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What is mothering like today?

I’m sitting in a café in a town about 35 miles from home. I’m in tears (discreet tears). I’ve just participated in five phone calls to sort out a childcare hitch that is not of my making (except for having had the child in the first place). My heart is anxious for my child. Under NO circumstances do I want her to feel like she’s falling between the cracks, that she is in any way unsafe or un-held. I do NOT want her to feel that her mother hasn’t done her best to look after her, even when I’m not right there. I want to be the good girl.

I’m swimming in a sea of shame. According to Brené Brown, author of I Thought It Was Just Me, But It Isn’t and Daring Greatly, shame is the feeling that I am bad. (Guilt is the feeling that I did something bad.) I feel ashamed that my choice to take two days away from my child has involved five people in this childcare hitch, but more importantly, I feel ashamed that my choice to take two days away could possibly have made my child feel lost between the cracks.

As I’m currently reading Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which includes some wise words about shame, I have an opportunity to look at this. I’m also looking at this experience of shame, rather than burying it, because of the September 13th post on Revolution From Home. It recommends that we receive the gifts we are given. Revolution From Home talks about the positive gifts and I’m talking here about the FOGs (F*&king Opportunities for Growth) kind of gifts, but they are all gifts, right?!

If I extract myself from my tears and shame and emotion, what do I see to be the truth? Is my child OK? Yes. Did I cause a catastrophe? No. Is anyone inconvenienced? Yes. Did I inconvenience them? No (except by having the child and by choosing to be away for two days.) What actually happened? My child’s father failed to tell my friend where to collect my child at 1.00 today. Is that a big deal? No, not really. The child is safe. Is there any point in me feeling devastatingly guilty for his oversight? No. Do I feel guilty? You bet I do.

Am I wildly overreacting? Many of you may be thinking so. Undoubtedly this little episode has allowed deeper and older pain to surface. Nonetheless, it offers a peek into what mothering is like for me today.

Do any other mothers out there feel ashamed or guilty of things for which they are not responsible? Just by virtue of being the mother in the scenario? (I’m talking about mothers in particular because mothers and fathers have different experiences in this culture, and obviously I have no insight into the experience of fathering.) Somehow, even though I didn’t cause this childcare glitch, I feel entirely responsible for it. That’s crazy.

Daring Greatly says that shame thrives when it isn’t spoken. 12-Step programmes say that ‘we’re only as sick as our secrets.’ That’s why I’m speaking about this shame. I don’t want to be sick, particularly in my mothering. I don’t want anyone else to be sick from this particular shame either. Too many of us, in my not-very-humble opinion, keep too quiet about too much pain. Daring Greatly also notes that nothing about shame is helpful. (Guilt is helpful. See the book for more info.) Sharing shame decreases it in the sharer and the listener/reader.

Parts of the shame that engulfed me come from my personal story, and other parts come from what this culture’s messages to mothers. I’m feeling a little too vulnerable to share much of my personal story about shame, but I can talk about cultural expectations that harmed me today.

Here’s the big one: I assume that ‘everyone’ thinks I’m being self-indulgent, irresponsible or both to take two days away. I’m taking these two days because I badly need two things: time to rest and renew, and time to write.

I am a product of the US culture in which I spent 28 years, which assumes that two weeks’ holiday per year is adequate. By that measure, I went over my quota months ago. The UK culture in which I now live allows people an average of 6 weeks annual holiday and finds the Americans barbaric and unrealistic regarding people’s needs to rest, have fun, and get things done. (I wholeheartedly agree!) Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get over that American assumption that it’s possible to keep going, keep driving myself, keep working, keep making effort. My rational mind sees that the British attitude is clearly more sensible, but whatever it is in me that generates shame really loves to latch on to the American way. So I’m Bad to be taking two days away. I’m even worse because I left my daughter behind.

As a mother, I’m supposed to want to be with my child at all times. I can clearly hear a female (not my) voice in my head saying, ‘Oh, but I couldn’t leave my child for two days. I would miss her too much,’ implying that I’m a remote, unfeeling mother. As this is how I sometimes experience myself, that voice has power to hurt. There’s another voice saying she (the mother) couldn’t trust anyone else to look after her daughter for two days. No part of me agrees with this, but this doesn’t protect from the judgments I imagine others level at me.

In spite of these voices, I am convinced that some of us (such as introverts and artists) do actually need some time away without children as much as we need fresh air and healthy food. It feels like such a radical statement to make in this culture. Yet no-one thinks twice of a man travelling for two days on business, or going fishing with his buddies. A woman travelling for two days on business generates more controversy. A woman going away for two days to look after herself? That’s Bad. What’s more important, I challenge us, our hearts and souls or money? What’s more important, my heart and soul or my child? What if I choose my heart and soul? What if nurturing my heart and soul are not only good for my child, but essential?

I wish my cultural conditioning matched what I know to be true in my heart. The clash causes me untold pain and wastes an enormous amount of time. Until I catch it, the cultural message shames me. This takes me out of my centre, out of my heart. It makes me likely to lash out at other people, increasing the damage.

Is this too private to share? Would you rather I processed all this alone? Does it make you feel uncomfortable to read about my shame and tears? Do you just not care? I am here to stake my claim to your attention. This is most definitely not just about me. It’s about women and mothers. I am here to raise awareness of what women have to overcome in order to take two days to look after themselves. No wonder we don’t bother very often. It’s easier to just keep going.

The only price is our selves.

Maybe I sound bitter. Maybe I AM bitter. Above and below that humanness, however, is my strong and loving desire to support all people, including all mothers, to question the things that cause us to feel shame. I want us to shine the light of truth on these cultural messages that cause only pain.