For most of my life, I believed being a woman was the same thing as being a mother – there was no distinction between them. The turning point of when a girl would become a woman appeared to be when she produced children and became a mother. From an early age I took notice of every detail of how to be a mother, and because almost all of the grown women around me fitted into this category – there were plenty of mothers to model myself on.
I have three sisters, all of whom are now mums too. It was never asked of us if we would ever like to have children or presented with the idea of there being a choice involved – it was expected of us from the start. If you weren’t born a boy then at least you could have babies one day. It was more a question of ‘when’ it would happen. When I was six years old I very clearly remember being told about a girl in our street who had fallen pregnant in her teenage years and how her life would now be over for her – that she had given up having a life when she chose to have children. So it was at age six that I registered that having children meant you couldn’t have a life anymore.
From early on I noticed how mean women were towards those women that had not had children – I’m pretty sure they were called ‘spinsters’. They were treated as failures for not having married a man, let alone not producing children, and the women with children appeared to feel sorry for the ones without them, as if they were not real women somehow because of it. I learnt that this was clearly a category you did not want to fall into.
I watched and learnt everything needed to be the perfect mother – I had one in my own family who was working very hard my whole life at playing this role. Something that I also noticed was how tired and drained they were and how much hard work it was going to be. I watched ‘mothers’ doing everything for everyone else, and there seemed to be an endless amount of cooking, cleaning and washing involved in this mothering role. There was a lot of pleasing others, which showed to other women how qualified you were to be a mother. In addition, all of the things you do for your children, whether it is the activities they do after school or the clothes they wear, or pretty much every choice your children make, is something that becomes conversation somewhere along the line with other people. It was clear that being a mother meant living your life through your children. This made a lot of sense to me given you had already given your own life up, and it further confirmed the earlier message that was registered, that ‘having children means you can’t have a life anymore’.
I also noticed with my own mother that she did less and less of the things she enjoyed doing as time went on. This ‘mother’ role became bigger and bigger until she was totally consumed by it – completely this mother-figure and not a woman to me at all. They were merged, one and the same. This wasn’t something unique in our family; it was the same everywhere I looked. From our neighbours, friends and family, to complete strangers… there was an epidemic of ‘mothers’ out there but very few, if any, women.
The relationship between mum and I was exactly this – one of me being groomed for the same position of ‘mother’. I’m pretty sure it was the exact same relationship between mum and her mother. In their case, mum took on the role of ‘mother’ when she was still a child herself – no wonder she was so great at it by the time I came along.
The job description of ‘mother’ was to look after a family, with particular focus on meeting all needs of the man of the house who was the ‘head of the family’, do pretty much most jobs in the home apart from the mowing and the rubbish (they were part of the man’s jobs) and to keep going and pushing yourself through no matter what – there was after all a whole family depending on you. A mother was also responsible for shopping, cooking, washing, caring for everyone else, the education of her children, providing playmates (siblings) for them, after school activities, and being involved in the community. There was no time to be sick, no time to take good care of yourself, and if you did this it was seen as being selfish and indulgent.
A lot of effort appeared to go into the ‘mother’ position but mostly it seemed to go unnoticed, as if these things were all somehow miraculously just done, more often than not it was not appreciated by anyone else. I was beginning to understand that life really would be over in many ways when I became a mother. With that workload for everyone else, how could it even be possible to do something for yourself?
This relationship with each other revolved around jobs – what I was doing, and mostly about what I was not doing well enough. There was a high marker of perfection to live up to, which I never seemed to be able to achieve. Mum was always rushing about doing something and I often asked her to stop and just play for a moment – but there was never enough time, always something to do. I was often told to get on with it, get over it, and to toughen up. There didn’t appear to be room in this position for gentleness and vulnerability – they were seen to be the weak spots that needed to be overcome in order to do the job better. The mentality was ‘only the strong survive’ and ‘soldier on’ in so many families.
