Everything I do in life is because I want to be a better mother to my children. I get shy writing that because it sounds like a cliche, but the reason I think it sounds that way is because we’ve set society up in a way where motherhood adds nothing to the GDP, doesn’t look good on a resume, and therefore has no value. We often dismiss parenting because it doesn’t make us any money; we don’t sell programs about how to improve your relationship with your kids because nobody’s going to pay money for things that don’t make them money in return.
Parenting is not sexy and yet, everything I do with them has the potential to impact everyone they ever come in contact with.
Right now we’re listening to Michelle Obama’s book Becoming, and she’s talking about the profound impact her parents had on her. It’s not just about becoming president, or first lady, or Steve Jobs, but every human that’s an adult right now is either contributing to, or detracting from, beauty, largely based on how they were parented. Of course, not everything goes back to our parents, but a lot sure does! Parents have such an incredibly important role, not just for developing children, but who they end up becoming in the world.
And it’s different for mothers than it is for fathers. I was talking to a new dad the other day who said something about how hard it was to have a new baby and also write his book, but the fact that he even gets to write a book is because he’s the dad. This is not a hundred percent across-the-board true, and it’s not necessarily something to be resentful about (or even change!), what I’m referring to is the fact that we tend to erase motherhood all together.
Of course, women can also choose to write books instead of raising children. I would rather write the books that are my children than write a paper book right now. It’s more important to me that the world has my two whole children, and that I put my attention on the uniqueness and complexity and nuance of who they are, so they can become the novels they are meant to become, and the impact that has on the world matters more to me.
We don’t put a dollar amount (or a social following) on motherhood, which makes it easy to dismiss.
On the positive side we call motherhood priceless, but monetary value is how we measure value, so using a term like ‘priceless’ actually makes motherhood easier to dismiss. Lip service gets paid to how priceless mothering is, and yet we never get to say that it’s actually worth something.
I remember I went to coffee once when my son was a baby, with a woman who I love dearly & who I am sure meant no disrespect. She was asking about my life, and at some point she said something along the lines of, ‘oh, it’s so great your husband is supporting you,’ and I found that interesting because I was supporting him just as much as he was supporting me. I was staying home with our child, nursing our child, bathing our child, being with our child. He was making the money, but because his name was on the checks that got deposited in our bank account, and there was no money that got deposited in our bank account every time I nursed our son, the support I gave was not considered valuable. And, in this way, we can say ‘your husband is supporting you’, when, in truth, he can only do his job, because I am doing mine.
I tell this story to illuminate the deep underbelly of this logic in our mind – even those of us who consider ourselves feminists & who, on the surface, support motherhood as valuable.
What motherhood and parenthood ask from us is not necessarily who we want to be all the time.
As parents I think we are responsible to show up for our kids in the way they need us, even if it’s not we consider natural, or what I’d call a habitual way of being for us.
For example, I’m very conflict avoidant and would much rather pretend things never happened than address them. I remember a while back, my son Trent was having conflict with another neighborhood child. There is nothing more my son hates than being ignored, and this kid was ignoring him. I had continually told him to just walk away, or to go and find someone else who wanted to talk to him, or invited him to come and read books with me. But slowly I learned he wanted me to have a different response than what I was giving him.
Not only did he want a different response from me than my natural response, but he wanted a different response than the response I wanted from my mother. My mother was a get involved type, and it was mortifying to me. Trent was asking for something, and for me to pay attention to him meant seeing that he wanted something different than I had wanted, and doing what I could to step into that – no matter how uncomfortable it felt.
It is often said that we need to be the parents we wish we had had, but I believe parenting is more about being the parent your child needs than being the parent you wish you had. Being the parent you wish you had is a very self-centered way of parenting. It’s important to be able to see what our children need, and not only how it is different from our innate and habitual ways of being, but also from what we needed as children.
Who does my child need me to be, and how can I also honor that I am human this is the mom they got?
I’m not perfect & I’m going to do things that aren’t my child’s favorite, but I’m also paying attention to them and I’m going to stand up or stand down in ways that might be uncomfortable for me
My daughter doesn’t like it when I travel for work. I don’t travel every week, or even every month, but probably a good six or seven times a year, and when I travel, I’m gone for somewhere between 3 and 7 days. I have really taken to heart looking at what is essential & necessary for my business and for my development as a teacher, and then also what is essential for me personally, because in-person events feed me in a way that virtual work probably never will. And I have been willing to let go of opportunities that don’t need to happen right now. At the same time, I also hold my daughter and tell her this is the mama she got; I will probably always travel some for work, and she may never like it.
This is the dynamic tension of parenting.
We have so much more range and capacity in terms of what we can bring for our children. At the same time, if we’re trying to be somebody we are not; if we’re trying to make every meal homemade or be there every day when they get home from school because we think that’s what we have to do to be a good mother but we’re actually dying inside or stressed to the max, or it’s just not who we are — underneath what they feel is it’s not okay to be who you really are, and they will take that away more than they will take away that you were there for them.
Holding this dynamic tension of stretching into who they need us to be, while also including the truth of who we are – showing up for our children powerfully, while truly sharing ourselves with them as who we are – this is the essence of my experience of motherhood.
Watch the full video here: