I’ve been reading lots of emotional posts on Facebook over the last few days, as countless mothers wave their offspring off to begin the next chapters of their lives. Nursery, reception class, secondary school, and of course in a few weeks time it’ll be the world of work, or university for some. What good actors we become – smiling cheerily as we wave them goodbye and then going round the corner for a good cry when we’re out of their sight! That’s the dichotomy of mothering – pushing our precious children out into the world (quite literally, at birth) and then pretending that we’re totally happy with it! It‘s a tough one – if we do our job properly they become capable, responsible members of the community, independent of us, apron strings well and truly cut. So how do you strike a balance between your needs as their mother and their need for both support and freedom from you?
Having had four daughters successfully reach their twenties without major mis-hap, I can pass on a couple of ideas that really helped me deal with these challenging times. It’s important to recognise that you feel the way you do – it’s normal and natural to fret – and the more you fret, the more your child senses that and makes the (wrong) assumption that you don’t believe they can cope on their own. I guess there’ll be times when you truly don’t believe that they’ll cope with what they’ve taken on, but let them get on with it. They will learn more about themselves from so-called failures (speaking from experience!) than anything else in life, and they want you to re-assure them, not undermine their confidence in their abilities. By the way, I’m not talking about life and death situations here – if they’re about to take a ridiculous risk, it’d be helpful if you stepped in with a more measured approach!
Once you’ve acknowledged how you feel, share your feelings with someone who understands ie another mother. Partners too, of course, although I’m not sure if fathers totally get it (Dads, let me know what you think!). Women are letting going of a being that was literally a part of them and it can be challenging – I heard a great definition of the mother /child relationship recently: ‘Having a child is like having your heart walking round outside your body’. Deffo! We were literally attached to each other by the umbilical chord and we need help to cut it.
A great tip a more experienced mother gave me early on was to look on my children as if they were on loan to me, that I didn’t own them. What a great perspective! Our children don’t belong to us, they’re not here for us to live our own unrealised dreams through – they are their own people from the very start. It proved to be a subtle but important shift for me which I found really helpful – it made me enjoy and appreciate every moment (well, not every moment!) they were around. So, as this gradual, on-going process of the cutting of apron strings continues, get a life! Make sure you have your own interests, aspirations and goals so that you’re not living through your kids.
Finally, remember that this parenting lark is a balancing act and sometimes we get it ‘wrong’. Don’t beat yourself up, we’re all learning on the job so have another go. Remind yourself that there’s only one letter’s difference between mothering and (s)mothering – so aim to leave the ‘s’ word at home this September.
Lis Allen is a motivational speaker and is currently writing a book on mothering which, like having children, is a work in progress! She has also created the Vagina Dialogues, a unique event for women of all ages which looks at the mothering role and how profoundly that key relationship affects us all as women, whether or not we go on to become mothers ourselves. The next event is in Hungerford on Sept 15th. For more info and booking click here.
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