Mothers Day: We Never Really Fail, Even When We Think We Do

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I never planned to become a mother; at least, not in a tangible way. It was always likely to happen. At some point. In the future. Way down the track. But wasn’t even a blip on the radar when my husband and I took our first proper holiday, three years after we were married. We’d both been working two jobs with barely a day off between us; to say we needed the time away was a hilarious understatement.

We spent a week in the mountains. At least, I think there were mountains. There was alcohol – I know this because every day we drank our body weight in red wine; and then some. It didn’t occur to me until two weeks after we returned home that my period, which was due while away, hadn’t shown.

A week later when it still hadn’t arrived, I stared at two blue lines on a stick; horrified. “But how much did we drink while we were away?” I sobbed, convinced the baby I’d never anticipated to be in my womb at that time would be born with fetal alcohol syndrome.* I hadn’t even become a mother, and already I had failed.

 *said baby is a straight-A student, Grade 8 pianist and 3 times recipient of the Dux award – he turned out okay.

Three babies arrived into the world in the following six years; no more anticipated or planned than the first (we eventually worked out sex was the problem and promptly stopped having it) (kidding) (sort of). This is where I’d love to be able to say I transitioned into motherhood with grace and ease; instead, my rate of failure only increased with each child.

Like the time my second child climbed over the gate at the top of the stairs and landed wrongly as I was in the throes of both post-natal depression and making lunch and just. couldn’t. deal that day. I played down his tears with hollow reassurance: you’re okay, you’ll be fine, just eat some lunch and you’ll feel better. My husband arrived home later that afternoon and noted his lopsided angle. Maybe we should get him checked out. He had broken his collarbone.

Or the time I had to grab a few things at Camping World and left the store, busy and distracted, thinking I had four kids in tow, only to realise at some point the third one was missing. Where’s Aliandra? Confusion. Panic. Retrace steps. Stay calm. More panic. We found her back at Camping World – she had strayed too far behind as we’d walked out; the automatic doors had closed on her and, too short to activate the door sensors, she’d ended up trapped inside.

And then there was my fourth child who could barely walk yet managed to climb onto the table, momentarily, before landing headfirst onto the wooden floor below; her initial scream lasting less than a second before she blacked out and went limp in my arms and I was left with only the screaming in my own head: oh my god, she’s dead, she’s dead. The ten seconds it took for her to regain consciousness have never felt more like a lifetime. Ten years later, I’m still reeling.

My biggest failure, however, was believing these failures (and the million unmentioned others) defined me as a mother. That I wasn’t a just a mother who failed at times, like every mother, but that I was a failure. Enough so, that I could no longer fight against the inadequacy which overcame me.

Defeated, I walked away.

Everything in me at that time believed my family would be better off without me; that my husband was a far better father than I could ever be a mother. That I wasn’t competent enough or equipped enough or able enough. That I’d not been raised with the kind of mother who’d modelled how to parent well, so I could never be the kind of mother my children needed me to be.

I didn’t have a tribe or a village or a support network or anyone to tell me, this is normal. That failing as a mother is as much part of being a mother as anything else. That motherhood is a fucking hard gig and no matter how it may seem, all women feel like they are failing at times.

I needed someone to tell me this; to tell me how I would struggle with the isolation of being home all day with my kids; that no matter how desperate I was  to leave the house and actually see other real-life people, there would always be one sick or one sleeping or one who needed to be fed or one who would have a meltdown because they didn’t want to put their goddamn shoes on.

I needed someone to tell me how alone I would feel when I swapped an adult-filled world for Play School and the Alphabet Song and never-ending rounds of Go Fish; how small my world would become. How small I would become.

How I would lose all sense of identity and self-worth to days I couldn’t even find the energy to shower and dress; how when I eventually did manage to shower I would be too overwhelmed to do anything more than stand there and cry.

I needed to know there would be days where the loneliness would become too much. Days I would be too tired to pick up the dirty socks strewn around the house; too exhausted to put away one more toy or wash one more dish. Days I would be irritable and short-tempered with my kids and react too quickly and speak too harshly.

Days I would feel desperate to be left alone; to not be touched by another or have to speak to another or listen to another. Days I would barely hold my marriage together because of this. Days I would barely hold myself together because of this.

