Responsible for the discontent, disillusionment and disconnect plaguing moms of every demographic, these myths can make motherhood miserable.
I was seventeen when my eldest daughter was born. This fact, along with the fact that I am now thirty-eight, combined with the fact that my youngest daughter is now eight, all add up to one fairly unique reality:
I’ve raised young children both with and without the internet.
Which means that my mothering experience has straddled the single greatest expansion in human awareness the world has ever seen.
How crazy is that?
As you might expect, early childhood parenting of my firstborn felt quite different than the experience of raising her sisters. Though my age stands out as the most obvious factor, looking back, it doesn’t feel near as big a determinant as the difference in my access to resources and information.
Back then, I had approximately four places to turn with my parenting questions:
- the library
- the pediatrician
- the copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting I was given by my pediatrician
- my parents
The thing is, the pediatrician knew less about mothering than my own (awesome) mom, my dad, as a family counselor, was a wealth of information, and the library was hard to manage with a wiggling baby, so when it came right down to it, What to Expect When You’re Expecting and my folks were pretty much it.
That’s right. I raised my firstborn with essentially two sources of information.
Unbelievable as it may seem to today’s search-happy, post-internet parents, this reality felt surprisingly adequate. Despite my circumstances, I felt confident, well-supported, capable and empowered as a mother right from the start, and it sure wasn’t because I knew what to expect.
My confidence boiled down to this:
- Loving parents who believed in me.
- A mother who encouraged me to trust my intuition.
- The fact that I had virtually no one with whom to compare my mothering experience.
As a single, seventeen-year-old junior in high school, I didn’t question whether or not I was a good mom. I just knew I was.
Fast forward twenty short years (inserting the internet halfway through), and few mothers I meet would say the same. Though most are striving, hardly any of us are actually arriving at a level of self-assuredness and satisfaction proportionate to our dedication and investment. In fact, the amount of self-doubt I’ve experienced in my own post-internet parenting has been exponentially more than my pre-internet days, even though I know about a kajillion more things than I did then.
How can this be? How can such a wealth of information be both increasing our understanding AND decreasing our sense of self-worth?
It’s quite simple, really. Our brains aren’t wired for this much intake. The internet has provided us with a significant amount of information all available at our fingertips. But all this information is so overwhelming that we simply cannot ingest it all. We start to feel as though we are inadequate because there is an abundance of information telling us how we should mother, what type of mother we should be, how we should look, all the way down to what we should feed our children. From the moment we get that second line on the pregnancy test we are shown these collective ideas of what a “good mom” should be doing. We’re suffering from not from actual inadequacy, but from a false sense of ourselves that has reached epidemic proportions.
I call this collective confusion Mythological Motherhood.
Mythological Motherhood is the modern phenomenon responsible for the discontent, disillusionment and disconnect plaguing parents of every demographic. It speaks to the enormous gap between what we believe to be possible (based on stories we’re both being told and sold) and the way our current realities look and feel. The greater this gap, the more of these myths a person has likely subscribed to.
The consequence of this mass mythology (presented to us as TRUTH) is an entire generation of mothers who — though more attentive, compassionate, involved, patient, knowledgeable and educated than any other group of mothers since the beginning of time — suffers from so much self-doubt, inadequacy and overwhelm that we barely even benefit from our position of relative privilege.
It’s tragic, but it’s also a trend we’re capable of reversing.
Doing so starts with recognizing the myths being perpetuated, examining their detriment to our lives and digging deeper for our own personal truths beneath them.
Myths can be retold in any number of ways. I offer the following truer stories of my own as but one example of how it’s done.
Modern Myths That Are Making Motherhood Miserable
- Empowerment comes through lucrative careers and upward mobility. A truer story: We become empowered when we take full responsibility for our lives, recognize and work through our fears, learn to love ourselves not in spite of but because of our uniqueness and live the lives we know we’re here for. Empowerment and motherhood are only mutually exclusive when we allow others to define success and power for us.
