Someone asked me yesterday what it is like to be on maternity leave. I said: “It is a huge paradox.” It is the biggest privilege and the biggest prison in the world. On one hand, I know how fortunate I am to live in a country that offers perhaps the best maternity (and paternity!) leave in the world. In comparison, there are women in other countries who has to go back to work straight after giving birth, handing their children off to distant relatives or strangers to survive. I also live in a country where the tradition is to simply give the woman a bag of money and otherwise leave her to her own vices, totally isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. All over Scandinavia, you see mothers with newborns desperately walk around shopping centers to pass the time; shopping to at least feel some connection with the rest of the world. Or they sit at coffee shops doing their best to look totally perfect and blissfully happy with their designer clothes and designer kids, before going home to an empty apartment to stare into the wall or TV screen until their husbands and boyfriends comes come. And yes, this is totally a first world problem, but it is a problem none the less, because a mother with bird cage syndrome is not necessarily what’s best for a child. And yes, we can organize ourselves into little groups of mothers gathering with their children, and I’ve tried that, and many others have tried that and it is really not that much fun. Children can’t really play together until they’re at least two, so instead they’ll hit each other and roll on each other and steal each others toys. And I’ve gone to open playgroups, only resulting in my child shutting down because there was way too noisy. All in all, I’ve not found any of the traditional offers to pass the time as a new mother appealing.
So – here’s what I am doing instead, and let’s call this the beginning of “A MOTHER’S LIBERATION HANDBOOK”. (I’d like to clarify that when I say liberation, I do not mean liberation from my child, but from the unnatural situation I am placed in being isolated and home alone).
A MOTHER’S LIBERATION HANDBOOK
1. Whenever I find myself ‘bored’ during the day at home with my child, or I feel like being with a baby is ‘boring’, I deliberately ‘lower’ myself to her level. (low in this context means ‘humbling/grounding’) I do simple things with her that she enjoys.
These are our go-to things to do:
a) lay in bed and play and goof with each other, look into each others eyes, her moving and contorting her little body preparing to learn how to crawl, sit and eventually walk and stand. I stick my tongue out and do different movements and sounds with my mouth, because imitating these movements and sounds will help her develop the oral strength that is necessary for her to eventually speak.
b) Or we go outside and in the garden (can do it in your neighborhood if you live in an apartment) and slowly, slowly walk around and observe all the details we see. I make sure to observe where Lora’s eyes wonder to, and follow her lead in what interests her the most. Then we stop at trees and touch the bark, or I pick a basil leave and squish it between my fingers and let her smell and taste it.
c) We listen to music and dance. Nothing better to lighten a heavy mood. 🙂
2. I’m starting to plan more ahead to meet and see people that live rather far away, because I have found that it is important for me to be more with people whom I can communicate with on a deeper level and whom, at least to some degree share the principles I am committed to live, especially when it comes to how children are seen and treated. I’ve realized that if I want to meet and be around people who share similar values, I have to be willing to travel for it, and I am.
3. I have also realized that because maternity leave is a great privilege, I can actually use it (and the time it gifts me) to create even more networks and explore different places, situations and people. So I am actually planning on trying out different sports and hobbies, either where I can bring Lora with me, or eventually that my husband can be with her for a few hours when she’s not as dependent on my milk.
4. I plan on starting to study next spring when Lora is about a year old. I already have a bachelor and a master’s degree but it is invigorating to learn new things and I may want to expand my career into new areas, so what is better than taking up distance studying? (Which will also alleviate our economic situation a bit).
5. In the weekends or when my husband is home, we take roadtrips and find new places to take hikes where we take turn to carry Lora in a carrier or woven baby wrap. This is perhaps my favorite thing to do. As we walk, we talk about our lives and plans for the future.
6. I’m looking into starting a project or getting a job where I can include Lora, but this is very much only at a theoretical level. Another far in the future plan, would be to create a community setup living space, but by then Lora will also be much older. I can say as much that I will not accept that I cannot be mothering at a close and intimate level AND at the same time remain active in society and in my local community. It is simply unacceptable. So I will continue to work to find a solution.
7. I read blogs by other parents, and people in general who can inspire and support me to grow and expand as a mother. I watch videos and have discussions with people online, and I must say that having a supportive online community to share and communicate with is a must when you spend so much time alone – at least if you like I do, have a need to be social on a deeper level. Of course I also produce material myself (like this pieace).
If you too are a new mother or a mother (or father) who’s staying at home who can relate to this, do share your tips or hacks of how you’re finding a way to remain active while at the same time committing to caring for your child in the best possible way; with your own two hands. I for one can see how incredibly easy it is to fall into the martyrdom of motherhood (another motherhood label/construct to liberate myself from) where one believes that one must sacrifice everything for one’s child. The opposite of course is the idea that one can have children and continue the exact same life as before, often at the expense of children who are often left in the care of rather random individuals. I am determined to find a balance you hear! And if you would like to join me, or join forces, don’t hesitate to contact me.
[Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash]
From the moment my daughter was born, I knew that I would be walking a process of letting her go. I knew that she is, as the poet Kahlil Gibran says, not my own. She is the daughter of life itself, exactly as I am. I knew that I would have to let go of my own wants, needs and desires in relation to her, so that she can grow up to be the person she needs to be, that she has potential to be, and because I will not accept myself to hold her back or limit her to serve my own self-interest, I’ve been watching out for seeing when I have stepped in to a pattern of ownership or fear towards her.