I needed to know there would be days I would fail.

But more so, that it was okay to fail. That failure didn’t define me; not as a mother and not as a woman. That every mother out there was failing and feeling inadequate and falling apart on the bathroom floor on the days it all seemed too much. I needed to know this is what being a mother is like; that for every good day there are even more bad days. That some days are little more than survival. But even then, we’re still enough.

Being a mother isn’t measured in success or failure, but in our ability to meet our children with unconditional love; regardless. It’s in the way we offer them acceptance, understanding, compassion, grace, forgiveness, support, guidance, comfort. The way we nurture them in the truth of who they are and cultivate in them the confidence to become all they’ve ever wanted to be. It’s in the way we show up, even when we don’t know how.

It’s in the way everything they become is because of everything we are.

Even on the days we fail.

Tonight, my children sit around the dinner table; there is talk about their day, the usual ribbing of one another, much laughter. These days, being a mother is less struggle and more heart-in-throat as they begin navigate the world themselves. Days that never seemed to end become years which go by too fast; I am all too aware of how numbered my days are with four of them under my roof. Greedily, I soak in this moment, willing it to stay.

I needed someone to tell me we never really fail, even when we think we do.

Article originally published at whimn.com.au

To the Mother who Struggles, I Promise You: This Too Shall Pass

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I was twenty-one years-old when my first son entered the world. He came early; two weeks before his expected date, and with such haste the midwife delivered him before the doctor made an appearance. After him, there were three more – my second son and two daughters, all within six years, all with their own birth stories, their own personalities, their own idiosyncrasies that make them unmistakably who they are; vastly different from one another despite being raised so symmetrically.

I hadn’t planned on having my first child so soon; life had chosen otherwise. Though married, I was young. In hindsight, too young. But, I was determined to be prepared. I read pregnancy books, birthing books, parenting books. I was prepared for the ways my body would change. I was prepared for the ways my life would change.

But I wasn’t prepared for the ways I would change.

I can say now that being a mother has been the best thing I have ever done; the best part of who I am. But I couldn’t always have said that. I glance back to those early days and my fingers slip through the faded recollection of how difficult they actually were; a decade that passed me by through a filter of exhaustion and loneliness. There were so many days I struggled for air, so many days I wept for the village that was nowhere to be found; moreover, wept for the woman I once was, also nowhere to be found. I grieved for her – the responsibilities and obligations of motherhood had taken her from me and in her place stood a foreigner, a woman I no longer recognised or wanted to be.

I hadn’t expected to feel such a loss of my own identity, to become so desolate in the abyss of who I used to be and who I had yet to become. I hadn’t expected to feel so unanchored, so adrift, so alone. Once extroverted, confident and capable, I soon found myself flailing helplessly in an ocean of my own inadequacies.

We lived on a 2500-acre farm in rural South Australia, aka the middle of nowhere, or so it seemed. I had no family close by, no support network to turn to. While my friends undertook university courses, careers, travel, I no longer even seemed capable to leave the house without deteriorating into a mire of irrational anxiety. Exhausted, burnt out, worn out, I lost my confidence, my capabilities, my ambition, my passion, and most days it appeared, my mind, too.

It wasn’t an issue of love; a woman’s heart will never beat with such fierceness as for that which she has created within herself. It was the belief that because I loved my children, I should love being a mother. But I didn’t. All I felt was the loneliness, the isolation, the invisibility, the loss of self, the ambivalence, the exhaustion, the guilt, the shame of all I lacked. Every night I would collapse into bed, overcome with guilt that I couldn’t be what they needed me to be, that I wasn’t as capable as other mothers, that I wasn’t enough. I would lie awake, despondent, reciting promises in my head – tomorrow I will try harder, tomorrow I will do better. But always, they fell short. Always, I fell short.

I wasn’t prepared for those feelings, for the mental and emotional upheaval that came with being a mother. These were the things not written in books, the things nobody speaks of because we’re all too busy being ashamed of our scarcity, too worried everything we feel is wrong, too afraid of being judged by those we compare ourselves to. When little do we know, they too stand inside the valley of their own inadequacies and break apart for how short they believe they fall in their comparison to us.

