Thank you to everyone who read, shared, liked and commented on my last post. I was really surprised by the response and also really heartened by the support and also the interest in something that obviously strikes at the heart for so many. The response to that article really got me thinking about the importance of connection in motherhood, and indeed parenthood. The amount of page views and shares really showed me that this is important and something that people really do care about. I never had any intention of writing about motherhood as such, except to touch on it occasionally in the bigger conversation about connection, and because I’ve written about motherhood in the past, felt a bit ‘over it’ actually. However, this article got me thinking about motherhood in the context of connection and I realised it's something I’d overlooked in my quest to unpack and explore this topic.
There was one comment in particular that really caught my attention and taps into my whole fascination and theory about the importance of connection. That comment was that the perspective in that article [http://www.andreakelly.org/andreakelly/2014/8/1/the-courage-to-connect-and-courageously-support] had the potential to change women’s personal journeys of motherhood … and from there the world. And from there the world. Bingo. That’s what I’m talking about. She went on to say that if women could ‘get this’, then think of the harmony and the love and how deeply connected it could make families, communities and more. I cannot tell you how amazing it feels when you’re trying to explore, explain and share an idea that you truly believe in, when someone, somewhere says something in response and you know they 'get it'. The way I felt when I read that comment, as well as the comment itself, illustrates perfectly why I am so obsessed with connection and why I believe it’s our number one hope of bringing more peace into our own lives and indeed the world.
I’m talking from my own perspective as a mother mostly to other mothers, so while I don’t mean to exclude fathers and other guardians, because all are heroically important, I will mostly refer to mothers and motherhood and leave it to you as the reader to slot your own situation in.
At the heart of the last article was the importance of connecting with and supporting new mothers in not striving to be everything to everyone and get 'everything done' at a time when, especially with an unsettled baby, just surviving seems to be the only thing that we’re realistically able to tick off the list … and that’s ok. It’s so important for more experienced mothers to connect with and share the wisdom of hindsight with newer mothers to help bust the myths on what motherhood is, what’s important and in doing so, reshape the all too often unrealistic expectations. Expectations that can lead to pressure, frustration, isolation and depression.
The first point I’d like to make is that this feeling is not unique to new mothers. Of course a screaming newborn is a rude shock into the world of motherhood emotions, but the expectations and distorted perceptions of priorities persists throughout motherhood. Unfortunately you don’t get to a point where you ‘get it’, tick it off and move on, at least I haven’t, not yet anyway. Nope, it goes on and on and is in many ways one of the shared experiences that defines motherhood. I even think, with the advantage of hindsight and my own experience with a grumpy bugger of a baby, if you have an unsettled baby, and this frustration and feeling of being torn becomes a part of your life from the get go, then maybe, just possibly, it’s mother nature’s way of giving you a head start. Better start practising, better get used to this, she’s saying, better figure out how you’re going to cope because this ain’t going away!
Sure, I know a screaming baby is a pretty in-your-face, heart wrenching horror of an ‘opportunity’ in bloody good disguise, but that could be a very handy way of looking at it. Your baby won’t cry forever, but crying baby or not, you will feel this way again … and again, and again. And whatever happens, in whatever way, you will get through this. You may find the miracle cure, you may not. You may come through unscathed, but you may also be scarred for life. But no matter what, while you will undoubtedly learn a lot about your baby, you’ll learn most about yourself.
