Yep. It’s true. I am.
Mothering is hard. No matter who, when, where, what. When a woman becomes a mother she disappears, her identity gone. Mothering is strapped onto her and she can’t get it off. No matter how she wrestles, wrangles, valiantly resists, it just snaps back onto her like a too-small swimming cap. POW!
Feeling this way does not in any way negate wanting and loving her children. No matter the mother, the she that existed before the firstborn entered the scene is permanently submerged, and her life is now lived from the backseat to the offspring front and center. This is how it is, and therefore how it should be. There is no changing it; no amount of arguing with reality will budge it.
But oh, those arguments with reality… that’s where the monsters show up. Monsters that throw tantrums even bigger than the three-year-old’s. Monsters that attack and blame the spouse or significant other. Monsters that punish children for being tired, hungry, cranky, perpetually needy. In other words, for being children.
Why resist children being children? Introspection and a lot of reading over the years has led me to the conclusion that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves (and I’m by no means the first to come to that conclusion). I have also observed that our individual “hot buttons” were wired in childhood by our primary caregivers. The adults who tended us, often in those most formative months and years before memory even begins, taught us what they could and could not accept by their responses to our behavior. Never mind that children experience rejection of behavior as rejection of self– that fact was unheard of until recent years and is still controversial in many circles. While the best method of teaching behavior is modeling, the primary method of teaching acceptable behaviors in a fear-based parenting model is reward/punishment. This builds an almost Pavlovian reaction a person may remain blissfully unaware of until it is triggered by the person’s own offspring. Then BAM! Out come the monsters!
Maybe I’m the only mother who struggles with this, but I am old enough to doubt that. The question I must ask is, how do I transform these reactions to my children that argue with reality and do not serve my or my children’s best interests?
I think the Buddhist tools of mindfulness and meditation are a mother’s best bets here. Mindfulness, in this case, requires simply bringing awareness to the feelings that emerge when triggered, without judgment. A regular meditation practice develops the ability to observe emotion in this way, without attachment. It is much easier to let negative feelings pass without getting stuck when judgment is eliminated from the equation. Judgment is energetically sticky, and implies a need to punish; without awareness, this impulse to punish can land anywhere, especially on unsuspecting children and spouses! Mindfulness creates space– a little breathing room, a pause to allow the waves of feeling to crash upon the beach of consciousness and then recede, without needing to do anything about it. It gives us the opportunity to choose our behavior, to act instead of react, to behave like adults allegedly are supposed to.
Of course, once a mother, it becomes phenomenally difficult to cultivate a regular meditation practice. Yet no one needs it more. I could scrape by without much meditation before children (oh how simple I didn’t know I had it!), but three kids down the line I daresay my survival depends on it. Some days I would say theirs probably does too 🙂 The trick, then, is to learn to meditate on the fly, to associate awareness and observation of the mind with mundane activities like walking, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Sitting meditation is great and wonderful, but when does a mother get to sit uninterrupted? Defining a successful meditation practice as sitting for X minutes X times a day or week is a prescription for failure for a mom. Mothers have to be more flexible than that– a good practice in itself, with its own fringe benefits.
So today I am writing myself a different prescription: daily meditation, no matter what. An elephant is eaten one bite at a time, so I’ll begin with a simple commitment to be aware and observing for five minutes each day, at some point. As a consistent pattern begins to emerge I’ll extend my time, or add a second five minute interval, depending on what reveals itself to be feasible. I can do this.
After all, I am possessed by monsters.