This year I will celebrate my sixteenth Mother’s Day. It has taken me this long to find the joy in being a mother. To no longer wake each morning to the words – this too shall pass – scrawled on sticky-notes on my bathroom mirror. To love and appreciate all my children bring to my life. To understand what it means to hold, first in my womb and now in my arms, the next generation – a generation I have been given the privilege to teach of compassion, tolerance, respect, kindness, goodness, love. A generation of world-changers.

It’s taken sixteen years to understand that being a mother is not something we are, but something we become. As we watch our children grow and learn from us, likewise, we grow and learn from them. They awaken us; force us to pay attention as we tread upon unsure ground, help us find our footing and become decided in our steps even when we walk in darkness. They soften our hard edges as they teach us of patience, sacrifice, unconditional love. They help us forgive our own humanity through the grace we offer theirs. They show us what it means to love as a result of the love they give to us, even when we are undeserving of such a profuse gift – especially when we are undeserving of such a profuse gift – and because of that, we are found better.

There is no way, sixteen years ago, I could have been prepared for the ways being a mother would change me. But nor could I have ever been prepared for the way my children would become the most beautiful part of everything I am today.

Original article published at SA Life Magazine

To The Mother Who is Struggling

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Dear Mother Who is Struggling,

I know you haven’t been yourself lately.

I see it in the way your eyes no longer carry the light the way they used to, their colour faded; like an old photograph that once held a cherished memory, now lost.

Your frown lines have deepened, they outnumber the lines of laughter that once etched the sides of your face, back when your joyful smile would reach that far, back when your shoulders were straight and the weight of your tiredness didn’t pull you down.

You love your babies, I know you do.

But this is hard.

And you are tired. So damn tired.

And maybe this is what adds to the tiredness; the guilt that you shouldn’t feel this way. You wonder if you’re the only mother out there who feels so isolated, so alone, so exhausted. Or do they all have these villages you hear of; support networks of family and friends who share the burden of raising a family, while you wake up each morning and wonder how you will get through another day on your own?

There was a world you used to belong to, and you grieve it. It’s there in front of you, every day, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – there, in the radiant faces of other women as they go about their social lives, their holidays, gym classes, dates, promotions. You wonder how, in a world so connected by social media, you are left feeling so goddamn disconnected from it all.

Surrounded by little people, noise, clutter, you find yourself lonelier than ever. But it’s not a loneliness from being alone. It’s a loneliness that comes from being so far from yourself, so far from who you once were. You don’t even know who that is anymore. You feel as though you’ve traded your whole identity to be a mother. Sacrificed your entire life to care for those around you. This is all you know now. This is all your life has become.

And you miss the woman you once were, and the life you once had.

You long for your independence, your spontaneity, your carefree. For road trips and dinner dates and live music and nights out in the city. For beach days and lazy Sundays in bed and to read a book, uninterrupted. Drained, you yearn for the things that bring nurture to your tired body and soul as you force yourself through another day on the scarce remnants of what you have left to give.

Around you, other mothers appear cool, unflustered; they’ve got this. You wonder if they catch a glimpse of the defeat in your eyes before you look the other way, if they can sense the effort it takes to simply place one foot in front of the other.

I know this is hard. But take heart, dear one.

It won’t always be this way. It won’t always be so hard. Days will get easier. There will be more moments to be still, to breathe, more moments to laugh again. There will be more moments where you can reach inside and find the misplaced pieces of the woman you used to be, and the days will begin to feel less lonely as you journey back to your own heart.

I know you think the way you struggle makes you a failure. That because of this, you fall short and aren’t enough. Don’t believe these lies. Be gentle on your heart, for every day you face the hardest job, alone, and you make it through. No matter how hard, you don’t give up. You show up, and continue to do the best with what you have. And some days that may not seem like enough.

But every day, you continue to love.

And that will always be more than enough.

I know this is hard. But for now, this is all you need to know.

This too shall pass.  

And when you close your eyes tonight, write those words on the back of your eyelids, and watch as they fall away beneath your skin and seep into your bloodstream where they will reach your heart and kiss it with the hope that will get you through your tomorrows.

You may not feel it today, but I promise you, my love – you’ve got this.

