Motherhood. It’s something that I truly adore and equally abhor at the same time. Not really for the reasons you may think. I enjoy my role as a mother. To me, being present for my two boys is a priority and yes it does give my life more flavour and meaning.
But what I find hard to swallow is the impossible and unattainable social construct of motherhood that is constantly shoved down my throat; whether consciously or sub-consciously.
I’m entering my fourth year into my life-long ‘employment’ as Mum, and it has been quite a ride. The funny thing is – what started out as theoretical ideals in my head (formed from my own understanding of what it means to be a mother from my own upbringing) started dissipating as quickly as you can say ’super-mama’. More often than not, I really do feel like I’m a fail-mama.
Anxieties are a norm, especially when you care deeply about something or someone. You fear that your actions will jeopardise the progress and final outcome. Naturally, when it’s a human life you’re responsible for, the stakes are really quite high! And that’s where it gets really tangly, and it has definitely given me much to think about over the past year.
2020 kicked off with me returning to work after the birth of my second child. It was also a year where I invested a lot in my own growth – mental and physical. Pushing myself to look at challenges, opportunities, hopes and dreams from all angles.
One overarching theme was ‘How can I be a better mother’. I have faced this question with several lenses. As a result – I undertook many mini-missions to make sure I was progressing to that goal-post. They include (among others):
- Engaging my children with open-ended toys/play
- Connecting with them emotionally, being empathetic
- Potty train the elder one
- Bake/cook with them
- Speak more Mandarin to my children
- Feed them well
They are all small steps and with the fierce support of my husband, I think I have done okay. In spite of a raging pandemic, and the working from home situation, I believed I had levelled up.
2021 has just begun and I think I am making good strides in my mum job. I was however thrown for a little loop-de-loop when last weekend, I was told I needed to work at being a better mother.
It came from family, so I know it was well meaning. But that comment spiralled into my negative self-thoughts like an asteroid. I took it quite hard. My mind became a report card and I started grading myself with each action I took. Washed the dishes = +1. Fed the kids = +2. Didn’t manage to put the child down for a nap = -2.
Oh what a catastrophe that was. My mind was bubbling and stewing with so much negative self-talk that even Daryl noticed and probed to find out more. A meltdown ensued. Even I did not realise what was coming. I got sucked into a ridiculous expectation. I allowed guilt to fester and overflow because of my over-reaction to a simple comment that I hung onto and filled in the blanks.
My family certainly meant well. But what wasn’t constructive was a sweeping statement that made it easy to misunderstand. And then I realised why I was feeling the way I felt.That’s because the existing social construct of motherhood (a.k.a. what it means to be a good mother) is this:
Excel in your career. Be with your kids 24/7. Continue to be happy and grateful even if you never have time for yourself. Be a good wife. Keep the house clean. Do it all on your own and don’t complain.
Now that’s quite impossible to achieve and honestly rather absurd. I do believe that as a society, we’re getting better at being more empathetic but I think we can do more. Us mothers could do with more support and definitely more affirmation.
After some reflection, I put pen to paper (and now here) to remind myself that I am a mother to my children and therefore should be focussing on excelling at motherhood on my terms and via goals I decide on (instead of trying to prove something to others):
- Raise, kind, caring and resilient children with values and morals
- Equip my children with the tools to be emotional literate/intelligent
- Encourage my children to do their best in whatever they do (thus focussing on effort and not primarily A* grades/outcome), to build grit
- Be consistent (this is useful when disciplining)
There is no textbook to motherhood and there shouldn’t be. Every child is unique and we are not here to prove our mettle but rather act as guides as they navigate through life.
To all my dear fellow mamas, I hope you know that you’re not alone. As mothers, we are the lighthouse for our children, but let not others affect how you shine that light. As long as you’re guiding and lighting the path, that’s good enough. Everyday is a brand new day to do our best and let not others dictate what ‘best’ looks like.