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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Growing Pains of Motherhood

A Mother's Role Is Always Changing

Thought for the Day: If "built in obsolescence" is the goal of being a mother, how can mothers deal with the growing pains of being successful & watching their children grow into adults who no longer need them?

Yesterday,  I visited & spoke with the amazing founder of Museum of Motherhood visionary, Joy Rose, who is also the founder of Mamapalooza. Conversations with Joy are always stimulating. We talked some about the growing pains of being a mother when your children grow up & start living on their own which inspired me to write this post. As parents, we know much more about our children's than our own growing pains. We spend our lives nurturing our offspring, helping them adjust as they grow & development. We obsess about when to ween our infants, how to potty train them, or help them get over nightmares. We work hard to ease their entry into the world. We help them deal with stranger anxiety as infants, fears when they start school & advise them with their struggles with social acceptance or with bullies. We hold the line & control our tempers as we try to guide them through the turmoil of adolescence

As mothers, we become specialists at easing our children's way through all the stages of growth, but rarely look at our own growing pains. Even as mothers have been claiming & accomplishing their own dreams, they may not take time to look at the impact of their own growing pains at each stage of their child's increased independence. Instead,  mothers seem to find creative ways to multitask & make space for all their children's needs as they make space for their own. They become experts at juggling schedules, carpools, work & marriage.  If you are a mother, have you ever taken the time to address your own growing pains? Who do you talk to when you feel stretched beyond your comfort zone as your role as a shifts & changes?

Although a lot has been written about the impact of "empty nest syndrome" on couples' relationships & how that often coincides with the stress of midlife crisis on marriages, very little seems to address the impact of the identity crisis for mothers (or stay at home fathers) who have successfully launched their children into adulthood.
Each Age Brings It's Challenges

What it means to be a "good enough" mother (or parent) is constantly changing as a child grows. (I use the term "good enough" to avoid the mistakes that psychology made in the past of blaming mothers for any & all of their children's problems. Psychologists are now careful to make it clear that we strive as parents to do a "good enough' job since there is no such thing as perfect parenting to strive for, but that is the topic for another post!) When a child is born, being a "good enough" mother means focusing exclusively on the infant's needs for food, shelter, warmth, & nurturing. When the child starts to crawl, mothers need to learn to give them room to explore while making sure there are no dangerous items within their reach. When a child goes to school, if mothers continued to focus on the child 24/7, it would be seen as being over-involved & stifling the child's independence. In adolescence, a mother needs to give her children even more room to grow & make their own mistakes while still providing structure & rules for some semblance of safety. As the her children go off to college, mothers need to shift their role again, hoping that the core lessons they have taught them will keep them safe & help them make wise life choices. The premier of the TV show Parenthood had a touching story of the painful process of letting go when one of the characters leaves for college. At each stage, mothers worry & try to influence their children, but let go of more & more control of their children's lives.
What Happens When You Become Obsolete?

A friend once told me that in her mind a mother's role is to have "built in obsolescence." If you do your job well, your children will out grow the need for you to do things for them. They will know how to clean up after themselves, do their own laundry, cook for themselves, pay their bills, have healthy relationships & build an independent life. That does not mean that they will never need to consult with you or see you, they simply will be able to run their own lives. However, did anyone ever prepare mothers for the growing pains that go along with launching your children into the world & becoming obsolete? Sure there is the joy of having more time for yourself & your own needs, but there are & will be mixed feelings at every stage of the game.

What I said to Joy is that I believe that the growing pains are a built in mechanism to help mother's cope with the inevitable changes that every mother will feel as her children grow.  The growing pains however can lead to an even richer relationship at each stage of a child's life. The transition is painful, but can lead to even richer relationships with your children at any stage. When children are younger we share the growing pains with out spouses & get our parents' advice on how to deal \with the painful transitions.
Mothers Have Their Ways To Stay Connected

When children are grown, we can share the feelings with them. By sharing them, we can work on enriching our relationships with them in the new frontier of an adult relationship with our children. Motherhood is a job for life. We can't resign.  Even when our children are grown & independent, mothers are mothers forever, & we only get one (although some of us are luck enough to get a step-mother who can fill the role in a unique way). Our role shifts & changes according to our children's growing & changing needs.

When our children grow up however, an even richer relationship can develop. In the best case scenarios, it becomes more like a very special deep friendship & bond, in which children support their mothers & mothers support their children more as equal adults. If you are lucky, (it does not always happen, even with "good enough" parenting),  when you have sown the seeds throughout a child's life,  you reap the benefits. In adulthood, that happens when children are connected to you & include you in their lives & in their children's lives not because they need you, but because they want you to be there. It does not always happen, but when it does, it is one of the most rewarding experiences for both the mother & the child.

I'd love to hear your thoughts & experiences with maternal growing pains.

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