Three years ago a friend asked me, If you could have anything in the world what would it be? I immediately replied, Freedom.
Burned Out Mommy
At that time, I felt trapped and desperately out of sync with my self. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted from the care and activity of three children, a husband and a high maintenance home. Not because they were especially problematic, but because I had completely lost myself in the upkeep. I wanted to do everything so well. I felt stifled by obligations. There was no me, just a shell of a caregiver, and a worn out one at that. I kept thinking there has to be more than this.
I would never downgrade the value of the work of mothers. Children need/deserve meaningful care and a mother’s touch is priceless. But nothing felt meaningful. Everything felt like an item on a check list. I was going against my very being. I was meant to act in a thoughtful, deliberate way. I longed for depth and quality but settled for getting through the day. I did everything to prove my commitment and accelerate the development of my kids. Of course, my husband wanted quality time with me as well. There was never enough of me to go around. Frustration and guilt danced daily on my shoulders.
I met other women going through the same turmoil. One friend silently cried most weeks as she drove her children to dance lessons in a distant town. Her kids sat unaware in the backseat as tears slid past her sunglasses and down her cheeks. Several moms’ inner conflict manifested physically. They found themselves fighting infections and taking antibiotics continuously. Many more were on anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medication.
There seemed to be a mismatch between what we were doing and who we were meant to be. We all were bright, devoted, loving women. We were knocking ourselves out. But feeling empty. This wasn’t as simple as being in a dead-end or unfulfilling job. You can’t quit motherhood but you can feel shame for thinking about it.
Women bring much of this angst and judgment on ourselves. My own mother-in-law once told me when I was considering going back to school, In ten years you can do whatever you want. The kids will be gone. Ten years!!! It felt like she asked me to hold my breath for ten years. What if I died before that?
I’m not advocating tossing aside your children for a better you. You chose to have children. Love them and raise them but keep sight of your own light.
Feminism and Self-Actualization
During this time of questioning I picked up a copy of The Feminine Mystique. I stopped reading it about 100 pages in. The feelings of unfulfillment described by housewives in the 40s hit so close to home I could not bear to read and re-live their unhappiness.
Feminism as society most commonly views it — equal rights for women — is different than self-actualization. Rather than focusing on equality, self-actualization focuses on rising to your full potential.
I did not go back to school but I did get an invaluable education by choosing to opt out of the life-draining mommy track. I became very selective about my endeavors. I listened to my own voice and dabbled in open-minded environments – writing classes, guitar lessons, group meditation. I found ways to incorporate them into the family schedule. I’d do them during the day when everyone was at work or school. I took music lessons at the same place where the kids took theirs. Meditation was a once in a while Friday night splurge. Each excursion felt like a giant gulp of pure air, sustaining and energizing. I felt like I was driving my life rather than being dragged behind the swerving truck of societal expectations. My step became lighter, my smile more prevalent and genuine. I shook off the heavy North Face mom- coat and slipped into a sensuous cashmere sweater. I felt beautiful and alive. I wanted to share this feeling with my family and others.
I encouraged my children to pay attention to their instincts and interests when it came to after school activities. Their dad and I put limits on the amount of driving we were willing to do and the amount of bologna over-achieving we would endure. Our kids don’t participate in cut-throat athletics or get tutored for a shot at perfect ACTs. We want them to be kids, to be free.
As mothers, do you ever wonder what is more important — dedication or passion? How can you self-actualize and parent lovingly?
**It must be mentioned that in the midst of this personal development my marriage ended. The divorce was intricately woven into all of the learning that took place in this phase of transformation. Heartbreaking as it was, I don’t consider it a failure. I consider it a trial that taught us both meaningful lessons in communication and vulnerability. We are better people for loving and hurting each other.
- Does being an intense mother make women unhappy? (sciencedaily.com)
- Are feminism and attachment parenting practices compatible? (sciencedaily.com)
- When Parenting Overwhelms (space2live)
- Half-way Home: Somewhere Between Building a Home and Feeling at Home (space2live)
- Peak Experiences in Self-Actualization:Gifts That Transcend Your Head (space2live)