Image courtesy The Winged Woman 

The Courage To Choose Love, Even When It’s Hard

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I was reminded today that we can choose to be bitter. We can be bitter over how much we have been hurt, the injustice of every way we have been wronged. Over the ways we weren’t loved and how we weren’t cared for and all that we didn’t receive that we felt we were entitled to. We can carry that close to us and hold it dear and let it dictate how we treat the world. Respond in kind. Even score. Eye for an eye.

Or we can see what a blessed opportunity we have to be the catalyst for change. To be the ones to break generational cycles. To choose to no longer hurt others because of the ways others have hurt us. To do for others what was never done for us. To sow love where only hate has been reaped.

To do differently; to do better.

It doesn’t always come easy, and it doesn’t always seem fair – to be the ones to have lived without love and yet be the ones to offer love back into the world that broke us. There isn’t any justice in that. Yet we are the ones who now choose to put in the hard work of ripping out our thistles of anger, bitterness, and judgement that we have allowed to grow and have nurtured with our unforgiveness, no matter how justified we may have been. 

It takes much effort from our often weary hands to work the hardened soil of our hearts so that new seeds may be planted; much dirt under our nails and blisters on our fingers and grit that gets trapped inside our skin that we scrub, and scrub, and scrub, yet still can’t be free of. But it’s not always our own pain that matters. It’s how we choose to treat others in spite of that which makes all the difference.

It isn’t our responsibility to change the entire world ourselves – that is too much for each of us to carry. But we can change our part of it by offering love in the places we have been hurt the most. This is how we can heal not only the hearts of others, but also ourselves.

Because today, as I was able to offer love in a place I had been wounded, something was changed inside of me too. Something was released. Softened. Broken open. Healed. Restored. A work was done deep inside of me as I chose to override my own pain so that I may not cause the same pain to another.

A new seed is born.

The world is healed a little more.

Our healing comes in many ways. But always, always, our healing is found in the courage to choose love, even when it’s hard.

What Our Boys Aren’t Being Taught, But Desperately Need To Know

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“Tell me what happens the first time you see a woman naked.”
“The first time you see a woman naked will not be like you imagined. There will be no love, no trust, no intimacy. You won’t even be in the same room as her.
You won’t get to smile as she undresses you and you undress her. You won’t get to calm her nerves with nerves of your own. You won’t get to kiss her, feeling her lips and the edge of her tongue. You won’t get to brush your fingers over the lace of her bra or count her ribs or feel her heartbeat.
The first time you see a woman naked you will be sitting in front of a computer screen watching someone play at intimacy and perform at sex. She will contort her body to please everyone in the room but her. You will watch this woman who is not a woman, pixelated and filtered and customized. She will come ready-made, like an order at a restaurant. The man on the screen will be bigger than you, rougher than you. He will teach you how to talk to her. He will teach you where to put your hands and he will teach you what you’re supposed to like. He will teach you to take what is yours.
You must unlearn this. You must unlearn this twisted sense of love. You must unlearn the definition of pleasure and intimacy you are being taught. Kill this idea of love, this idea of entitlement, this way of scarring one another.” 
~ Author Unknown.

 Martin Luther King Jr. once said that our lives begin to end the moment we become silent about things that matter. And yet, somehow the issues that matter are the ones in which we remain the most silent. Because we fear repercussion. We fear rejection. We fear shame. And because we’ve been led to believe we do not hold the power to make a difference. We feel small, afraid, and believe we are unworthy to have our voice heard.

But our voices are powerful beyond measure. Our voices carry the weight of change. And we must learn to use them, courageously, fearlessly, for the things that matter. We must allow ourselves to be affected by the ugliness in this world that corrupts the hearts and minds of our children. We must allow ourselves to feel anger, injustice, outrage, appall. We must feel it until it burns so fiercely into our hearts that we can no longer remain silent.

For many years, I was shamed into silence. Over many things. But mostly over the man who hurt me through the entirety of my childhood. The man who always had a pile of Playboy magazines next to his bed, and R-rated movies next to his television. The man I was forced to endured years of suffering and hell from, because he had an addiction to pornography.

Our boys are being taught that pornography is normal. That it’s a healthy exploration of their sexuality. That it’s their rite of passage into manhood. Or worse yet, that it makes them more of a man for viewing it.

But this is what they’re not being taught about pornography, but desperately need to know.

