Mama Myth Series: Good Mothers Are Always Calm
Updated: Feb 11
I lay my head down on the pillow each night. It seems like the next right step is for me to fall peacefully to sleep and enjoy a much deserved rest. Well, my mind has other plans. For my mind, this is the perfect time to remind me of all the mistakes I made for the day. I am immediately filled to the brim with questions related to how "good" I was as a parent today. Did I yell? Did I yell too much? Did I overreact? My kid looked sad, did I make her sad? I was such a monster today! What is wrong with me? Why can't I just stay calm and keep my shit together?.....my mind may ask. Of course, the other side of my brain is ready with ammunition and fires answers to these really compassionate (eye roll) questions I am asking myself. This is the time of day where I typically beat myself for all that I didn't do well.
I know I am not alone in this and I wonder, just to add to all of it, what other mothers may be thinking to themselves at that time of day, and if I am normal. As I sat with this spirit-breaking habit of berading myself, I questioned what belief I was holding about motherhood that was keeping this cycle going. I realized that the questions related to whether or not my behavior was acceptable and if other mothers felt the same, boiled down to an impossible standard that I was holding myself (and admittedly, others) to was that "good mothers should always be calm."
Anytime we insert an "always" into a sentence, we set ourselves up for failure and feel shame if we do not live up to the impossible standard. No person can be one emotion or state of being all the time. It is impossible. We have emotional ups and downs and respond emotionally to the changes in our internal and external environment. Emotions are energy in motion. Meaning, they are not these stagnant creatures that grip around our sense of self and determine identity. Rather, they are ever-evolving and make up our highly intelligent emotional experience. To be calm all the time would actually stop the natural evolutionary process our emotions take on. When we grip or tie ourselves to any emotional state, we end up adding anxiety because we are trying to disrupt a normal and involuntary process. We feel what we feel. We do not have to react based on our feelings and dump our emotional stuff onto others, but we can use them intentionally and mindfully.
Why do we as mothers lean toward this expectation of being calm all the time? One reason is that women have been told through anxious responses and fear-based stories and anecdotes that expressing angst of any kind is not okay. If we do, we are called aggressive, over-controlling, or a "bitch." We are fed cautionary tales of women who "went crazy" after having children and now no longer have a partner or friends that they can connect with. We see rageful women as monsters that have "gone insane" in the media and hear uneducated judgements as to why they feel so angry or act the way they do. It is normal to not want a life where you are outcast or condemned for being a certain way.
On the other hand, we see images of zen and happy moms that look like they have it all figured out. Facebook and Instagram are breeding grounds for comparing our internal experience that we think is wrong or bad, with someone's external experience we think is good and ideal. We get it from parenting books that being a calm parent is being the best parent. We hear it blasted on podcasts and news-stories that "crazy moms" hurt their children and being calm is crucial to our children's development. Without adequate explanation of what all that means, we typically create our own conclusions about what parenting should look and feel like. We then add shame and guilt when we don't meet the impossible standard. Since we swim in shame and guilt, we never learn effective, cathartic, and connective ways to express the big feeling of anger. Instead, we hide it, stuff it, or pretend "everything is fine," leading to more stress and disconnection to ourselves and others.
Since motherhood and parenting can be overwhelming, frustrating, confusing, and so very scary, we need to find ways to discharge that emotional energy so it doesn't build up in the body and create stress. When we yell, stomp our feet, grit our teeth, or defend ourselves against a perceived threat, we are discharging emotional energy. This is actually a REALLY good thing! Our body needs to release our emotions safely.
How we express our feelings to our children, or even if they are just around us, does matter. My daughter says she doesn't like my "big" voice. I get it. To a small child, my even mildly frustrated tone can send an avalanch of negative messages to her sweet brain and heart. My son on the other hand, thinks it is almost maniachly funny when my voice gets louder. He thinks its a game and he tries to set himself up to win.
No matter how your kids handle it, you need to know that it is okay for you to have moments of being less than fluffy, patient, and saccharinly sweet. This is incredibly important for your own well being. If you are a present being, living in this world, and trying to raise tiny people, feeling the continuum of your emotions is a part of it. Why then do we try to stuff it down and pretend that it doesn't exist? I found that for myself, it came down to having enormous difficulty with honoring and holding my personal power. As mothers, we carry tremendous influence in our children's lives. This is a fact that we may not always be consciously aware of, but we are certainly subconsciously aware of it. When we don't honor our power, as we do when we stuff feelings, we misuse it. We can use our personal power for understanding, compassion, and love. This may mean that we feel passion and great strength and force when using our voice, which can appear like yelling. We fear the power that comes from deep within. No one has ever taught us to use it properly. We need to teach ourselves now.
Bringing emotional balance to motherhood can help you be present with your emotions, express them appropriately, and let them go fully so you can end each day with peace rather than guilt or stress. Bringing a balance of allowing yourself to express how you feel when you feel it is liberating. No longer do you have to feel so bound up to be someone you are not. You get to say, "mom is feeling frustrated, I need to go take care of myself." Or "There is too much noise right now and I feel overwhelmed, we need to turn off that toy for a little while." Or, "I don't feel like I can be fully present right now, (spouses name) can you please take over?" Not only are you expressing your feelings so the energy of them is able to release, but you also get to state what you need and ask for help.
About the Writer
Danielle is a mother, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, a writer, a woman's empowerment advocate, and dedicated soul seeker. Writing has been a natural form of expression that originates deep within each of her experiences. Her purpose is to provide validation, encouragement, and support for every mom through her blog, the Motherhood Empowered Facebook Group, and in the therapy room.