5 Myths of Motherhood

I always wanted to be a mother.  I’d see Carol Brady on the Brady Bunch or Marion Cunningham on Happy Days and look forward to being the patient, approachable, unflappable mother that had all the wisdom in the world.  They made it look so easy.  I babysat the two kids next door several afternoons a week for 6 years.  I remember watching Sesame Street and making dinner.  I thought (at the wise old age of 14), I can do this.  Motherhood is about sitting on the couch learning to count with the Cookie Monster and popping a frozen dinner in the microwave.  Easy peasy.  Not.myths of motherhood

 

Motherhood is shrouded with all kinds of mythology.  These myths hold us back from letting go of perfection.  They cloud our judgement as we work feverishly to make sure that our children have all the latest toys yet skip reading them a book at night. The myths make us worry more about what the neighbors will think about how we’re raising our children instead of actually raising our children.  Letting go of these myths can help us get present with our children and our relationship with them.

 

So let’s debunk some of the myths we have about motherhood:

 

  1. Children are an extension of you.  This was a big aha with my own mother.  She never seemed happy if I was living my life on a different avenue than she expected.  I was always out of town too much or driving 2 hours for my son’s 6-minute wrestling match.  I wasn’t frugal enough.  Then I turn and look at my own children.  I remember wanting my son to apply early to Cornell (my alma mater).  It would have dramatically boosted his chances of getting in. I realize now I was wrapped up in my own ego.  I want my kid to go to an Ivy League school.  He is himself.  He is not me.  He needs to find his own path.  Thankfully, he did in sunny Miami and not snow ridden Ithaca. Give up the myth that your child is our mini-me and let them be themselves.
  2. The nurturing Madonna.  There is a Madonna statue in every Catholic Church I have been in.  The bucolic baby resting happily on the Madonna’s lap as she smiles at her little cherub.  I never remember feeling like a Madonna once. Ever. I do remember trying to breast feed for 2 plus hours in the middle of the night with no success.  I remember weeping because it wasn’t working and wondering how I was going to last another 18 years with this infant needing sustenance from me.  When I purchased formula I felt guilty for many months.  My sister-in-law had breast fed twins!  Why can’t I do the same?  Because I am not perfect and it’s OK.  I have two of those cherubs who made it past 18.  I wish I had not been so wrapped up in being the nurturing Madonna.
  3. Working full time means abandonment.  When my daughter was born, I owned a restaurant in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  My first husband and I rotated managing the restaurant.  I went back to work after two weeks.  Yes.  Two WEEKS!  We traded my daughter off in the middle of the afternoon.  I am not advocating women go back to work after two weeks.  But I have to say that because my husband and I traded her back and forth, I had her undivided attention when I was home.  It was Mommy and Missy Moo time.  I believe I was a better mom because I was satisfied with my career and ambitions and didn’t hold any resentment that being a mother would keep me from a successful career.  I also had a reason to work hard as I wanted the best for my daughter and, later, my son.
  4. Mothers are in control of their children’s views.  This is funny because both of my kids have strong opinions and viewpoints.  I remember mentioning my daughter’s support of a political referendum when she a junior in college.  A peer at work who disagreed with the referendum said, “You can’t let her have that opinion.”  My peer had small children. She had no idea that she would not have control over her kid’s views as they aged.  I’m not saying that as a mother you don’t have an influence but ultimately your children’s viewpoints are their own.  You are not in control.  Influence, yes. But not control.
  5. Mothers are a Jane of all trades.  I did not want to ask for help when I became a mother.  I thought I could handle it all.  Flawlessly.  This is untrue.  I needed someone to clean my house.  I needed a nanny.  I didn’t cook meals from scratch anymore which aggravated my internal Foodie.  My Dad drove my kids to McDonalds (perish the thought) and to local parks.  I had to let go of the idea that I was going to be in every memory my children had.  Just because I didn’t do EVERYTHING didn’t make me less of a mother.  Heck even Carol Brady had Alice.  I see clients who are mothers who suffer under this expectation. Don’t suffer.  Let it go.