- Life, as presented in stores and advertising, reflects the way life actually is. A truer story: The “reality” presented to us as consumers — that life can or should be perpetually pleasant, tidy, organized, beautiful and blemish-free — is a myth of the most seductive sorts. Because we want our lives to feel less stressful and more abundant, it’s easy to get caught up in retail fairytales, allowing them to increase the size of our gap. We’d be wise, however, to consider the greater implications of allowing any profit-seeker to shape our sense of prioritization, beauty or truth. I find it helpful to keep the word fairytale in mind anytime I enter a shopping center or flip through a magazine.
- A desire to stay home with your kids signifies a lack of intelligence, motivation, or competency. A truer story: Freedom of choice is still such a new reality for women in our culture that the choice to stay home has been unjustly associated with the very oppression our foremothers fought so hard to escape. It’s essential — for women, children, the integrity of families and the healing of humanity— that we don’t settle for the opposite extreme (stigmatizing stay-home parents) but encourage and support mothers’ intuition, the flourishing of which is a true indicator of freedom.
- A desire to work outside the home signifies a lesser degree of love for or attachment to your kids. A truer story: Some women’s intuition leads them to the realization that they need to continue working in order to best care for their children. Stigmatizing mothers who work away from home is just as destructive and divisive as its opposite. Instead, we might choose to focus our attention (as a society, and as individuals) on supporting the parent/child connection, whatever that means for each family. Social shifts, such as benefits for part-time employees, (way) longer maternity leave and community building initiatives are a much more empowering place to focus our energy than the “mommy wars” currently weakening our ability to determine and create what we really
- We can avoid “screwing them up” by doing more of the right things. A truer story: Perfect parenting is an illusion. No matter how hard you try, you are going to impact your children in ways you don’t necessarily want or intend to. Though this has never been any different, mythological motherhood has made perfection or near perfection seem possible. Every human on the planet is here to face, overcome and grow beyond their challenges. It’s not your job to be perfect, nor will striving for this goal necessarily benefit your children. It IS your job to be YOU in the most fully-expressed and supported sense possible. This version of you is what your children need from you most.
- Balance is what we’re all seeking. A truer story: Balance is overrated and easy to market. Attempting to hold a balance in your life (for more than a few minutes) is like holding a handstand for any real length of time: it’s not only exhausting, but it requires so much focus that you end up missing out on the richness all around you. I much prefer the concept of centeredness. Once we find our center (which can require some digging through layers of cultural confusion), there’s always the option to return to this powerful place within, no matter the perceived imbalance all around us.
- We’re shorting them every time we invest in our own needs, desires and interests. A truer story: It is our #1 responsibility to learn and take care of ourselves. Doing so enables us to mother from a more whole, nurtured and authentic place. Ignoring our own needs leads to resentment and compromises connection with everyone in our lives.
- Guilt is the price we must pay for the love we experience. A truer story: Guilt is one of the many prices we pay for unchecked thoughts. The deeper our self-awareness, self-love, and self-respect, the less power such draining emotions have over our lives.
- We’ll feel joyful about our mothering experience once everything’s lined up and organized. A truer story: We’ll experience more joy in our mothering experience when we let go of the perception that organizing our external environment is the most promising path inner peace. Inner peace requires a deep look into both the light and the shadow aspects of our souls. Healing from a lifetime of pain, limiting beliefs and security-seeking is rarely the easier path, but always the truer path to a joyful existence.
- Our children’s questionable choices reflect bad parenting on our part. A truer story: Our children are not really “our children” at all, but people we’re meant to be as affected by as they are affected by us. Their tendencies, personalities, habits, and choices, while impacted by our own, compromise their journey toward self-actualization. Supporting their unfolding means seeing them as separate than us, however connected, and not taking their choices personally. When we recognize a negative impact we’ve had, we always have the choice to stay humble, practice self-love and forgiveness, and stay vulnerable to the fact of our imperfect, evolving nature.
- There is a right way to parent. A truer story: Among the most destructive of the modern myths, “right way” parenting not only divides us, but deemphasizes and dulls our intuition. The right way for YOU is as unique as the one-of-a-kind connection you share with your child. Though parenting research has come a long way toward helping us understand the needs of children, the thriving of mothers requires a greater emphasis on and respect for our biological instincts and innate wisdom.
