I want to talk for a minute about motherhood. Specifically, motherhood as a maker. As women trying to juggle motherhood and these creative outlets that enrich us, it's tricky. And it's a unsteady marshland of self-doubt, right? As I go through this process of learning to balance and integrate a creative current into the fabric of my life, I'm forced to constantly adjust and evaluate my conception of what that means, and what I'm entitled to expect for myself. I sometimes find it's a lot like trying to ride a seesaw with a group of unruly chinchilla, or peeling an onion...each time I think I've got it figured out, someone jumps off or back on, and I'm thrown off and have to re-balance. Each time I think I've picked this concept of mom guilt and self care-life balance apart and figured out that I'm doing all right, I discover another layer beneath that leads me to question whether I'm right or wrong to try to intentionally carve out something so definitively MINE in the space that's dominated by traditional duty and motherhood.
And of course, that always leads me to the deeper, truer question, which I'm still working away at, in the deep dark.
Why do we feel that we need to choose between one or the other? Why do we have to justify a pursuit that enriches us as women and refreshes our spirit?
What's with this bizarre external set of societal conditions that we've internalized? It doesn't matter whether you're pursuing a corporate career outside the home, or one like the one I'm building now. Years of conditioning have taught us that when we take on that role of "mother," in order to be a good mother, we forego our wants and needs. It's so fucking noble. That to insist that we have another identity outside of that role better be a pretty big deal; you better be sure it's worth it, because you're a mother first. It's somehow taboo, unwomanly. It's a ridiculous and toxic set of expectations as it is. But at least when you set out for a corporate career, you're rewarded with the instant gratification of a steady paycheck to show that you were right; maybe some benefits, a little 401K; this is a good idea. This has merit. This has use!
Not so much when you're moving in the circles that less traditional mothers like myself are moving in. Please, please, please don't take this the wrong way, as some latent criticism of those mothers rocking it - working their asses off in the more traditional career roles. I respect the hell out of you. I've done both. This feels harder. For me, anyway.
What is this mindset that says that by committing ourselves to a pursuit that makes us more complete people, we are somehow less effective mothers? Less available mothers, less wholly committed mothers...and therefore somehow not quite what we could (or should?) be? That we can't have it all, because we decided to have kids. This is what you asked for. You wanted kids. Suck it up. I continue to be offended by that subtle check on our power as autonomous equals, and yet I still have yet to put my finger on exactly why. I still haven't had someone explain to me satisfactorily why that's the way things work. You know why? Because it only works like that if we accept the limitations that that places on us. And I refuse to accept that as my reality.
I had a bosslady friend email me recently, asking for advice, as she struggled with finding time to grow her business while also being the best mother possible to her three LOs. She lamented that she was trying her very best to make the best choices for her children, and she is an amazing, dedicated mother. But she also really wants (read: NEEDS) her business to grow, and because she was only left with the barest of time at the end of the day, there just wasn't enough of her to go around. This is so familiar it hurts.
I haven't answered yet, because when I tried, I was frozen at my keyboard. I had no answer.
And the more I tried to figure out why I had no answer, the deeper I dove, I found the guilt.
We give so much of ourselves, and the irony is that there isn't enough of us left over at the end of the day to give to the outlet that would multiply back what we give to it, and rejuvenate us. And give us self-confidence and light and positive reinforcement, that would in turn only make us better mothers.
I find that I'm paralyzed by guilt when I try to explain why I MUST do this thing that I do. I have no rational, defensible reason why this has to have room in our family, I find that I need to justify my drive to pour myself into this vessel that, on first glance, takes away from my family. Or at the least, doesn't contribute to it in a way that satisfies the expectations placed on me from the traditional, pragmatic POV of patriarchal dominated culture. That somehow it's a betrayal of some deeper martyrdom that I assumed when I decided to become a mother.
Sometimes I feel it bounced back from within my own mind, and sometimes it's reinforced by those around me. But oh boy, is it there. That somehow, in our tiny little western society brains, we have been taught that we are to put ourselves last. That we offer up the sanctity of who we are, and who we could be, on the altar of duty. Anything else had better wait, or be a perfect shining example of a vital thing. In the words of Thomas the Train, to be "really useful engines."
I'm sorry. That's bullshit.
MOTHERHOOD IS THE HOLIEST OF HOLIES. We are literally tiny goddesses walking around every day holding future tiny people in the palms of our hands. Someday, these tiny, little formative lumps of clay will be grown ups that will be responsible for holding other people's happiness in the palms of their hands. Little people, who will one day shape the direction of the world. Whose models for self and deity will determine the image in which they will hold themselves, and their partners. And who creates those models of self? You betcha. US. They are watching. Constantly watching.
