Parenthood: Why mothers struggle to take care of themselves

In our workshops and articles, we talk a lot on the importance of self-care and self-empathy for parents. This is all about taking care and being kind to ourselves which seems particularly hard for mothers.
Parenthood: Why mothers struggle to take care of themselves

Chennai

The truth is that mothers can take care of children joyfully only if they take care of themselves first. We warn mothers about getting burnt out. We urge them to find ways to understand their feelings and recognise their needs. We suggest doing things like getting some rest time, a cup of coffee without disturbance, exercise, or just taking out some time for themselves. But time and again they tell us how they find it impossible. It feels like a luxury for them. They really struggle with the idea. We can see their resistance!

Why is it so hard for mothers to be kind to themselves?
(Do close your eyes for a minute and think about this)

Some of the thoughts, reasons and beliefs coming up would be:

Societal expectations: It is expected that a mother has to take care of the child and family first and it is wrong to take care of herself. If they do so they are considered selfish. We are made to feel guilty for having needs and feelings, so are scared to express them.

Our role models: Most of the time we parent on the basis of what we see around us, or the way we were parented. Our mothers put their wishes and needs last and took care of the family. They never talked about what they were going through. On reflection, we may realise we know very little about our mother’s preferences or desires.

Race against time: Our days are packed, we try to juggle so many things, and many times we are unable to manage everyone’s needs. So most often we let go of our needs and wishes as that is the easiest way out. We believe that’s how it has to be. The belief is that a mother has to be self-sacrificing and only then she is a good mother.

Unaware of our feelings: Most times we are not able to recognise our feelings, as we have been conditioned to ignore our feelings. To push them under the carpet. As children, we had been told to control our feelings — “Why are you crying?”, “Think of others first, don’t be so selfish”, “Don’t be scared — you are a brave girl”. Now as adults and mothers we are unable to identify our emotions. Some mothers feel so overwhelmed and even battle with depression, but don’t know how to seek help.

Gender stereotypes: We have been conditioned to think that the only person who can nurture the child well is the mother. It’s her duty. Because of this, we have minimal expectations from our spouses, and sometimes we do not even trust them to take good care of the child.Even those of us who may have jobs and careers still consider the children primarily our responsibility. Hence we struggle with trying to manage parenthood quite alone at times.

A weakness: Another belief is that talking about feelings is considered a weakness. Society mocks such people and looks down upon them. They are seen as incapable. Those who do not show emotions are appreciated.”She is a tough person and can handle anything.” “silent suffering” is considered okay.

Let us take a step back and look at what these beliefs are doing to us. We may not realise how many of our actions come from these beliefs. For example, if I think that as a mother it is my duty to cook only what the child likes then I will feel guilty to cook my favourite dish even occasionally. If I have grown up seeing my mother giving all her time to her children, I will feel extremely guilty about having a career and always feel torn and confused, unable to make peace with my choices.

When we don’t acknowledge all the feelings within us it is like an active volcano. They are bubbling inside us and for the slightest reason, we will erupt, and spew on our child all the frustration, anger, guilt, disappointments, and hurt. Later when we are calmer we regret our actions. In the process, our relationship with the child is affected.

Is it necessary or even healthy for a family to have one person’s happiness and desires sacrificed for the others? Can a mother find joy in the journey of parenting that comes at such a heavy cost? What do children learn when they see their mother as a person who undervalues herself?

These are some questions that prompted me to write this article, and I would like to invite every mother to think about challenging the status quo, giving importance to her own feelings, needs and dreams. I truly believe that a happy andbalanced mother would enrich her family much more than a self-sacrificing one.

— Sunita Ravi is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organization which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up www.parentingmatters.in

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