(This is an article I wrote for our Motherhood Matters Blog yesterday.)
I've had a few experiences over the past week that have kindled a bit of a fire under me:
First, I read this article about a mother who decided to abandon her children to pursue her own goals and help her family learn to be more "independent."
The next day, I had a long talk with a friend who has beautiful, healthy, happy children but is miserably depressed with her life.
I then read this article on CNN about a mom who, along with her boyfriend, beat her 3-year-old for wetting his pants, and then sat watching a movie and eating pizza while he was dying.
Finally, I had a conversation with a fabulous friend in her early 30s who is excited to have children but is concerned that the workload/mommy lifestyle might be harder than she has anticipated — and she's absolutely right. Traveling, enjoying long conversations and spending a substantial amount of time outside don't typically mesh well with motherhood. The realities of this life are a rude awakening for most of us (but, of course, the beauty of it is often a pleasant surprise, as well).
These experiences have led me to ask the following questions:
(1) Why do so many mothers struggle with motherhood?
And, because I don't think sitting around complaining about the state of things is going to do any good,
(2) What can I do to help?
As I pulled into the elementary school parking lot this morning, I explained to my children that the whole reason I work on The Power of Moms is because motherhood IS really hard, but it can be beautiful if you learn how to create a family that "works." My goal is to help moms get the support they need, which strengthens mothers, and thereby changes our societies.
I know I can't single-handedly "save the world," but I thought I could take a few minutes today to share three ideas to strengthen motherhood:
(1) Mothers have to take care of themselves. A few years ago, I wrote an essay called "Mommy is a Person," which emphasizes that mothers need (and deserve) the basics: sleep, exercise, time alone, time to develop talents, etc., but there's a much deeper level of care that I didn't even touch.
If a mother has drug or alcohol addictions, mental or physical health issues, eating disorders, extreme financial stress, or other challenges I can't even begin to list, fixing those problems needs to be a high priority. Those problems don't just go away while we're watching "Dancing With the Stars," and there are many, many organizations out there with resources to help.
We need to face these kinds of issues head on and take care of them. Of course, some mothers are going to feel discouraged and depressed if their house is a wreck, their children are bouncing off the walls until midnight, they never get any time to develop their talents or socialize with their friends, and they're jumping from one catastrophe to the next — without a clear plan for the day. No one expects that kind of life to be enjoyable, but no one is forcing mothers to live that kind of life.
(2) We need to realize (and teach the next generation) that children are not pets. If I buy a dog, and "it just doesn't work out for me," then it's very easy to put that dog up for adoption or sell it on Craigslist. Once I have a child, I am a parent. Without trying to be funny, I'd like to point out that there isn't a "children" category on Craigslist.
This is a serious responsibility, and I don't know if our society just hasn't done a good enough job teaching this, but for some reason, there's this idea out there that parenthood is an opt-in, opt-out kind of thing, like adding caller ID to your home phone service.
Children are precious gifts that we have the opportunity to love and raise. We need to have our eyes wide open before we take on this responsibility. I'm extremely careful to explain to my children both sides of parenting. I let them know that they are my greatest source of happiness, and I love to be with them, but I also let them know that I get tired, and sometimes I want to take a break, and sometimes I need them to help me so I don't go insane.
Mothers, and others in society, need to be VERY clear about what it takes to raise a family. Otherwise, if a mother thinks her life is going to be one Pottery Barn catalog after another, she's going to be running for the hills by day three.
(3) Problems can be solved within the family. Saren recently wrote an excellent post about this exact issue. We don't need to leave our responsibilities to "find ourselves." We just need to be smarter about how we structure our family life.
I know that not everyone has a healthy marriage, enough funds to pay the bills, or support from friends and relatives. But I DO know that mothers have the power to create the kinds of homes they need and want; it's not easy, but it's possible. I've seen it happen in the homes of women whose lives have been harder than I imagined possible, and if they can do it, we can do it.
That's the whole point of what we're doing at The Power of Moms: Retreats, Learning Circles, The Bloom Game, Mind Organization for Moms, daily articles, podcasts and everything else we're in the process of creating. There are tons of smart women out there who can teach us how to love this challenging, demanding, sometimes-chaotic life, and I want to enhance my mothering experience by learning from as many of these ladies as possible.
The bottom line is that families are the basic unit of society. Strong families, strong nations. I know that being a mother is an extremely difficult job. I know how it feels to be stressed, exhausted, discouraged, depressed and inadequate. But I also know that if mothers (and fathers) will band together, pledge never to give up, and do whatever we can to strengthen and support each other, our nation, and all the nations of the world, have a very bright future.
QUESTION: What other ideas do you have for strengthening motherhood?
CHALLENGE: If you're currently struggling with some aspect of raising a family, identify one way you can get the support you need — and then do it.