 

These myths strangle us.  You are perfect as you are.

Letting Go. Are you attached to your kid’s success?

You verify every grade on the report card. You double check your kid’s homework to make sure she has it all “right”. You make sure they do their homework for two hours before they play any Minecraft. You take over the science project to ensure they win top prize. You want to make sure your child is a success and your happiness is dependent on it.

Really? Do you want to be dependent on your child’s success for your own happiness? That will end up being a lifetime of struggle. I’m not suggesting that you don’t want health and happiness for your child. We all want that. But are you measuring your happiness and/or success by your child’s success? What does success look like for your child? And who gets to decide what success is? Is that really up to you?

Letting go

I facilitated a workshop on CRR Global’s Toxins and Exploring Edges. I coached one of the participants on a change she wanted to make in her life (which Edge she wanted to explore). She has two sons. One is academically gifted and the other is academically challenged. Well, she was able to let go of expectations from the challenged son. She realized that letting go of one child’s expectations had heightened the expectations for the other child. The change she wanted to make was to be able to let go of expectations for her gifted son.

So here are some of the insights from the exercise:

  • Trust is the core of every relationship. This is one of the 5 Behaviors of the Cohesive Team by Patrick Lencioni. As Lencioni posits, it’s not just predictive trust (you do what you say you are going to do) but also vulnerability based trust (you admit when you made a mistake). Are you letting your child be vulnerable? Are they allowed to make a mistake without you chiding them? If they can’t be vulnerable, they aren’t going to tell you when they mess up.

 

  • Autonomy doesn’t have to mean you don’t care. Autonomy is a great gift to the folks in your life. Getting wrapped up in whether or not their homework is done or if they are EVER going to empty the garbage is exhausting and it’s not helping you find happiness. When you don’t let your children have autonomy (within reason folks…don’t let your 5-year-old park the car), they are constantly seeking your approval and reassurance or, on the flip side, are demotivated because they can’t have independence. Autonomy helps them create that on their own. The responsibility of success, failure and happiness are safely resting on their shoulders. Autonomy shows that you do care.

 

  • Let go in stages that work for you. The mom I was working with, initially “jumped” across the Edge. She then decided to go back and slowly inch her way across the Edge. It resonated when she was able to gradually move across the change of letting go. Her body language relaxed. You could see that she was relieved and that she could control how and when she would let go. How and when you let go is a very personal choice. Don’t jump unless you want to.

 

  • Acceptance of both failure and success is critical. Mommy client said that she needed to let go of whether her son got a 90 or a 97. “They are both A’s.” I remember standing in the middle of the kitchen when my son was making a complicated cake recipe. I was making suggestions ….er telling him how to fix it when he looked at me, put up his hand and said, “Stop! Let me fail.” I was thunder struck. Whether or not that cake failed is not life changing but him taking responsibility for its failure or success is life changing. Let go of the reins.

 

  • Communicate your expectations. One of the participants at the workshop suggested she go home and tell her sons about her new insight. If she doesn’t communicate that she is letting go of her expectations, he might feel like she is abdicating. There were several in the audience who talked about a parent who had essentially abdicated their parenting if a child did not follow the path the parent wanted (you know…doctor, lawyer, good college education, etc.). I remember telling my son after a poor semester at school, that I loved him no matter what he did. I didn’t want him feeling like he had to stick to something in exchange for my love. Unconditional love needs to be communicated.

Parenting is the hardest job in the world and is complicated, as in my case, when you are separated with the parent you had that child with. Model happiness for your children instead of measuring their success against unrealistic expectations. You will be happier in the end as well.

How to unchain from your children. Lessons from coaching.

