A colleague of mine is in the process of creating and producing the “Mama Faces Project” – a video art project interviewing mothers. (I will share with her permission when it is complete). In this project, she invites mothers to say TO YOURSELF what you needed to hear in those most difficult moments of motherhood: those moments where you felt alone, overwhelmed, full of rage or failure. The purpose is so any mother out there who may be feeling awful in the moment will know they aren’t alone .
As I prepared for participating in this video project, I thought, hmmmmm…what were those moments for me? I definitely struggled with sleep: sleep “training,” modified sleep training, no sleep training, chucking sleep training out the window, co sleeping with a baby kicking me in the face, etc. (BTW Here is a funny image of what any parent who has attempted co sleeping has experienced: http://www.howtobeadad.com/2011/6452/baby-sleep-positions-“h-hell” )
Here is what I would say to myself:
1. Lots of people have “failed” at this. You are NOT ALONE in struggling with this.
2. It is ok to be angry at your husband during this phase of sleep deprivation. That is normal. Love is under the anger. (You don’t have to feel or remember that right now.)
3. I know you know a lot about psychological conditioning (I was studying this for my licensure exam while in this phase of infant Mommyhood) right now and how “reinforcing” it can be to respond to “negative” cries for attention or respond erratically/inconsistently, but here is what I want you to know from a fierce mother’s heart: Your child is not a dog, rat or pigeon and you are not Pavlov, Skinner, Watson or any other behavioral Psychological researcher! (Here is a frightening example of how the behavioral Psychologist Skinner kept pigeons underweight and living in tiny boxes in order to have them be hungry enough to want to eat food as a reinforcement for the behavior he was trying to condition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I_ctJqjlrHA )
4. It is ok to be inconsistent because you are human and one of the best lessons you can model for your child is to listen to your intuition on where you are suffering and let that guide you toward the most appropriate response.
You do not have to cut yourself off from that awareness to be a good Mom. Yes, of course it can be helpful to be consistent, but remember the deeper place of consistency is the ability to flow with chaos. This is not a laboratory. This is a real life experience with messiness and failure. And growth comes from failure. AFGO’s (Another F*cking Growth Opportunity) come from failure. Remember how Brenee Brown called TED “the failure conference”? There is a LOT of inspirational growth in failure. Invite failure more! Invite yourself to fail! As it says in the first sentence of the 12 steps:
“WHO cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course. Every natural instinct cries out against the idea…” *
And yet the foundation of transformative learning (as well as recovery from any addiction such as alcoholism, codependency, eating disorders, etc) comes from admitting “Ok I am having an AFGO here, failing, and I am whole heartedly willing to stop suffering in this way and try something different.”
I invite you to wholeheartedly be willing to stop beating up on yourself for the ways you are “failing” as a mother and embrace messy learning. As Brenee Brown states, one of the greatest gifts we can teach our children is that “You are worthy of love, belonging and joy.” And we model this for our children by modeling self-compassion and embracing our own imperfections.
For a beautiful version of Brenee Brown’s Parenting Manifesto, click here:
* The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous
Before becoming a Mommy, I was an ardent advocate and feminist for the “Nurture” side of Nature vs Nurture. Go women engineers! Go male ballerinas! And I believed that temperament was more influenced by family, education, conditioning, culture. Then I had a boy. Who came out of the womb loving motorcycles, dump trucks, garbage trucks, firetrucks, and diggers, in order of level of excitement, least to best. Here are 3 sitings that never fail to greatly slow progress to getting anywhere on time if there are sightings:
1) Firetruck. This one, thankfully, often passes quickly with sirens and bells…
2) Garbage truck.
This one can be a longer delay as it entails waiting to watch many, many bins to be lifted and dumped with a lovely, stinky background stench.
Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker & Tom Lichtenheld