Motherhood, Shame, and the Truth About Parenting

by Neseret on May 4, 2013

Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong. ~ Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm ~

We live in a world where most people are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to be healthy, loving parents. Yet, when it comes to motherhood there is an unspoken expectation for women to automatically become masters of the trade.

There have been and continues to be many unreasonable/unrealistic expectations placed on women by society, the media, and culture about how we should look, how we should dress, how much we should weigh,  how we should behave, and what we should do. The list goes on…

However, everything pales in comparison to the expectations, myths, and lies perpetuated about motherhood. To think a woman may not have a “motherly instinct” or the desire to have children, worse yet a woman who has children and isn’t enjoying being a mother is unthinkable.

You’d be better off if you had the scarlet letter tattooed on your forehead.

Very few people are as harshly scrutinized and judged as women who struggle with being mothers or who do not enjoy parenting altogether. Most women feel incredibly guilty and confilicted for feeling this way without all the blaming and shaming.

There is enough feelings of overwhelm, inadequacy, hopelessness, helplessness, and despair that accompanies motherhood without the added layer of isolation. It is one thing to judge someone and something else to walk in their shoes.

To idealize motherhood as the epitome of womanhood while disregarding the real experiences of women as mothers is ignorance. As well as the promotion of parenting as the ultimate peak experience, holy grail of life on planet earth.

It is still a huge taboo to talk about the down side of parenting, as to ensure no one ever gets a balanced perspective on parenting and motherhood. There are millions of unsuspecting souls who are in for a rude awakening. By then it is too late. They’ve gotten themselves knee deep into something they neither had the training nor aptitude.

It is a major part of what perpetuates the human pain, drama, and trauma.

Mothers are all slightly insane. ~ J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye ~

Being a mother is like trying to hold a wolf by the ears,” Gram said. “If you have three or four –or more – chickabiddies, you’re dancing on a hot griddle all the time. You don’t have time to think about anything else. And if you’ve only got one or two, it’s almost harder. You have room left over – empty spaces that you think you’ve got to fill up. ~ Sharon Creech, Walk Two Moons ~

The most important things in life we do not learn in school. Parenting is one of those things. It is considered by many “the most important job in the world” yet requires zero preparation and training. Any fool can procreate, but to be a good parent is a sacred journey.

I was one of those fools.

I had no clue what I was getting in to. When I gave birth to my daughter I was not fit to look after a cat let alone a human being. I was an adult child raising a child. It’s been ten years and we’re still growing together.

As someone who has had a traumatic childhood and suffers from depression this journey isn’t always easy for me. There has been many a times I felt I couldn’t do it.

When you’re depressed motherhood feels more like a battle.

That said, I love my daughter and I’ve always wanted to do the best I can. I really wanted to be a healthy parent. I have found the more work I do in healing my wounds from the past the healthier and more effective I’m becoming as a mother.

Because I was ill-prepared (mentally, emotionally, and financially) and had a lot of unhealed wounds from the past, and I was a single mother, motherhood in many ways (up to this point ) has felt like an excruciatingly painful race against time instead of a joyful journey.

Nevertheless, personally I have chosen to allow motherhood to be one of the greatest catalyst for positive change and transformation in my life –

a spiritual practise of sorts.

I know this is not always the case for everyone. For millions of women motherhood can be one of the most heart-breaking, dis-empowering, debilitating, devastating, and disappointing experiences in life. No one dare speak of that part. It is not acceptable.

(24/7) once you sign on to be a mother, that’s the only shift they offer. ~ Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper ~

I think being a mother is the cruelest thing in the world. ~ Nella Larsen, The Complete Fiction of Nella Larsen: Passing, Quicksand, and The Stories ~

…”Fun?” you ask. “Weren’t feminists these grim-faced, humorless, antifamily, karate-chopping ninjas who were bitter because they couldn’t get a man?” Well, in fact the problem was that all too many of them HAD gotten a man, married him, had his kids, and then discovered that, as mothers, they were never supposed to have their own money, their own identity, their own aspirations, time to pee, or a brain. And yes, some women indeed became bad-tempered as a result. After all, no anger, no social change. ~ Susan J. Douglas ~

How can we expect women to thrive as mothers in a culture of blame and shame?

We’ve come a long way from women’s soul purpose being procreation and perpetuation of the species to (in many parts of the world) women having the choice to become a mother. That said, we continue to stigmatize women who choose not to have children for one reason or another.

