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On Being Selfish, and Mothering Myself

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

I am reading Will I Ever Be good Enough, by Karyl McBride, a book about daughters who feel unmothered (for different reasons, perhaps the loss of a mother, a neglectful or absent mother, a narcissistic and over critical mother).

It has been very helpful for me to understand why I have never felt ‘good enough', in spite of being a published author and facilitator of workshops; why I keep so busy, and why it feels selfish to take time just for me. I wondered, if I could invent a kind, supportive mother for myself, what would she be like?

My ideal supportive female guide would listen to my worries, soothe my brow with a calm hand. She says, there, there. It’s all right. Don’t sweat the small things –even the big things are out of your control. Stop worrying about your grown kids.

She encourages me in my creative projects, tells me I deserve a morning off to just muse, write, listen to soothing music at least once a week. You deserve more playtime – sunshine and walks outside. You are allowed to enjoy your life –supper with your husband, watching Hercule Poirot movies, snuggling on the couch with dark chocolate and a bowl of popcorn. You can breathe into meditation and yoga every morning because you love to do that. You can pour rose scented Epsom salts in a bath and soak your tense muscles. Lie down and rest for 30 minutes in the afternoon.

When I’m sick, she brings me bowls of hot broth and tea, soft Kleenex. She reminds me not to eat fatty stuff when I’m sick, just dry crackers. She reminds me of my mom when I was little.

In fact, I did have a loving, caring mother, but mid-way through my childhood, she became overwhelmed with caring for a house of children, and alcoholic. She counted on me and my sister to help cook, clean and organize laundry. She tried to check out of her life when I was sixteen. Then went into rehab.

I was a good daughter, up to a point. Around age 15 I began to act out (it was the 70’s, what didn't we do!). We dared our mothers to discover our trespasses. They surely would have reined us in if they knew the half of it.

In the last year of my twenties, I fell in love, got married, went back to school, and got pregnant, in that order. Writing poetry and becoming a mother pushed me back into healing the mother wound. In my first book, Little Mother, I poured out my nostalgia, and my distress at an imperfect childhood. It became an exploration of the dark and light side of motherhood. I loved my kids passionately and yet needed time alone to write. I felt split down the middle.

Fast forward to menopause – the grand awakening to self-care. The therapist I went to see for anger management issues said, you have to learn to be more selfish. The very word was anathema to me. I felt useful doing volunteer work. I guess I had a strong good girl streak. But when I broke my leg skiing one year, something else broke down. The capable superwoman cracked. I could not take care of everyone if I didn't take care of me. My body was hurting, my shoulders ached. I kept taking on too many projects and responsibilities, trying to find my self-worth. I wanted to get out of the house, and my therapist suggested I teach at the women’s center.

So I began. In the middle of my menopausal journey, I began to teach what I needed to learn. How to be selfish, how to carve space and time for my creative side, for my own sanity. How to ask for help. How to honour my need for time alone, and soothe the restlessness.

At menopause, the rocky road to healing began. I learned to mother myself. If I was tired, I took naps. If I was sad, I sat in the bathtub and wailed. If I was hungry before meals, I ate snacks. I was not very good at this, often blowing up at suppertime. The kids would say, eat something mom, you’re cranky.

Finally, my two kids were grown. I had mothered them sufficiently, taught them a few useful things about laundry and cooking. They both chose to go to school away from home. I had the quiet house to myself, my sanctuary, so I began to lead retreats and classes from home. Slowly my class has grown from five women four years ago to eleven in two classes this session. I am still teaching exercises for discovering what you want to do with your life, what you love, what you would do if it weren't selfish.

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