My #1 Concern as a Mother
Spoiler: It’s not my children
I once was a raging mother who thought death preferable to the interior hell I was in. In that hell, I didn’t exist — there was no room for me. Having never learned that my needs mattered — really mattered — I gave to my two children far beyond my capacity, leaving me in physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual debt to myself.
As mothers, our top concern is supposed to be our children, right? That’s what society tells us; that’s what we tell us. It makes sense, considering they’re helpless at first, completely dependent on adult care. From there, their physical needs of us may decrease, but their emotional ones don’t. Besides it’s our job plain and simple, isn’t it? If we have kids then we’re to show that they’re our priority by paying attention to them, taking care of their needs, financially supporting them, educating them, etc.
But what if there’s more to us than being a mom? Or what if we’re not into society telling us how we should be? What if we don’t want to live by rules we didn’t write, ones that other people or fear dictate? What then?
Maybe it’s time for each of us to consider a new primary concern, to allow ourselves, even though we are mothers, to not make parenting the be-all-end-all, the stick by which we measure ourselves. Maybe it’s time to ask:
What do I most need as a mother, woman, human?
For me, motherhood means relationship-first parenting, but this isn’t my biggest need or concern. Instead, my biggest concern lies within and beyond motherhood: my mental health. That’s it. There’s no other top concern because my mental health is the place from which all else flows.
To this end, I have a Mental Health Plan. I typed that like it’s an official document, but really it’s a page in a sketch book with those words at the top, a list of sub-concerns and priorities, and a loose daily schedule that allows me to attend to them. More specifically, it centers my concerns and priorities—no one else’s. Only as a follow-up does it incorporate my kids and household responsibilities.
My Mental Health Plan accomplishes two main things: 1. It delineates space for specific activities, such as walking, that have long been therapeutic for me. 2. It takes into account my two priorities in life right now: writing and home/un/worldschooling. If there’s space for me to write and walk and live alongside my kids in pursuit of knowledge and experience, then that means there’s space for me and that my inputs and outputs are closer to equivalent. Claiming these on paper in colorful ink is a step to (re)claiming me.
If my kids were in school, I had to or wanted to work outside the home, or other circumstances or priorities changed then my plan would look different. It’s a living document, the spirit of it is what matters; the details can be adjusted as needed. Putting it in writing brings it to life, makes it real. I, like The Velveteen Rabbit, through this exercise in (self) love—and that’s what it is—become real.
What about you? I know that perfecting the art of motherhood is at the top of your list right now. But since perfection doesn’t exist and there’s no right way to be a mother—only ways that are more or less aligned with our truest selves—what might a new, healthier, less fear-laden focus be?
An answer probably walks into your mind. Worry probably rushes in right after it, a list of reasons why you couldn’t make that your current life focus.
The bigger question then becomes: What would it take to allow yourself to honor that focus?
Your answer will be unique, but beneath it the gist is likely to be: Healing—excavating and discarding old rules and self-judgments, reaction patterns and fears, and replacing them with trust in yourself and an inner sense of safety and wellbeing. Then doing some logistical maneuvering.
That’s what it will take.
And you can do it.