Where does it say that motherhood has to wholly selfless? What kind of example does that set for our daughters? or, god forbid - our poor little sons? That it has to be taxing? Hard, hell yes. It's the hardest thing ever.
But selfless? I beg to differ.
I do not feel that a woman not truly whole in herself is her best self. And while I feel that there are many many different types of mothers out there, and all of them deserve support and recognition for the work that they do, I do not feel that it is in the best interests of anyone to continue to push forth the ridiculous theory that a woman who invests in herself, and considers her needs as important as those who rely on her is somehow less of a mother than the woman who throws her whole soul into the act of mothering, at the expense of personal ambition or growth.
I do not feel that it is a reasonable exchange of emotional currency for a woman to give and give and give and have to explain why she is entitled to have her need for a real, thriving pursuit outside of her persona as a mother be satisfied and respected and nurtured, as much as she nurtures those around her. How on earth are we expected to integrate the many personas that we have to assume in order to be a good role models for womanhood when we are conditioned to feel as though some of them are only as valuable as the rest when they pass the test of external standards imposed on us by others?
Now, I realize that I may be injecting a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of my personal life bias into the subject matter here, and not every woman's experience is the same. But hey, it's my blog. And I know I'm not the only woman who's struggled with this censure. Even if you don't actively subscribe to this, it's still there.
I do know this. Since I undertook this journey on building a creative business, I have radically altered my idea of what a mother, and a woman is. I have changed my inner landscape so completely that I no longer recognize parts of me. I know that I have begun to integrate and love parts of myself so fucking much that the thought of enduring anything less than complete respect, equality and consideration from those around me is utterly abhorrent. I did this by insisting on my own importance in my life. I shifted the concept of my role from support person to one with authority.
I consider the needs of myself and my tiny people much like a mandala, with mine as a small bright, pulsing center, which feeds those who interlock and depend on me for sustenance. In order for the rest of the wheel to turn, I must be healthy and whole. I must have enough light to give and give and give and still replenish that source, to keep us all going. And that rejuvenation comes from my creative work, separate from my work as a mother. At least at this phase in my life.
Because my own needs are no longer an afterthought, I am a better mother, in this moment and time, than I have ever been. I am empowered. I am slower, and calmer inside. I am quietly confident now (most of the time ;)), and my children respond to that. I am more present and more capable of maintaining order around me. I have so much more to give. When my developmentally delayed 5yo throws a screaming fit over losing a piece of his Transformer toy and hijacks the house, throwing chairs and toys and tears, along with his tiny body, into the walls, I no longer waste time with crippling self-doubt. I help him. Because I know who I am. I'm not wasting time being sad, or worried about what I could have done to make him this way. I know he's different, and so am I. Maybe I'm different so that I can help him. And maybe he's different too, because we're meant to help each other. I'm a stronger, more confident mother because I am as important as they are, and I am feeding my needs as well as theirs. I know who I am, independent of them, so that I am strong enough to bring my best self to them when they need me. We are one connected important hive.
When you fly with a baby, everyone is really invested in making sure that you know to fit your mask first. That's because so much depends on you being able and fit and strong enough to carry out your responsibilities. Not just true of aircraft, my friends.
So. STOP PUTTING YOURSELF LAST. It's not doing anybody any favors. I love you. Mama, I see you working your ass off to do the very best job you can. But stop treating yourself like you're supposed to be second. We've got it all backwards, man. We've got to be first. That's not selfish. We have to be strong, and we can't be strong unless we are invested in making ourselves the best version of ourselves that we can be. No guilt. No apologies. Grab it, hold on to it, and OWN IT. Nobody else is going to do it for you. Only you care it enough to speak it into existence. You're going to have to fight for it. Just remember, you're not just fighting for you. Keep the reasons in front of your eyes, so that the thought of them can help build you up when you lose your confidence. Strong little girls, and thoughtful, strong little boys. Happy, whole, emotionally aware, conscious, inquisitive, open minded grown up people, someday.
I don't have anything special to impart, except that I've learned through my own journey of growth and self-realization that the way we've been programmed to view ourselves in this mixed up world is completely mad. I'm in no position to give advice that's better than anyone else's. I'm just a mess of a woman who used to be a mess of a girl, trying to do the best job I can of making myself a better person. I'm carving out a place for myself and my hostages to fate that's got some hope and light and joy, that they can carry with them into the dark.