It’s a worn out phrase that babies don’t come with a manual and of course it’s true, but it reminds me of of how sometimes there’s too much focus on the baby and not enough focus on the mum. Bear with me, I’m not saying for one moment that we should ignore our babies and indulge ourselves, that they’ll sort themselves out while we carry on with our lives as if we don’t have a screaming baby. Besides, screaming babies are pretty hard to ignore - that’s the problem, right? But what I am saying is that sometimes focusing all our energy on ‘fixing’ an unsettled baby while ignoring ourselves won’t do anyone any good either, and that focusing our energy, and at least a reasonable portion of our brain space, on understanding ourselves can be a much better investment. One of the reasons is that we may never find the magic solution for our unsettled babies and by seeking to find the ‘cure’ day after day, we run the risk of setting ourselves up for failure on a deep and dangerous level. The other reason is that while the baby will definitely, I promise you, stop being unsettled, at least at some point, the feelings of expectation as a mother, the juggling of priorities, the sense of overwhelm and frustration will come again and again in different forms and for different reasons, and the best chance any mother has of coping constructively with these feelings and learning to thrive in spite of them is by knowing herself.
No, babies don’t come with a manual, but by the time you have a baby, you will have accumulated a fair bit of data about what makes you you. What makes you happy, what makes you frustrated, where your strengths and weaknesses are, what your issues are. Any stress in life will magnify the things you know about yourself as well as highlight that which you didn’t know, and that which surprises you. Motherhood, if nothing else, is an epic journey in self discovery and self development. And therefore, if one thing’s true, and this applies just as much to dads and guardians, is that knowing thyself is probably your greatest tool for connecting with that baby, with your children and making this roller coaster ride of parenting as positive and fulfilling as possible.
Connection is the key, but it starts with yourself. It starts with listening to your inner voice, to your instincts and often, you will have to actively practise listening in order to even hear that voice, but it is there and it needs to be heard. This is where your truth is, and the more you can intentionally connect with and listen to that inner voice, the louder and more easily heard it will become. It is your first and most important mission as a parent, as a mother, as a woman, and you will need to draw on it time and time again. No one else can do it for you and it will take courage to learn to commit to it, but it’s the most important thing you can do because it’s through this voice that you will know how to nurture yourself first. By nurturing yourself first, you can mother your baby in the way that you are at peace with and have the courage to teach your partner the way that’s best for you and your baby. It will give you the courage to question the expectations you place on yourself and to make decisions that feel right for you.
When we connect with and support new mothers, and indeed all mothers and parents, to tap into their inner wisdom, their inner truth and peace, we enable and encourage them to parent in a way that is most unique, heart-centred and most effective for them. This is the most perfect form of parenting any parent can gift their children. It creates happy, secure and nurturing homes and enables us and our little people to go out into the world and connect with our communities from a place of greater understanding. By knowing thyself, by having the courage and commitment to listen to ourselves first, we create a feedback loop that changes not only our own lives, but those of our kids, those of our communities and indeed the world. When I have the courage and commitment to listen to my heart and let my words and my actions be guided by its truth, I allow others to tap into a primal human desire to do the same. Our kids need us to be true and at peace, whatever that means to us, so that we can guide them authentically. And kids know, babies know - they haven’t lost that instinct, it’s still raw, in tact and functioning for them; it’s us adults that have many a time lost touch with our inner truth. It takes courage to listen, it takes courage to believe and act, but when we do, things change. Life becomes easier, more enjoyable, more peaceful.
I know screaming babies are awful and I wouldn’t want to go back to that, but I can see with hindsight that I did miss an opportunity. I missed the opportunity to begin the journey of nurturing myself and listening to my inner truth much, much earlier than I did. We learn things at precisely the time that we’re ready to learn and I can’t turn back the clock anyway, but I do hope that my own hindsight can make someone else’s journey a little less prickly. I hope that the small amount of peace and wisdom I’ve found inside myself thus far can help just one other person see the importance of knowing thyself, trusting their instincts and in doing so, help others to do the same. True connection starts within ourselves, inside our own hearts, and the magic of doing this is that once we do, we can’t help but form more authentic connections with others, whether that’s our own kids, or people reading blogs on the internet. It’s a way of saying, “It’s ok, I understand”, and if that’s not a way to make better homes, better communities and a better world, I don’t know what is.
Photo credit: Fe Ilya, "All My Loving" via Flickr