mother archetype

On getting through the messiness...


I realised something today. Nothing groundbreaking. Just one of the many reasons why parenting is so DAMN hard. Why it demands every ounce of self-control from you and then more...Because there is an unspoken rule that says that one is “not allowed” to be rude to children. We can neither answer back nor use their childish language nor throw a tantrum when we've had enough. Why? Because we are parents. We are supposed to know better. And yet how ridiculous is that? In exactly which other walks of life would you put up with someone repeatedly telling you that they hated you? Or that they hated whatever dish you had just painstakingly made followed by “I don’t care” when told that they might be acting a little rudely. The answer: NONE! No-one has ever been as rude or as ungrateful to me as my children are. And yet because they are my children, I’m meant to take it all on the chin. Because, as a mother, I’m supposed to have automatically and immediately developed a very thick skin and become such a balanced person that it doesn’t bother me! Well here’s the rub: I haven’t and I’m not. So it all builds up. In fact, I’d like to complain that NO-ONE PREPARED ME FOR THIS! I was not forewarned about the colossal amount of will-power that needs to be summoned up every day, many times a day, in order not to lose it. Neither the private NCT nor the public NHS parenting courses mentioned just what a relentless psychological and emotional onslaught it can be. Friends that had already had children remained silent on the subject. And yet we are all suddenly expected to morph, during birth, into the saintly mother archetype who is always-forgiving, forever-loving, continually-patient, endlessly-fair.

It can be a dark and lonely place when we realise that we do not fit this perfect archetype. Firstly because it can seem like others do (although this is probably a result of our, skewed 'behind-the-scenes' comparison with others’ perfectly-edited 'highlight reel') and secondly because no-one else talks about feeling like this. It is taboo to admit failure: that not only are you not infinitely patient/kind/forgiving and fair but that you are actually sometimes rude to your children, maybe even a bit mean on occasion; that they do quite often bore you; that sometimes you don’t want them anywhere near you; that there is the odd day when you wished you were child-free.

Last week was a particularly bad week for me in terms of falling short of the archetype: I was told that I/my food/my presence/my attitude was hated a few too many times to bear and I committed all of the above crimes. I momentarily felt bad about it. But then I reflected some more and thought but why should I always rise above the challenge? Why should my children be allowed to go on and on and on and on, pushing my buttons, insulting me and what I do without me breaking, just because they are my children? The answer is, they SHOULDN'T! But they will. Because they are children. Because they are human and boisterous and exploring and trying things out. And we, as mothers, will keep having to suck it all up and keep having to try to provide them with a (mostly) positive role model.

But that doesn’t mean that we can’t share how hard it is. Sure, there are blogs out there already that slag off being a parent, and there are others that extol the virtues of patient/calm/saintly(?) parenting, but that's not the kind of sharing I mean. Because to me, the former seem to glorify 'bad' parenting at the expense of all those involved and even if some can make for amusing reading, the humour ends up detracting from the pain of the situation which is belittled instead of validated. The latter, on the other hand, seem just a bit too sanctimonious and preachy so reading them always makes me feel like I’ve somehow failed even more.

What I mean is meeting somewhere in the middle. A place in which we can destroy the mother archetype and get over the taboo of not being perfect but without going so far as to make fun of ourselves or our children when we screw up. Let’s meet instead with a shared humility about just how hard it can be and let’s witness each other without judgement. Let's help each other to get through the growing pains of parenting with empathy and encouragement. Not from a pedestal nor from the naughty corner but as equals.

As the picture above shows, life is complicated. Parenting is equally so. But in the end, as overwhelming as it gets, we do love our kids. And they do love us. We’re doing the best we can. And not only is that enough for now, it's to be applauded, because there's a whole lot more mess just round the corner to replace the one you just got through!

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On acknowledging the darkness within...


I recently held the last of my women’s circle workshops before we set off on our travels; the theme was self-worth. Every circle, I like to offer up a selection of Goddess cards as something fun before we start: I ask the attendees to pick the one whose image most resonates with them, and often it delivers an insightful message that is relevant to that particular moment. My choice was Lilith, the Middle-Eastern goddess of abundance, fertility and fecundity but also of death and transformation. Lilith “challenges us to look upon our dark side and incorporate it into our wholeness so that great beauty can blossom forth”. This goddess was particularly pertinent because I have been thinking a lot recently about my dark or 'shadow' side – the hidden bits of my character that lie behind the mask I choose to show others. I didn’t come across this willingly of course; as usual it was revealed to me by my children. After being the brunt of a particularly relentless run of bad attitude, rudeness and being ignored, plus countless futile attempts on my part to mediate between pointless bickering and them being horrible to one other, I had exploded. All because my middle one wouldn't finish her homework reading. It was the straw that broke the already very fractured camel's back. So far so normal. But this time it wasn't a normal explosion. It was an enormous one. So huge that it took me ages to recover physically and mentally because something felt very deeply wrong. So wrong that I had to go and create some time out to reflect upon and journal about what had happened. Why had I lost it so badly?

The answer was that it had become a power struggle. My middle child refusing to read had left me totally and utterly powerless. I felt out of control and wanted it back. So I did the only thing that an adult can do in these situations other than become physically violent: I resorted to a superior command of the English language. I manipulated my advantage into verbal abuse and said some really mean things. In a really mean voice. A hissing, nasty, vicious one. I was hurting and didn't like that feeling so I wanted to spread the load. I wanted her to hurt too.

And whilst journalling about all this, I realised that I was a bully. And even worse, I was a mother that had bullied her children. This realisation brought up a host of painful emotions: shame, regret, fear and grief. I was ashamed of myself as an adult: I should have known better, and I was ashamed of myself as a mother: I should have been the children's moral rock and instead I had behaved far worse than them. I regretted that I could not undo what I had said, and I feared that it might have scarred them permanently. I was also very sad: in trying so hard to be a ‘good’ mother, I had lost control and ended up being the very opposite.

I spent quite a while afterwards feeling really bad about myself: for being a totally rubbish mother and even worse, for not revealing it. Not because I wanted to hide the fact but because there is no real way to discuss these things: exactly how do you bring it up and with whom? There is the always the fear of moral outlaw and the lurking spectre of social services. Being a bad mother must be the world's biggest taboo - and I hated that no-one knew just how bad I was. I felt like a fraud.

And then I came across a brilliant passage in my current book, The Shaman’s Last Apprentice. He was describing the medicinal plant Ayahuasca as “a tool to help you find yourself, to know yourself, by destroying the image of who you think you are, and illuminating the truth.” This stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking about my recent outburst as an opportunity to face the person I AM rather than the person I thought I was. It wasn't easy.

We all hold an image of who we think we are. And this can often become confused with who we think we would like to be. We wear various masks to disguise the discrepancies and can get so good at denying those parts of ourselves that don’t fit the chosen ideal that we can almost get to a point where we feel they don’t exist. Until, that is, they are thrown up in our faces by an unconscious trigger. Being faced with the extent of my desire to cause hurt through emotional and verbal cruelty was a shock. Firstly because we are taught that it is not ‘nice’ to be cruel and secondly because it is hugely taboo to even bring up the fact that a mother might not follow the impossible archetype of forever-patient, forever-loving, forever-forgiving, nurturing and kind. But we are not robots. We are human. And humans express a range of emotions that are not always socially acceptable and don’t always conform to archetype.

But even if it isn't easy and is in fact deeply uncomfortable, it is crucially important to acknowledge the full extent of our personalities – our darkness AND our light - because this is what makes us unique. As the shaman of the book says later: “it takes discipline, and a strong and courageous person to accept who they are. Many people do not have the courage to see themselves, because they have unconsciously accepted the images and stereotypes created by society. They have forgotten to honour their unique potential, and particular strengths and weaknesses, fearing that deep part of themselves that we keep hidden from each other.”

Indeed, it is the fear of our dark side that keeps us from embracing it. But “if" as they say, "you don’t own your story, it owns you”. So I am working on owning the darkness within - the part of me that is cruel and vicious, manipulative and bullying - so that it doesn't erupt in me in the unconscious, uncontrollable way it did. I'm not sure I'm quite there yet. But since “trying to incorporate it into my wholeness” as the goddess Lilith encourages, I have felt less triggered by the same scenarios and have been able to act more like an adult and the mother archetype. I'm not sure I'm quite at the "great beauty can blossom forth" stage but my behaviour has actually been more patient, nurturing and kind.

The kids still trigger me of course. And I still shout. But I am getting there. And whenever I feel bad about myself I remember that we are all works-in-progress. And that, thankfully, children don’t hold a grudge.

What are the parts of you that you keep hidden from others? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below. If this post resonated with you, please do share it with other social media and feel free to sign up to receive posts by e-mail by clicking subscribe! Don’t forget you can also follow me on facebook, twitterinstagram & bloglovin.