A woman’s worth does not depend on her desire or lack thereof for bearing children. Just the same way as a man’s work does not equal his self worth. Yes the opposite is true in many ways. How crazy is that?

Giving birth to a child is not the only way to become a “mother” either.

There are countless ways women can express love and nurture and be “mothering”  without ever getting pregnant and giving birth. There is nothing wrong with women who do not want to procreate.

Not wanting to have children does not equal selfishness. Not wanting to be a mother doesn’t make a woman crazy. Often it is the other way around.

Being a mother is an attitude, not a biological relation. ~ Robert A. Heinlein, Have Space Suit—Will Travel ~

No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother. ~ Margaret Sanger ~

Was it the act of giving birth that made you a mother? Did you lose that label when you relinquished your child? If people were measured by their deeds, on the one hand, I had a woman who had chosen to give me up; on the other, I had a woman who’d sat up with me at night when I was sick as a child, who’d cried with me over boyfriends, who’d clapped fiercely at my law school graduation. Which acts made you more of a mother? Both, I realized. Being a parent wasn’t just about bearing a child. It was about bearing witness to its life. ~ Jodi Picoult, Handle With Care ~

If you dare, please leave me your questions and comments. If you are a mother I would love to hear your experiences about motherhood.

I know this is somewhat of a taboo subject to discuss but I believe it is important to talk about it. I think motherhood is one of the most challenging things anyone can experience. We need to be able to talk about this experience (regardless of whether our experience is negative or positive – usually it is both) and feel supported.

As human beings we need to know we’re not alone in our struggles. We need to know we will not be judged for struggling. Ultimately as women we need to know it is o.k to own our stories and our experiences of motherhood.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Brenda May 5, 2013 at 8:15 pm

I applaud you for your honesty and willingness to share. Being a mother for me has the been the greatest gift and the biggest hardship ever in my life. It is like a scale that never is balanced. I could never have imagined the magnitude of the job of being a mother. Their heartbreaks are so much bigger for me than my own. I also live vicariously through their amazing successes. Providing them with LOVE – “Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve” and knowing when to step in and enforce rules and set boundaries is a constant challenge.

My three precious children are all now adults and we are developing new rules in our relationships. I am so very proud and happy for each of my children as they move forward and flourish. I will never cease to be amazed by them and it brings me so much joy. What really worries me the most is that they are all strong, healthy, bright, and gifted in many ways yet they have each had their struggles. Watching other children over the years who weren’t as fortunate, has made me hope for change to many of our current systems and most of all releasing judgement and stigmas around those who are different in some way.

We are all here to help each other grow and I believe that my children understand and live that. Living that principle is the most important thing I could give them to be successful, happy adults. I know that I haven’t been a perfect mother and there are many moments that I would change if I could but like you, I believe that we have all grown from each other’s struggles. Again thanks for sharing this post, I agree that deciding to have or not to have children is a decision that should be made with much thought and consideration.

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Neseret May 5, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Dear Brenda,

It sounds like you are a wonderful mother. You need not be so worried about your children’s struggles. As human beings, our struggles, challenges, and setbacks are our teachers, guides, and allies.

Modeling and teaching children the principles of love, compassion, and tolerance is the greatest gift we can give our kids and the world. Thank you for doing your part and bringing up your children in this way. That is beautiful.

You are absolutely right about the idea we can all learn from each other’s struggles. Ultimately we’re all not so different. We’re more alike than not. True spirituality is the recognition of that fact – our connection and interdependence.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts with me. Wishing you a very happy mother’s day.

Peace, Love, & Gratitude,

Neseret

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Vidya Sury May 6, 2013 at 6:05 am

What an amazing post, Neseret! So many truths that are usually never acknowledged – or encouraged for that matter.

We do live in a society that expects perfection when it comes to Mothers. I know for a fact that anything that goes wrong is the Mother’s fault while the credit for the good stuff is shared by the entire family. Coming from India, I personally know the high expectations a Mother-to-be / Mother must live up to. We’re all expected to be psychic about our children and family and it is an unspoken responsibility to ensure that everything functions smoothly around the house. This same society is cruel with women who choose not to be Mothers.

