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The Mother Lode – female writers and motherhood

by Amanda de Souza

Motherhood is contradictory. It simultaneously unites and divides between the haves and have-nots, between those who go to work and those who chose to stay at home, between the free-range, the tiger and the helicopter parents. But perhaps nothing divides and unifies more than when writers question the beatified view of motherhood as fulfillment of women’s role and its cherished place in society.

Writing motherhood

Writers have long used their life experiences in their novels. Good writers use those experiences to tackle topics explored with a mixture of intelligence and forthright argument. Yet those who seek to honestly document experiences of child rearing often run the risk of being controversial, or at the very least, provocative. This week’s blog explores the work of two such accomplished, provocative writers — set almost 50 years apart. Both cast a wry and cynical look at motherhood in all its wonder and horror. These are not childcare nor self-help manuals. These authors wrote to maintain their sanity or for financial reasons — often one and the same.

A Life’s WorkOn becoming a Mother by Rachel Cusk

A dark memoir and a relentless lament of the author’s early experiences with mothering.  Its compulsive reading with a familiar cast of characters (mother, father, baby, doctor, health visitor, a few friends) and plot (pregnancy, birth, colic, sleepless nights). As with the first few months of a baby’s life, the time scheme in the book is unchronological, as if to convey the disorientation of early motherhood. Rachel feels like an exhausted prisoner and even questions sadly whether her daughter likes her at all. What makes it so compelling is her masterful prose and the bravery that others will find some solace in her experiences.

Life Among the Savages and its sequel Raising Demons by Shirley Jackson

Both written around the late 1950’s, Shirley Jackson’s books seem very modern and relevant today.  Primarily known for her macabre “horror” fiction, these novels about her family life — originally serialized in magazines — portray a more human side of her writing. These books established Shirley as an unlikely predecessor of today’s “mommy bloggers.” She removed the traditional sugar coating around motherhood. Her writing serves as an intelligent and insightful chronicle of perennial issues on raising children, while questioning if every woman belongs in a traditional role.

Breeding power

Somewhat antithetical, motherhood has the ability to both empower and disenfranchise women.  All too often, the initial  respect and responsibility women experience nurturing young lives becomes diminished by reduced income and influence when they switch to part time employment, chose to work from home, or eschew paid employment completely in favor of child rearing.

Rachel Cusk’s and Shirley Jackson’s writings shine a spotlight on that dual aspect of motherhood, and calls for new inclusive definitions of power. Definitions that recognize both the joy and sacrifices required to perform that “mother of all jobs”.

Women and Power by Mary Beard

Mary Beard’s manifesto  timely in the light of the #MeToo movement — reinforces that need for change and inclusivity in the language and definition of power. It proposes, instead of appropriating male definitions, women break societally imposed silence and create their own language and means of wielding power in order to effect a semblance of modern equality.

One aspect of a changing definition of power is the power of individuality. The acceptance of differing views on long cherished ideals about women and motherhood. The acceptance that we as women do not all fit into one mould and knowing that WE are not alone.

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5 top tips for mothers

Her name is Nina. She changed my life in 2014. She changed me.

This journey through motherhood is a never-ending one. Among many other things, it has been teaching me about the meaning of deep connections, selflessness, and unconditional love. It has taught me what empathy (really) means and what comes along with it.

As any other journey in life, motherhood doesn’t come without bumps along the way (pun intended!). Although I have always considered myself an empathic person, it wasn’t until recently that I understood the strong impact empathy can have on one’s life. Empathy is defined asthe action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another, of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner;” in other words, it is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

When we become mothers, the physiology of the brain changes; our hormonal production changes to make us more empathetic with the purpose to adapt to the tiny human being that we have generated.

As soon as our babies are born, we become able to feel with them in order to be able to respond to their needs in the best way possible. We feel their pain. We cry with them. We suffer with them. And we become so immersed in our babies’ needs that we start losing our focus on ourselves as individuals. Motherhood comes with priority shifting, and, at some point, our identity gets shaken off.

Through my coaching practice and from talking with other mothers in informal settings, I observed that a lot of mothers suffer from some lack of confidence, have a negative self-image, and sabotage themselves by negative self-talk and limiting beliefs.

I frequently hear self-castrating beliefs such as “I shouldn’t dress the way I want because I am mother now” or “I am not allowed to have fun if my child is not with me” and so forth. This limits their freedom – to feel, to behave, to be. And most of them seek me in order to help them to deal with negative emotions that have been triggered or enhanced by maternity (such as fear, guilt, anxiety, and frustration). It truly breaks my heart to see so many wonderful women not valorizing themselves as they deserve. So, when DelftMama invited me to write a blog as a guest, I decided to give my contribution by sharing simple tips to get you going through the day in a more healthy way.

I am not going to be extensive here, but I hope that by starting to practice the following suggestions you may find it easier to get through your day and avoid falling into the negativity spiral.

 

Tip #1: Mind your (negative) language

Are you familiar with the expression “careful with what you wish for”? Yes, the way you set your mind for something is halfway to being successful (or unsuccessful).

Expressions such as “I don’t deserve,” “I am not good,” “I can’t,” etc. are behavior sabotagers! People have no idea of the impact that their own words can have on their psychological processes. When we say something like “I am not capable of doing such and such,” we are already believing that that is true; we are accepting it and, therefore, creating a limitation.

Our brain literally believes in everything we say, either out loud or in internally. So, instead of using negative language and focusing on negative aspects of yourself or your life, make a conscious effort to praise yourself, to point out and talk about the good things about you, about others, and your life. Describing yourself in a positive way is already halfway to build a healthier self-image!

 

Tip #2: Breathe and connect with yourself

Breathe when you are annoyed. Breathe when you are happy. Just breathe!

Allow yourself to take a few minutes a day and stop whatever you are doing just to create a moment to connect with yourself. Breathe in and out naturally while paying attention to any sounds surrounding you. Observe how you feel in your body, pay attention to your emotions, let your thoughts come and go without judgement. Go back to breathing.

If you are not used to meditating (or even if you are!), my suggestion would be to listen to guided meditations. These are a great tool to help you to take a little break during your day. You can find meditation videos and podcasts on Youtube, or you can download the app “Insight Timer” on your smartphone – I am hooked on this one, as there are literally hundreds of podcasts to choose from!

 

Tip #3: Take a break

No matter what that annoying voice tells you, you-deserve-to-take-a-break! Indulge yourself, take care of yourself. Literally do anything that YOU enjoy doing. Meet with friends, exercise, have a drink (or two!), play video games, go for a massage, go to the movies, go silly, just go on a spree!

 

Tip #4: Go out on a date

Spend some time with your partner. Cherish and indulge each other. It is difficult when you have a little one (or more) between you. My advice would be to make time to spend some quality time together.

 

Tip #5: Get it out of your system

Whatever you are feeling right now you may find yourself thinking that you are the only one. You may assume that other mothers don’t feel the same way and that talking about your feelings will perhaps be a burden on others. I get it; I have been there and got the t-shirt. But you are not alone in this. Venting out and sharing your feelings with friends, other mothers, or even a professional will very likely help you to find some balance. And, remember, by expressing your feelings you may actually help others do the same. It’s a win-win situation.

 

So, after reading these tips I hope you already have your diaries at hand and are ready to plan a date with yourself, with your partner, or a friend for this week!

Just have some fun! Oh, and make sure you attend the Delft MaMa events – they are a great way to have fun while sharing experiences.

And, remember, just breathe!

 

 

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