Being a parent is a difficult job. There is this sense that your child’s happiness is completely dependent on you. Dare I say chained to you. So if Jimmy gets an F on his book report, you must pick up the pieces and find a way for Jimmy to succeed. I can remember one of the first girls, OK maybe the first five girls to “date” my son, ended the relationship by text. The relationship may have lasted just some 36 hours but I was devastated that they had the audacity to break up with my son via a text. Really? How heartless. That’s my hugga bear you just broke up with. I can look back now and see it was futile to get wrapped in the ups and downs of adolescent heartbreak. The secret is to be unchained from the outcome and present in the moment.Unchained from your children

I coach several folks who are parents as well. I see the struggle of trying to reconcile their own happiness with the happiness of their children. It’s natural for parents to want to see their children succeed. But chasing that happiness for them can be detrimental. All you really have is your own experience. And your children have theirs. When they were in a car seat or crib, you had a lot of control over their happiness. You could change their diaper, grab a bottle or entertain them with a rattle. Once they head off to school you become less and less able to dictate their happiness and they become more and more in charge of their own fate.

So here are the lessons I’ve learned:

Normalize. There is comfort in knowing that whatever you are going through, that practically everyone else has been there. Normalizing is a technique as a coach to find out if in the client’s heart they realize that what they are going through is normal. So whether it’s telling a client “isn’t it normal to want your son’s wedding to be perfect” or tell my daughter “isn’t it normal to want a committed relationship?” This is coaching 101. Everyone thinks their thoughts are unique to them. But we all suffer from our thoughts. Having a client realize on their own that what they are thinking is normal can lower the anxiety level. Be sure to normalize your own and others thoughts.

Separate. I had a client recently who has been working hard to separate herself from the drama that is planning a wedding for her son. If you haven’t been through the experience, the wedding is all about the bride. Being the mother of the groom can be very difficult. When it comes to a decision, the bride and her mother get to win. No matter what. My client has made great strides in letting the wedding be about them and not her. She has been able to look at it from a different angle and through a different lens. She is just an observer and the result has been much less strife. She’s been open to whatever decision comes along. As she said after the wedding, “Because I did not become part of the “drama”, the wedding experience was absolutely amazing! I enjoyed every single part of it. Practically, stress free. Learning to take yourself out of the equation when possible makes life much easier. “Separate yourself from the drama.

• Don’t buffer. I have another client who feels she has to be the buffer between her children and her husband. So if her daughter doesn’t sign up for the class in time, my client feels like she needs to buffer her husband from the information. I have lived this myself. I felt as though I had to make sure any negative information with my kids was properly couched to my spouse; and that the best light was shone on the issue at hand. It’s exhausting. I had to realize that my husband was a big boy and could handle the disappointment. I am not responsible for his happiness or his interpretation either. Allow others to speak for themselves; don’t buffer.

Don’t attach. The outcome is not attached to you. If my client’s son’s wedding is fantastic or if the bride leaves her son at the altar (ala The Graduate), it is not a reflection on the mother of the groom. As she said to me in our last session before the wedding, “I just want to be present and enjoy the moment”. She’s not attached to the outcome. She is just there to experience it and support this new beginning.

Let go. In the last few years I have really worked on letting go. I’ve seen my son and daughter decide on colleges, careers and love interests. I’ve seen my kids make decisions that I wouldn’t have. Piercings, hair styles and music preferences. I have let go of my judge and sent the judge on a mission of silence. As my client with the groom said, “And in regards to letting go, it is difficult, but when you do let go, the burden is lighter-you still worry, and of course pray for their safety, but the rest is out of your control. And, yes, it is much easier said than done.” What they do, is what they do. I hope nothing is life threatening but when your child is over 18 there really isn’t much you can do to change the course of their life. Let go.

I’m not saying it’s easy but I know that their happiness is their responsibility and my happiness is mine. Let them get there on their own path and don’t feel like you have to run ahead with a machete clearing the way. What have learned from being a parent?