Happy Mother’s Day to you – and I admire you for writing this one! Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted..Laughter Is The Best Medicine – World Laughter DayMy Profile

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Neseret May 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Beautiful Vidya,

Thank you! I appreciate your perspective on this topic

The “wonderwoman/superwoman syndrome” is well alive in every part of the world. I think it is ridiculous. So many women try to live up to that and in the process loose themselves. It is a painful thing to constantly feel like you’re failing miserably at being a mother or even a woman, just because society makes these unrealistic, inflated images of what it means to be a woman. It is quiet dysfunctional.

Women are human beings and as that it is more than o.k to have flaws. It is more than o.k not to be a “perfect mother”. There is not such thing anyway. And there are times when this journey of being a mother is so painful, and heart breaking – it’s o.k not to enjoy certain aspect of it. I mean who enjoys seeing their child suffer, or die? These are some of the unflattering parts of being a mom.

As far as blaming mothers for everything, I feel the responsibility of raising children and running a smooth household needs to be equally shared among the entire family. Obviously there are cultural and societal beliefs that run deep in many parts of the world about the roles of men and women. This is a topic for another blog post:-)

Furthermore I believe that women and mothers have significant influence on the well-being of their child. However I also believe that once we’re an adult we have our own choices to make. We are each responsible for the outcome of our lives.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret

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Samuel May 9, 2013 at 1:06 am

Neseret —

Your honesty, clarity and wisdom makes you a brilliant beacon of light for youth and adults around the world.

If we are to truly evolve to become “adult”, we must learn how and practice peeling back the layers of infantile drives, habits learned in childhood, familial teachings, peer-school-community-religious culture — and our destructive, often hidden thoughts and emotions — one internal conversation at a time. We must find the courage to challenge each . . . and grow passed each . . . seeking to be fearless and learning to love ourself unconditionally. Then, we are free . . . to love others . . .

Thank you for showing us how.

Peace and Light!

–tum

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Neseret May 9, 2013 at 2:05 am

Samuel,

Thank you for your kind and encouraging comment.

I couldn’t agree with you more and I love how eloquently you express thoughts. It is true if we are to “evolve” individually and humanity as a whole we cannot be content with the status quo. We certainly can’t afford to continue blindly following religious ideologies or dogma, as well as ignorant cultural and societal traditions.

Yes, it does take courage to go against the grain of our conditioned beliefs and unconscious reactions. It takes courage to march to the beat of your own drum instead of following everyone else. Unconditional accpetance and love for ourselves is what allows us to follow our own path.

As the saying goes, “where there is love there is no fear, where there is fear there is no love”. Love is the antidote to all of our problems. Love is truly the answer.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret

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marquis June 13, 2013 at 11:55 pm

I made a response to you on G+. Unpreparedness to become parents, this is why you see many young women and girls not having a clue to what they are doing plus the media glamorize pregnancy as if it is the new fashion. I am 27 years old with no children and this article speaks to me a lot in a lot of ways that my own therapist couldn’t understand.

My parents were nothing but part time parents. They were parents when they feel like it and almost 30 years old my dad wants to be a dad, really? Only for his own benefit not actually having the love of being a dad. He just wanted 25 children so he can be like the rich Arab men with multiple wives, but having no interest in being apart of the children’s lives and have as many affairs as he wanted.

This article came out, it is becoming a closing for my life on my mother. My mother was so absent even though she was in the house physically, her interests were always on my “father” and the other woman plus the news on TV! It still is that way today yet my therapist feels I should tackle her inner child I said she should go to therapy for that, not my problem or my job and I know my parents will never go to therapy.

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Neseret June 14, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Dear Marquis,

I agree it is not your job to “tackle” your mother’s inner child. It is more than enough work to tackle our own wounded inner children. I’ve always thought there should be reproductive laws. We have laws and basic requirements for driving, and drinking and parenting is one of the most challenging responsibilities anyone can have.

I’m sorry to hear about your experience growing up in your family and with your parents. Your parents are more invested in meeting their own ego needs more than the needs of the children they’ve brought in to this world. They’re acting like immature, out of control teenagers. They need to grow up!

I’m glad you see right through the dysfunctional pattern that exist in your family and in your parents. I admire your keen sense of self awareness and your commitment to your journey of healing. You are breaking the cycle. Hope you realize how wonderful you are.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your experience with me here. Sending you Light & Love.

Neseret

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marquis June 14, 2013 at 9:38 pm

I agree. My parents are 66 and 67 years old and my therapist said they are still children themselves because they didn’t get the nurturing they should have gotten. I said they also didn’t become better people, they became just like their families a mirror image of them.