So, the other day, I had a profound realization about motherhood and my role as a mother. I realized that my ‘role’ or responsibility as a mother is not to create an emotional relationship with my child, or to serve an emotional role in her life. I started realizing this because I could see that I was starting to create such a dynamic within myself, projected towards her, where I, more or less subconsciously wanted her to be emotionally depended on me, to need my love, and where I basically wanted to create an emotional bond between us that would forever tie her to me.
I realized this by asking myself the question in a quantum moment: “What did I need from MY mother? Did I need her to connect with me emotionally, to ensure I wouldn’t feel lonely? To ensure I would feel loved?” And to my surprise I realized that, no, I did not.
When I looked back at my relationship with my mother I realized that, I most of all needed her to support me on a practical level, and to stand as an example of what it means to live effectively in this world and how to form relationships and communicate with others.
When I looked at who I am as a person am in relation to my mother, I realized that I am a sovereign being, meaning that I have my own life, independent from her. If I feel lonely, I sort it out on my own. Even when I felt lonely as a child, she was never able to sort it out for me, or take the emotion from my body and transcend it for me. I realized that I don’t need my mother as an emotional support or ‘anchor’ in my life in any way what so ever, because I am for all intents and purposes alone in this life, as are we all. I need to be that for myself. And so does my daughter.
Looking back, I could see that my mother also did not (at least to a certain degree) create the type of emotional bond to me that many parents do, simply because she’s not that type of person (for better and for worse). Instead, she always had a great deal of respect for my sovereignty and unique potential, and she has encouraged me become independent and stand on my own two feet (sometimes a little too fast and too soon). As I see it, this is one of the primary reasons why I am not particularly nostalgic or attached to things or people or places or even ideas – which I see as a strength I have. Because it means that I am willing and able to move and change and let go if I need to. It also means that I am able to realize things like these that can be difficult to swallow. Edited to add: It also means that it is important to me to show my daughter physical affection and to respect her boundaries, something that my mother did not do with me.
As I kept diving deeper into this realization, I could see that my daughter is already as a small baby, much more independent and much less in need of me than I’ve given her credit for, exactly because I had this hidden desire for her to be emotionally dependent on me. So I wanted her to be more weak than she is, so that she would keep needing me. Isn’t it incredible? I mean that’s how problematic symbiotic mother/child relationships are developed. And if I you don’t catch it and stop yourself, you’re bound to create that ‘bond’ from what is essentially your own self-interest, of wanting the child to fulfill something in you (through you being something for them) that is really something you are yearning to give to yourself.
But because I have worked on developing myself for a very long time, and because I have walked a process to become self-honest also for a long time, I have enabled myself to ‘catch’ or ‘unveil’ myself in moments of self-dishonesty and self-deception. There are many, many moments still where I don’t (that’s why/how it is a life long process), but this exactly the process of deschooling that is talked about in unschooling contexts, and deprogramming as it is called in the Desteni group.
It is about facing and seeing the parts of ourselves that are the very most secret and shameful and hidden away. That we have created gigantic emotional STOP signs towards in our minds and bodies so that if we were ever to even begin confronting ourselves with the fact that this exists within us, we’d ensure that we DON’T GO THERE – and risk actually being honest with ourselves and our own motives.
See, even though I have realized that my daughter does not need me on an emotional level or for me to bond with her emotionally, it doesn’t mean I am not going to walk a process of creating an intimate and mutually trusting relationship with her. It doesn’t mean I won’t kiss or hug her as much as she’ll let me, or that I won’t rock her and sing her lullabies when she’s sick or tired or support her to stabilize if she’s scared. I already tell her I love her a hundred times a day. But a lot of those things (especially the hugs and kisses) are things that I do for me. I tell her I love her because I enjoy telling her I love her – not because she needs me to feel anything towards her. If I were to die when she was 5 or 10 or 20, she would still live on and create her own life.
The love she needs from me is practical, direct, tangible. The love she needs from me is a DOING, not a FEELING. And more than anything, she actually needs me to love myself, because that is the example I will set for her that she will mirror and to a certain (and big) degree will mold herself after.
So in realizing all of this, I have felt a sense of mourning and sorrow, and within that a reluctance to letting this emotional bond go, because it felt like I was losing her, that she was no longer MINE (which she of course never was). She came through me, but she is not mine. But then I realized that this entire point, this whole time, has been about ME being disconnected from MYSELF, about ME creating a deep and rich relationship with MYSELF, about ME connecting with MYSELF – that is was never about my daughter, or my relationship with her or me as a mother.
So after I had this realization, I have noticed that I have been able to be much more relaxed around my daughter, I have been less scared of her having bad experiences and I have been more myself around her. It reminds me of a decision I made in my twenties when it was clear to me that my mother was never going to be the kind of mother I had wanted her to be as a child. I realized that if I was going to be able to have a relationship with her, I had to accept her for who she was, and accept that she was first and foremost a woman, an individual, and that being my mother was only a part of the entirety of who she was. Back then I also felt a sorrow in letting go of my desire for a particular kind of mother, but with letting that desire go, I also opened myself up to the real human being that my mother is, and I started to see and appreciate HER for who she was. This, I realize, is what I am busy doing with my daughter as well. I am busy getting to know her, and see her for who she is.
And as such, I have peeled off another of those infamous onion layers of deception and unauthenticity from myself, as a mother and as a human being, and I can breathe a little bit more easily as I have released space within me, space that is now occupied by me, my body, my being, and not by an idea about who I am supposed to be in relation to my daughter, that doesn’t only imprison her, to now be defined as my daughter, but that also keeps me trapped in always searching for that deep connection with someone else, all the while, what (or whom) I was looking for, was here all along, with/within ME.