The other day I was driving home from my office engrossed in the podcast “Magic Lessons”, when the road became distorted through my tears and I had to pull the car over. Elizabeth Gilbert was speaking with a blogger and mother who had a desire to write a book, but had been blocked in part by the guilt that somehow pursuing her own dreams meant failing her children. By way of encouragement Liz Gilbert shared a quote from A.S. Byatt, one of my favourite authors. It said:
“I think of my writing simply in terms of pleasure. It’s the most important thing in my life: making things. Much as I love my husband and children, I love them only because I am the person who makes things. I, who I am, is the person who has the project of making a thing ... And because that person does that all the time, that person is able to love all those other people.”
These fearless words resonated with a deep truth I had felt but never been brave enough to say. I am a mother, and love my children more than anything. But behind that role I still have the same desires and passions I had before bringing three beautiful creatures into this world. I am still curious and driven and grateful and ambitious and stubborn and impatient and creative and in love with life. I’m just more exhausted. So today, on Mother’s Day I wanted to write about the need to give ourselves permission to do those things that we yearn for, that awaken our souls. There is nothing more important.
You see, your children learn from you. Not by what you tell them, but by observing and imitating you. They are perfect parrots, repeating your words, mannerisms and ways of being back to you. This reality is no more profound than in my field of work; the prevention of violence against women. We know from research that children who grow up witnessing violence between their parents are more likely to end up in abusive relationships later in life. Even more significantly, it is a gendered pattern. That is, girls who witness their mother being abused are more likely to become a victim of domestic violence as an adult. But boys who witness their mother being abused (by a male figure) are more likely to end up perpetrating violence against a female partner when they grow up. This is the case, even though for both children, the experience of witnessing violence is no doubt traumatic and something that they never intend to repeat.
So a girl grows up to live not as her mother told her to, but how she saw her mother being treated, and most importantly, how she observed her mother treat herself. I believe that women’s subordination in society continues, in part, because it is passed down from generation to generation, as girls unconsciously replicate the pattern they have witnessed of their own mothers putting themselves last time and time again.
The ideal of the self-sacrificing mother has been placed on such a pedestal that there is no room left for any other facet of the human being. Interestingly, fatherhood does not seem to come with the same pressure to deny all other parts of the self, or the same side of guilt. In truth, motherhood is a role, albeit and incredibly important one, but it does not define us completely. We must move away from the myth that once you are a mother your life belongs exclusively to your children, because it is harmful to everyone involved.
Surely it is too much pressure for a child to believe that their parent’s fulfilment depends only on them. Surely children need to learn resilience in part through their own independent struggles and failures. And surely, as a mother, you cannot impose or force lessons on your children. You can only model through your own actions.
You will be of most service to your children and the world when you are you. When you tap into the deep desires in your heart that reflect the truth of who you are. When you honour that. When you honour yourself. Your children, and particularly your daughters (if you have them), can only learn to honour themselves if they see you do it.
So today on Mother’s Day, I say, let yourself dream. Listen to those desires to write, or dance, or sing, or build a house, or start a company, or get a Master’s degree. Whatever it is that you might have been pushing aside for fear that in doing so you would be somehow rejecting motherhood or harming your children. Your children will only benefit from a happy, fulfilled, mother. Only from a place of wholeness can you love whole-heartedly.
Happy Mother's Day!
Your children are not mere lumps of clay
waiting for your expert hands.
They are the very energy of the universe
and will become what they will become.
They are sacred beings.
If you tamper with them
you will make everyone miserable.
They will find success,
They will be happy,
They will delight you,
and disappoint you.
They will be safe,
and at great risk.
They will live,
and they will die.
Stay at the center of your own soul.
There is nothing else you can do.
William Martin, drawing on the wisdom of the Tao Te Ching