- We must equip our children with as many resources as possible. A truer story: While providing resources is part of our job, equally important is equipping them with the confidence and understanding that they can draw on their own inner resources. Because we as mothers have become so dependent on external validation (hello internet) for our sense of security, connectedness, and confidence, it’s easy to impart the message to our children that all the resources they need exist outside of them. Until we learn to hear and honor the wisdom within, we’re vulnerable to a million different messages that simply aren’t meant for us, and so are they.
- More is better. A truer story: More, in many cases, is making us miserable. Between activities, possessions and commitments, we’re being suffocated by the very things we hope will enrich us. At the heart of this phenomenon is a false sense of We’re biologically wired to want abundance in our lives, but until we define abundance for ourselves, we will continue to accumulate indiscriminately. Ask yourself what you really want more of and measure abundance accordingly. More time to dream, more connection with those you love and more awareness of the present moment often require less of what we’ve been culturally conditioned to accumulate.
- Asking for help is a sign of weakness. A truer story: Though more virtually connected than ever, mothers have never been so isolated in the rearing of children. We aren’t meant to raise children alone. The notion of “independence” that so many mothers feel they must maintain is yet another product of a society still working out what freedom actually means. Because oppression is so often associated with dependency, we’ve forgotten our basic human need for interdependency and inadvertently glamorized isolation.
- You should be enjoying every moment. A truer story: People who say this to you likely either suffer from a great deal of guilt or selective memories regarding their own parenting experiences. Remember in those moments (when you want to strangle some sappy stranger) that they aren’t meaning to guilt you for not feeling joyful every moment, but attempting to connect with you about the inherent sacredness of the mothering experience. What they’re forgetting is that not all sacred moments are pleasant, and that doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
- Experts trump intuition.A truer story: Experts worth listening to honor a mother’s intuition. Though it doesn’t always result in agreement, the finest educators, helping professionals and seasoned parents recognize that you are the #1 expert on your child, and treat you as such.
- Your inadequacies are the reason for the frustrations you feel. A truer story: The confusion inherent to our culture, your level of self-love and awareness, the social structures keeping you connected yet separate, and the degree to which you buy into these (and other) modern myths are the real reasons for the frustrations you feel. Your response to the gap between the life you have and the life you want dictates the quality of your experience.
- Self-care should only be a few hours. A truer story: “You can’t fill from an empty cup” as the saying goes. But many moms are told that in order to fill their cup they should get their hair or their nails done, work out every day, or read a book. But newsflash: self-care is more than just a couple hours to ourselves once a month. Self-care is an ongoing project and research has shown that in order for moms to truly get a break, they need to do things like have a girls’ weekend away.
- You should be able to do it all. A truer story: Pinterest mom, homeschooler, all-natural remedies, and all the labels that we are supposed to be are slowly weighing us down, making us feel insufficient as mothers. The idea that we are supposed to “be it all” in order to “do it all” right makes us lose sight of what is actually important in our own lives and the lives of our children. Focusing on a few of these aspects that are important to us is what should take focus- after all, a jack of all trades is a master of none.
- You should be giving your kids the best of everything. A truer story: The best toys, the best shoes, the best clothes- telling yourself that your kids deserve the best of everything while you sacrifice with the cheapest version of everything sets your children up for failure. As they grow older they will have a hard time making the necessary budgetary decisions that come with adulthood and they will also start to feel entitled to only have the best of the best, no matter who else suffers. This also affects moms, too- when they are always sacrificing their own needs for that of their child’s (a missed hair appointment because your child wants those brand new Nikes) they start letting go of their own self-care.
- Comparison is the thief of joy. A truer story: This last one is not actually a myth. We look at the moms around us- either at the park or on social media- and we compare our lives to them. Their perfectly curated life from edited photos with filters and smiles that were forced make us believe that our lives are “less than.” That as mothers we are “less than.” Comparing ourselves to social media stories carefully picked by their authors and photographers quietly steals the joy from our lives as we try to force our lives to look even a fraction as fabulous.
Though untangling ourselves from these myths takes time (and can be a painful process), the benefits go well beyond increased confidence. Future generations build their stories upon our own, and unchecked myths make for lousy foundations.
This piece was originally published at Revolution From Home.
Ready to dig deeper into your own story? Tired of the influence these and other modern myths have on your life? My passion is supporting and empowering mothers toward the creation of lives they love and stories they feel proud to tell. I work on a sliding scale, and would be honored to connect with you!