Last time, we talked about how an important part of Mindful Living is to be Self-Compassionate, especially when it comes to our partners. But it is also an important part of Mothering. As Mother’s Day fast approaches, the shops are full of merchandise and marketing, telling us to be thankful for our Mothers, to celebrate them and the things they do for us, and to rejoice in being a mother ourselves. And of course, this is a joyful thing to do. But we shouldn’t only think of this once a year.
How often do you worry about your capacity as a mother, criticise yourself for your parenting mistakes, and allow that inner voice to say “I am a bad Mother”? Most of us grow up believing that mothering is an intuitive thing. You have a baby, and you are automatically granted ‘Mother’ status. You will love this child, care for it, do the best for it, never stop loving it, and would fight for it unconditionally. But no, sadly, this is not the case. The mother who has intuitive care, skill, and consistency with all her children, always being there, loving, protecting, supporting, sharing her life with her children…is an ideal we might strive for, but is not always humanly possible.
It may seem foreign to try to imagine not mothering a child in this way. For me, it really does feel intuitive at times. At least the loving bit does. But I also feel lost in my mothering, and confused about what to do at times. In the end though, I find that love and its consistency allows me to find my way. I think I learned this from my own wonderful mother.
I’ve also learned to be kind to myself. When I start to listen to that inner voice, “I am a bad Mother”, I remember that being perfect isn’t what is important for my children. How can I show them love, acceptance and compassion if I don’t have this for myself? How can I show them resilience and persistence, and a strong self-esteem in the face of failure and adversity, if I don’t have this for myself?
And of course, most of us also grow up believing that life will happen in some kind of logical way. We find a partner, have a baby, and life a happy life together. But not all women have babies, and not all babies live. Almost eleven years ago, my first child died. I felt Her last breath on my face as I leaned forward, kissing her forehead, her eyelids, soaking in her physical being. She was only eleven days old. How do you squeeze a lifetime of parenting into eleven days? A lifetime of love, care, fear and joy. The simple answer is: You don’t. Instead, you begin a journey of learning how to parent the dead.
In the past eleven years, I have mothered my aaughter in so many ways. I continue to feel my love for her, I sing to her, I celebrate her with birthday cakes and picnics, flowers on her grave, I miss her, I dream of her, I talk about her with others, sharing her story with pride, I imagine her future, I wonder about her as a little girl, a growing young woman, I protect her, and her memory.
Unless you are the parent of a dead child, it is very difficult to see how any of this could be psychologically and socially healthy. Parents of dead children are expected to ‘move on’, and talking about them is not easy. On Mother’s Day, there will be much talk about children, with love and pride. Our loved ones are a part of us and our life story. And story-telling is a part of being human.
When we meet someone for the first time, we ask questions of each other, we share parts of our lives. As parents, we inevitably talk about our children. For those mothers whose child is dead, these conversations can be hard. Mother’s Day can be hard. Pain may lessen over time, but love for a dead child does not. A little over one year after my daughter died, I remember a friend saying to my husband and I that they were surprised we weren’t ‘over it’, and that perhaps one day soon we wouldn’t need to tell her story. What other parent is asked not to talk of their children, to share in conversation with other parents and friends? I was a mother, and isn’t that what mothers do? Because it isn’t simply a story with a beginning and end, it is ongoing. You don’t ever stop being a mother to a child. Young or old. Living or dead.
So this Mother’s Day, let’s not forget to be Self-Compassionate. Mistakes are a human inevitability. Death is also inevitable. Whichever aspect of mothering is painful, be kind to yourself. You are not alone.