Just the other day while food shopping, I saw a mother standing approximately four feet from her shopping cart. Her toddler son was climbing vigorously about the car that was attached to the cart. She was standing still with her hands covering her mouth, looking haggard and miserable. Not sure if I should intervene, I timidly asked if she was all right. She looked at me with glassy eyes and said, “I feel like throwing up.” Within seconds she continued, “He’s in rare form today.” In an instant, I realized she was not physically ill, just wound up beyond her comfort level. She spoke again, “He’s wearing me down. I really feel like I can throw up.” She may as well have said that he was wearing her away because that is exactly how she looked to me, like a shell of a woman. My heart went out to her, having been there myself many times. I offered to help, but she assured me that she would be fine. I continued on my way, knowing she had lied to me in an uncomfortable and self-conscious moment. Throughout the day, I thought about this woman. I figured this incident was not the first or only stressful occasion in her life as a mother, and I knew that it wouldn’t be her last.
As I’ve mentioned throughout my book, Missing In Action: How Mothers Lose, Grieve, and Retrieve Their Sense of Self, motherhood demands that women produce, provide, and satisfy on a daily basis. They must discipline, sacrifice, and tolerate a tremendous amount every day. This call to action can stress a woman’s sense of self. However, through this blog, I will continue to suggest ways for mothers to reclaim and/or secure their sense of self. In reclaiming and maintaining a strong sense of self, mothers are better able to live their lives from a position of strength and engage others in ways that promote long-term mental, emotional, physical, social, spiritual, sexual, and intellectual good health. These suggestions along with a commitment to personal self-care are the things that helped me find solace, strength, and the familiar aspects of myself that had long since vanished in the chaos of my life many years ago when I had young children around. Before all other suggestions, though, I urge mothers to establish and embrace some basic “rights.” As an example, I have listed some rights that stand strong in my life today, rights that I declare out loud from time to time, especially in moments that test me (as I still have three children at home). In no particular order of significance:
- I have a right to my feelings.
- I have a right to talk about these feelings.
- I have a right to expect understanding and support.
- I have a right to physical and mental/emotional limits.
- I have a right to fully develop into the person I desire to become.
- I have a right to pursue my goals, hobbies, and ambitions.
- I have a right to experience a bad moment, or two.
- I have a right to say, “NO.”
- I have a right to ask for help, and get it.
- I have a right to search for meaning.
- I have a right to be happy and fulfilled.
- I have a right to have my needs satisfied.
- I have a right to dream and have the space/time/quiet necessary to think about those dreams in a way that will advance me toward the fulfillment of those dreams.
- I have a right to mourn the things that I miss.
Remember, these are my rights and I may write them however I wish. It’sempowering to write them down, see them, and say them out loud. Greater still is the act of enforcing them. Imagine how good it would feel to write down and enforce your own set of rights. The following mothers took on this exercise and expressed rights I thought were sharing!
I have a right to end conversations with people who make me feel bad about myself or my parenting.
I have a right not to be responsible for every behavior my children exhibit.
I have a right to experience life on my terms.
I have a right to be “good enough.”
I have a right to relax and be frivolous.
I have a right to evolve in my role as a mother, wife, and woman.
I have a right to make decisions that seem selfish.
I have a right to make a phone call in quiet and pee with the door closed.
I have a right to make mistakes.
I have a right to keep adding to my list of rights.
In an effort to reclaim and/or maintain your sense of self, I suggest you compose your list of rights. Take your time and think through how to protect your sanity and your sense of self. Don’t worry about the words you use or how others might interpret them. Allow for at least five rights. Anything short of five rights implies that you are not as important as the other members of your family, which is absolutely absurd. You are incredibly important and extremely worthy of these rights.