All moms feel a little clueless at times. Then there are moms who feel like they’re trying to cook up a family from scratch, with no recipe. Because their own mothers were compromised by either alcohol, drugs, a physical illness, or an untreated mental illness, some moms aren’t sure what a “real” family is supposed to look like. They never had it. They get their information from TV, or movies, or Oprah, but inside they feel like they’re faking it. As we know, movies don’t aways present an attainable reality.
One woman put it too me this way, “Why was I let into this accelerated home with all these happy, well-adjusted children? Don’t they know I came from a D-minus family? I don’t think I belong here.”
Since 2007, I have facilitated a therapy group for moms called Mothering Ourselves. This is a group for women with young children whose own mothers were compromised. When your mother is compromised, even if she is alive, you can feel motherless.
This is the first in a two-part series on the basic concepts of the group Mothering Ourselves. It is the culmination of a lot of profound conversations, and profound growth.
1. Taking care of yourself benefits your children greatly. Moms often think if they spend every second of their day focused on their children’s happiness, they will be the winning mother, and their children will be the supreme examples of health. Nothing could be further from the truth. We find that helicoptering actually creates helpless and entitled children. Then some moms are having a really hard time, but won’t ask for help. They put on their face, grit and bare motherhood, because they don’t want to admit it isn’t bliss; they don’t want to be like their mothers.
But, when you ask moms with compromised mothers what they would have liked, they almost always say, “I would have liked my mother to take care of herself, so I didn’t have to.” When you take care of yourself, physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally, you send a message to your kids that you’re doing fine. They don’t have to worry about you or your emotions. They can just work on growing up.
In addition, when you take care of yourself, you model how a person calms themselves down, creates health in their lives, finds joy in friendships, grows. So, you don’t have to be an “Executive Parent” or hang on by your fingernails to be a good enough mother. You can do wonders for your family just by sitting on the couch next to them and reading a novel.
2. Enriching your marriage ultimately benefits your children. All adults have adult needs: for physical intimacy, for emotional connection, for stimulating conversation, for humor, adventure, and creativity. Investing time and energy in your marriage or partnership helps you get these needs met. Spending time together with your partner isn’t abandoning your children; you’ll be back. On the contrary, because it makes you happier overall, it uplifts the whole family. Again, taking charge of your happiness lets your children off the hook. They see you’ve got it covered, and they don’t get the feeling it’s their job to cheer you up. Closeness with your children is wonderful, but it isn’t the only kind of closeness you need. I recommend that couples with young children make the time to have four overnights a year and one night out a week. Lover relationships take time. They take practice. And with time and practice, they can really work.
3. You can create a healthy family now. You aren’t stained by your family of origin so darkly that you cannot have a happy family now. It is entirely possible! There are many sound and helpful resources to help you cook this recipe. There are books, like “The Whole Parent: How to Become a Terrific Parent Even if You Didn’t Have One,” by Debra Wesselmann, or “Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting or Children,” by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson. There are groups, like Mothering Ourselves, MOPS, or various Moms Meetups, and classes like The Parent Project. There are programs like Attachment Parenting and Love and Logic to look into. In addition, if you are in a good relationship, you aren’t the only person in this. Your partner has a heart and brain working on it too. You may have had to do many things by yourself growing up, but for this one, you don’t have to. There are many resources. Besides, just that you are asking the question “How do I do this well?” shows that you are healthier than most of the compromised mothers I hear about.
4. Your children probably don’t need what you really needed growing up, because they already have it! (You’re a good enough mom). A lot of times moms want to give their children what they never had. They have no memory of their mothers coming to school, so they become PTA president or volunteer in the class 3 times a week. Their mothers were abusive, so they don’t want to set limits with their children. They’re mothers were absent or neglectful, so they keep their children suffocatingly close. The home they grew up in was filthy, so they keep their own homes nervously clean. Actually, you are parenting yourself when you do these things. It’s what you needed. Your kids are different from you, in part because you raised them, not your parents. They might need the freedom to rest their feet up, or try something completely on their own, or they might need some firm boundaries. They are different people. What you needed may not work for them. So keep a lovely clean room for you to enjoy. You deserve it. Then, in this moment now, let your children build forts with the cushions.
To be continued!