But, in answer to the question of how to create growth, I will say this: if you don't carve out deliberate, precise time for yourself, you won't gather any momentum. You must have some sort of short term goals that you can accomplish to feel good about what you're doing. And you have to have a means in which to execute action to make these goals realities. These goals should be small, consecutive victories that lead towards fulfilling your growth, and also your reach, so that you are in a position to take advantage of opportunities that come to you, and confident enough to feel as though you belong where you want to be when it finally happens.
I have a weekly log. I keep it, religiously, and have since I started Blubird. Every Monday, part of my weekly ritual is to sit and think about what I want the week to look like. I think on what I need to accomplish, and what I'd like to accomplish for growth. And I bullet point them. These goals have to small enough to fit on one line of text. They have to be small and manageable enough to be accomplished within one week. If they are too ambitious, or too lofty to execute within a week, they don't belong there. These ideas for growth live one section down, in Long Term goals. I constantly evaluate this list of longer term goals as my "big picture", and see where my smaller weekly tasks can play towards making these a reality. I find that as long as I stay true to making the weekly tasks happen, I'm always moving towards something larger. Everything I have to do that week goes on that list. Any task. As I accomplish them, I highlight them in yellow. It's a constant positive motivator, watching that list turn yellow.
Here's part 2: Every time I work, I log it on this log. I force myself to be accountable and deliberate. When I say I'm working, I'm working. I don't sit down to work unless I've taken actions to guarantee that I can commit to enough to accomplish a pre-determined amount of work that is worthy of being logged. In my world, that's at least 20 minutes of time. No "snatching" here and there. Prioritize.
You've got to commit to growing if you want to grow. Carve out that time. Give something up that you think is for you, if you must. Find 20 hard minutes each day. IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY WHILE YOU STILL HAVE ENERGY. Do not wait until after everybody else is asleep. It doesn't work. Get up at 4 a.m. once a week if you have to. Do the work. Log it. Document it. Keep yourself accountable to it. It feels good. Then you find ways to create 20 more, because it feels good. Then you find ways to be more efficient in your day to day, so that the 20 minutes isn't so dear. Create more space in your day to fit that work in...expand it where you can. And assimilate this into the flow of your life. Then you know what you need, and you ask the people in your life to be more accountable, to re-define your limits as their support person. To expect that they take a more active role in their own care, where they can. And at the beginning of each new week, you do it again.
The fun part? Total your hours each Monday before you set goals going forward. Watch the time expand and grow. Make a ritual out of this, and stick to it. No, it's not anal retentive. It's self-affirming. Trust me, it's good stuff. Also, you can't say you're running a business if you can't honestly accurately report how many hours you work. The IRS is going to care. So just keep track of it, kay?
And so it builds. And it grows. And you get good at balancing. Because that's what we do. We are women - We balance. Now, I'm not suggesting that your toddler is responsible for self-care. But be honest. You don't have be all things all the time. Take a couple minutes. Invest in yourself, and allow yourself the joy of watching your world change around you to incorporate this new set of realities that you're creating. There is an adjustment period, like anything else, that feels really defeating, before that shift happens. That's where you're going to be tempted to give up; give in the to doubt. Just keep doing the work. Persist.
For example, I find now that I have difficulty working when my house is a mess. So I now am more focused on keeping things tidy rather than cleaning like a drudge. My children are now expected to clean up after themselves, and be more accountable for the messes that they make, because I am too busy to spend 1/2 hour sorting their toys off of the living room floor. I just won't. It's ridiculous that that was an expectation in the first place. And they know that, now. And they very rarely make catastrophic messes. When they do, they know it's a big deal. So they are more conscious of their responsibilities as part of a family. We have more structures and order in our house now that I have carved out the soft waste into deliberate time to work. And so we grow....together. Like a bright shining interconnected wheel.
I reject anyone who says that motherhood and creative endeavor cannot peacefully coexist. I argue they are two faces of the same goddess.
You've got this. Anyone that says we can't it all is full of it. They just don't want to see us have it all, because somehow it means they're losing something. And, that, my dears, I think is a subject best suited to another discussion. Maybe over wine while we felt our Feminist Finger Puppets. I don't know. This is just my truth, as I see it. I do know this - you are entitled to so much more than what you're told you have a right to expect. We all do. It shouldn't have to be this hard to take a stand for ourselves. This is not ok. But it won't change unless we change it for ourselves.
I truly hope that you take something out of this that lifts you up and inspires you to stand tall. Maybe sharing my struggles to define myself are helpful in some small way (god, I hope so). Even the women we know and love as role models are fighting to integrate their damaged parts, and their wounds. We're all just figuring this out as we go. But we really all have to be our best and fiercest friends. Only then can we be fierce enough to fight for our cubs and lift each other up when we fall.
"To do the thing, you've gotta do the thing."
Just do the thing already.