They need to know that what they see on the screen isn’t always sex, but often violence, abuse, and rape. While not always the case, some of the women they see are victims of human sex trafficking. Our boys aren’t being taught of the women who are lured in by the promise of modeling contracts only to be kidnapped and raped, the footage later sold to pornography businesses for use on the web. They aren’t being taught of the cases such as the one in Missouri where a mentally handicapped girl was beaten, whipped, suffocated, electrocuted, mutilated, choked before being forced to partake in pornography. Her photo was then used on the front cover of a famous porn publication.1

They need to know the association between pornography, child sex slavery and pedophilia. Child pornography is a $3 billion industry, with over 100, 000 websites offering child pornography. 800,000 people go missing each year – that’s 2,185 per day. 50% are children, 80% are women and girls, and it’s estimated that the international sex trade is exploiting one million children each year.2 Many of these children are filmed being raped and abused, the footage being sold for use on what’s known as the “Dark Web” or “Deep Web” corner of the net. One example is a community of 90,000 registered users on a website called 7axxn, dedicated to child pornography. Worse still is a moderator on this site who admits to raping her own children and posting the videos for the community to watch.3 Many of these websites are owned and operated by the same people who create “normal” pornography sites. Which means every click on these “normal” sites is unwittingly funding the child pornography industry, child sex slavery, human trafficking and pedophilia.

They need to know that long-term pornography exposure, like any long-term addiction, changes the structure and function of the brain. The effects are the same as drug use, where the brain soon begins to tolerate the level of stimulation and demands a higher dose in order to achieve the same level of pleasure. Enough is never enough.4 “Men interviewed reported that after many hours looking at porn, they found themselves willing to look at things they would have previously found disturbing, including bestiality, group sex, hard-core s&m, genital torture and child pornography”5

They need to know that pornography portrays a distorted image of sex, where women are nothing more than objects to be dominated and controlled for their pleasure. There is no love, no connection, no intimacy, no commitment. There is no mutual enjoyment, tenderness, protection or security. Sex becomes about selfishness; about immediate gratification, completely disconnected from reality. Long-term exposure can change the perception of healthy, mutually consenting sex, which will destroy any chance of a loving relationship in the future.6

They need to know that the majority of women’s bodies do not look like the women on the screen. Men who have had long-term exposure to porn report decreased attraction to their partner, inability to be aroused by their partner, erectile dysfunction and ongoing dissatisfaction with their partner’s looks, sexuality and sexual experiences. And this can be as early as in their twenties. 7

They need to know that not every guy does it. There is no denying men are wired to want sex. But that doesn’t mean every man looks at porn. There are men out there smart enough to know the danger of addiction, the way it will ruin their relationships, destroy their sex life, and which it is connected to child slavery and human trafficking. There are men out there who have the ability to control themselves and who have taken a stand against pornography. They have chosen to hold women in the utmost highest respect and not degrade them through assault, rape, and abuse for their own pleasure. The rampage of porn in our society is destroying our young men, and it is our job as parents to take control and grow them into men of integrity.

Porn is no substitute for love and relationship, and by telling our boys that it’s normal and okay, we are denying them the ability to have true intimacy with a woman in a mutually enjoyed sexual relationship. It is our job to teach our sons the beauty of relationship, of intimacy, tenderness and connection. To teach them how to respect, value and cherish a woman. To teach them how to laugh with a woman, cry with her, protect her, comfort her, nurture her, make her feel safe, and above all else, to fall in love with her naked soul first, so that her naked body will always be enough for him.

Let’s educate our children about sex. Absolutely. But let’s educate them with the truth of pornography. Let’s use the power of our voices. Because then, and only then, can we overpower the lies that society would have us believe. Lies that are slowly destroying our boys, our sons and the future men of our society.

It starts with us.

not interested

  1. Porn’s Dirty Little Secret – fightthenewdrug.org
  2. trafficking.org
  3. 5 Things I Learned Infiltrating Deep Web Child Molesters – cracked.com
  4. Effects of Porn on Adolescent Boys – psychologytoday.com
  5. Pamela Paul, “From Pornography to Porno to Porn: How Porn Became the Norm”
  6. How Pornography Harms Children – protectkids.com
  7. Porn Induced Sexual Dysfunction – www.yourbrainonporn.com