There’s so much about my parents that my siblings and I still don’t know too many secrets! My mother hates her own daughters (me included) yet has my brother on a pedestal. He is nothing like them, well, I somewhat have to wonder because I have notice some bad dad-son like tendencies towards me when I talk to him about what’s bothering me.

Both sides of the family are just disgusting and hateful pretty sad. I think my therapist wants me to have some kind of kindness/compassion towards my parents and told her wishful thinking, good luck! I am not sure what her experiences are as a mother, but she should look at my situation as mother/daughter but she is in my age group, perhaps a little bit older than me, and I bet she has small children. So, she wouldn’t be able to look at me like some mother/daughter and fully understand where I am (daughter) coming from with my mom (dad also).

Funny, she sees light at the end of the tunnel for my mom yet says my parents are far from ideal – then there is no light at the end of the tunnel since they have no interest in changing! I told my therapist how people have been trying to “rewrite” my childhood upbringing into something like Pleasantville and to be more “appreciative” towards my parents. WHAT?!? What are they trying to do to me?!? I told my therapist that is just pure brainwashing without even listening to what I or anybody else has to say about their life experiences!

I told her you can’t do that to people, that is history of another person’s life.

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Neseret June 15, 2013 at 3:30 pm

“Not getting the nurturing they should have gotten” is not an excuse nor a license to continue to be mean and hurtful towards others. We all get a share of our challenges in this life – some more than others. What we choose to do with what happens is what makes the difference.

Owning your anger and rage is part of the healing process. To forgive/let go doesn’t mean to forget. And as long as the individuals continue to engage in their unkind behavior and remain unwilling to change there is not a whole lot you can do to make things better.

The best advice I ever received from a therapist was “Go out and find your mothers and fathers, and your brothers and sisters”. Ultimately the mark of a spiritually mature person is to recognize that we belong to the human family. Once you’re an adult you can choose your own family.

Family is who you say it is for you. Do not look to people for acceptance, love, and support who are not capable of providing it to you. Find people who accept you and appreciate you for who you are. Often these are not your blood related family, they are your real/chosen family.

Good for you for standing up for what you believe in and following your intuition.

Neseret

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marquis June 18, 2013 at 6:32 am

I agree and I’ve had people tell me I should “endure the abuse” nevermind the mistreatment “think of your parents as they created you and your siblings.” God, I hated hearing that nonsense! These were people who had far from good parents yet complained about their mistreatment from visiting their abusive parents and tell me how “good it is.”

I told them if they are doing so fine in their lives, why do you feel the need to be still abused even more today? They got so mad but it’s true! Honestly, I feel like I am partially healing but healing 100%. My therapist told me that you can “heal” within an abusive environment and I went to the women’s center on Tuesday evenings on surviving abuse. The women in there told me how they were abused by their boyfriends/husbands and they never healed within the situation but they healed when they left them.

Every time my therapist says oh you can heal within an abusive environment, I have heard many different POVs on it and for me, my stomach cringes/tightens when she says it like my stomach doesn’t agree with it. She (therapist) doesn’t seem to agree with others say not like she has any experience with crappy parents, I think she has good parents. I told the therapist well, what do you expect me to do? I have no job, still looking for work, and have no place to go told her shelters are out of the question. Well, haven’t heard any suggestions from her yet!

She said to take responsibility, I said for starters, to get a job, besides that as me and her always discussed the lack of jobs in the state we live in. I said any other suggestions? Not a peep! I am volunteering, but found out there will not be any openings at the library and they will hire within 6 months for a couple of librarian positions with Masters in Library and they won’t be hiring for entry level positions. Hmm, could have told my therapist that one!

“Family is who you say it is for you. Do not look to people for acceptance, love, and support who are not capable of providing it to you. Find people who accept you and appreciate you for who you are. Often these are not your blood related family, they are your real/chosen family.”

I agree. The problem I keep having is making friends who show similar traits of my parents and those friendships always end up dwindling. My old friends dumped me because of the parents I have not like they tried to encourage me, it was more hyper criticism than anything else instead of helping me. I haven’t been able to connect with people yet because of all the distrust that I have which my therapist is working with me on that.

Other people didn’t agree with families mistreating their children and I said why do we hear so many cases of missing kids or being killed by their own relatives? Not one answer these people had to say.

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