“There is a perceived notion that the mother has to be “everything”, and as a result many mothers suffer in silence.”Dr Oscar Serrallach
The monster of mother guilt
A big part of my work involves supporting mothers as they reconcile their needs and ambitions as women with their family commitments. What we usually tackle first is the GUILT monster. The one that shows up when they raise their voice at their kids, when they’re late for pick up or miss a school performance, when they haven’t cooked everything from scratch or when they have work to do and rush through bedtime story.
The guilt monster is the one that whispers in their ear: “you SHOULD be doing a better job”; “you SHOULD be more ambitious”; “your body SHOULD be back to how it was before kids”. It is relentless and often brings its old friend, shame, to the party.
Even though it’s a common experience for women, it doesn’t make it “normal”.
In the last four years, I have immersed myself in the study of Matrescence: the psychological, biological, spiritual and societal understanding of the deep transformation women go through on their mothering journeys. One of the first things I learned is how pervasive the myth of the perfect mother is in our society, and how damaging it is to women.
What has your culture taught you about being a mother?
Professor Andrea O’Reilly, a world-leading maternal scholar, identified several unspoken rules of perfect motherhood, often at the root of mother-guilt. Here are a few of them:
1. Children can only be properly cared for by the biological mother
2. This mothering must be provided 24/7
3. The mother must always put children’s needs before her own
4. The mother must be fully satisfied, fulfilled, and composed in motherhood
I’m sure you can think of others. What about: the perfect mother must keep a perfectly clean and tidy house, at all times; the perfect mother must be professionally successful and contribute financially to the household.
To skilfully address the rising rates of stress, anxiety, and mental health challenges that are rampant amongst mothers today, we need to become aware of how these rules have been internalised.
Making different choices
Blind compliance comes at a high personal cost. Guilt and shame feed off cultural conditioning, unrealistic expectations, and a rigged system in which the “work” of mothering is not adequately valued and supported.
This understanding is a first step towards making different choices and challenging the myth of perfect motherhood. Choices that can help us release some of the pressure. Choices that are more nourishing, aligned with our true values and supportive of our children’s development.
Where have you sacrificed your own needs to live up to the perfect mother myth?
What new choices could support the mother and the woman you really want to be?
If you would like personalised support, you can book an introductory session with me here. I also facilitate women’s circles if you want to join a supportive and gentle space to explore these topics in more depth with like-hearted women.
Photo by Verne Ho for Unsplash