal needs with seeing to the needs of their child.It takes a lot of energy to be a parent. That’s why mothers should not be afraid to ask for help and support when they need it. It only makes sense that there will be times when you need to build up your reserves so that you have more of yourself to share with your family. The problem is, though, that mothers usually put the needs of their family first, neglecting their own needs in the process. This puts a good deal of pressure on a woman. The irony is that how a mother manages stress is an example for her children which helps to put things in the proper perspective. A woman can reduce stress by loosening her standards not trying to be a “Supermom” all the time.

The good-enough Mother

pexels-photo-64263Most women dream of being the imaginary Supermom that manages to juggle the responsibilities of work, kids and husbands with ease and elegance. One that host dinner parties, bake cupcakes, volunteer for charity events and somehow still have time to stay fit and feminine and have a fulfilling social life. For some reason we are never fully content with our self and we always feel that we could or should do better. But the question is if those high standards also are the ones that our children will benefit the most from?

Donald Winnicott an English Pediatrician and Psychoanalyst (1896 -1971) invented the term “A good-enough Mother” and his picture of the “good-enough” Mother is that she is a three-dimensional human being.

  • She is a mother under pressure and strain. She is full of ambivalence about being a mother.
  • She is both selfless and self-interested. She turns toward her child and turns away from him.
  • She is capable of great dedication yet she is also prone to resentment.

Winnicott even dares to say that the good enough mother loves her child but also has room to hate him. She is not boundless. She is real.

Real mothers are the best kind of mothers (and the only kind!). It takes an imperfect mother to raise a child well. You see, children need to learn about life through real experiences. They need to learn to deal with disappointments and frustrations. They need to overcome their greed and their wish to be the center of the universe. They need to learn to respect the needs and limitations of other people, including their mothers. And they need to learn to do things for themselves.

So, if you have had a good enough mother, you are most fortunate. If you are a good enough mother, you are to be celebrated. If you have a painful, troubled relationship with your mother — or with being a mother — you are among friends who understand. Rather than idealizing motherhood, we do well to honor the complexity, find reasons to be grateful, forgive the failures, and use the disappointments to grow. Since only by admitting nobody or nothing is perfect we can look beyond our expectations and everybody and everything becomes perfect just the way they are.

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