As I grew up this was the relationship between mum and I. We never spoke about anything personal as mum became very uncomfortable and embarrassed with this. It was as if she was ashamed of any of the parts of us that made us women, for example our periods were not discussed, or puberty. It was at school I learnt about this for the first time. The subject of boys and sex was definitely a code red subject never to be discussed, and we were told we could never have boyfriends until we were 18 and had left home in any case. So I pretty much did the maths and worked out I wouldn’t be a mother until after that age.
I also learnt that the mother role didn’t suddenly stop when your kids moved out of home. The mother role carried on… by telephone.
Our relationship as adults continued with more of the same flavour – “what are you doing?”, “what have you been doing?”, “what are you going to do?” and “what do you know?” My life was assessed (by me and mum) from every angle as to whether it measured up. We glossed over any personal subjects as these felt very uncomfortable. We knew a lot about what each of us was ‘doing’, but there was no deep connection with each other nor sharing of our feelings or experiences as women – it was pretty much a guarded relationship with no true depth.
Although there were many things I did differently along the way with my own daughters, the flavour was mostly the same. It was a relationship of me doing everything for them and living my life through them – a carbon copy of mum. If they were doing well then I was doing well. If they were down, then I was down with them, taking full responsibility for everything in their lives. Our conversations were about what was being done and not being done, not about who they were and honouring how they may be feeling about something. It didn’t even enter my mind to have conversations about becoming a woman, the changes in our bodies and puberty, for me it was long forgotten. I took the time to listen to them but it was on the surface, I had never fully let them in and let down my guard with them, and to be honest I didn’t feel equipped to help them to be women in the world. How could I when I had forgotten how to be one myself?
When Esoteric Women’s Health presented the notion of ‘being’ and not ‘doing’ I nearly fell over. Seriously. It felt like the room spun around and I was upside down on the ceiling. I had no reference point for how this could be done and I had certainly never seen it before. However, there was something about it that rang deeply true to me, and slowly I began to entertain the possibility.
As more was offered and presented I began to realise that I had been living for most of my life as a mother, and not as a woman. Even as I child I was already rehearsing the role of ‘mother’ with other people’s children, the kids in the street and my own younger sister. I had it down pat by the time I had children of my own.
Esoteric Women’s Health has fully supported me every step of the way to be me – the real Me, by remembering what it is to be a woman, and not just a mother.
I began to recognise how little of myself I had been taking to my relationships and how much I was imposing on my children with my rules and standards of perfectionism. I was asking them every day to be someone that was not naturally them, rather than supporting them to be true to who they are, and to bring out the best in them. I realised how dependent I had become on how they were each day. If they weren’t doing well, I would feel that it was somehow something that I was doing wrong as a mother and I would blame myself. If they were feeling great then I would feel that I was doing a good job as a mother.
This has all changed as a result of me learning to be a woman again and honouring myself, and I continue to amaze myself every day as I let go of these old ways and give myself permission to be the real me. I feel more connected with other women and what they are experiencing as well.
By not feeling the need to live up to some image of the perfect mother, I feel free to enjoy and appreciate every moment as myself, with both the children and with others. I had never realised how much weight was sitting on my shoulders until it was gone. I have noticed that where I was resentful and frustrated in the past, I am now open, patient and understanding. I have learnt to accept the children for who they are and what they are choosing, even if it is not a choice I would make. There is more playing and appreciating each other, more opening up and sharing what is going on for each of us, and our relationship deepens every day.
The relationship with my mum has also changed enormously as a direct result of Esoteric Women’s Health and all it has brought to me. To me, she is now a woman and no longer ‘the perfect mother’. I’m pretty sure this has taken the pressure off her needing to be something as well. We are more open and loving with each other and talk about so many things including issues and personal subjects that were in the past taboo.
Mum has been sitting back watching me grow and change over these recent years and is now beginning to trust what she has seen and knows me to be – after all she was the first person to know me fully. She is opening up about many things, taking more care of herself than she ever has, and opening her eyes to the possibility of a different way to be with herself. Last time she came to visit we were two women dancing in the lounge room together and her smile filled up the entire room.
I have learnt with each of my relationships that by no longer playing a role and simply being the real woman that I am, it allows everyone else the breathing space and permission to not have to play roles either, or live up to anything – they feel free to be themselves, too.