Nowadays it takes more than maternal instinct to cope with the demands of the modern family. Read on as I share my insights on how to survive the stress factor.
“In my time, I have been called many things: sister, lover, priestess, wise-woman, queen.”
Morgan Le Fay, The Mists of Avalon
It’s the usual chaos. A Monday morning full of the customary rants: “I can’t find any socks.” “Where did you put my clean shirt?” “But mummy, my tummy really does hurt.”
It continues as I grab the school bags, the lunch boxes and the keys. On mornings such as this, I rely on my innate ability to tune out. If you’re a mother, you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. Tuning out is when you rise above, or if you prefer, slink below, the high pitched wailings and long faces, the sheer mayhem if you will, of a normal day.
It’s that fixed expression, that vacant smile that says, “Yes dear, I’m listening”, rather than betraying the fact you’re wondering whether you should get petrol or whether you can risk just one more trip before filling up. It’s a skill that’s quickly developed around the age of your offspring’s second or third birthday.
As I deftly point my nearest and dearest in their respective directions, I realise with a glance at my watch, it’s time to come back into my body and step up another gear. The vacant smile has gone replaced by the realisation that I really should have stopped off for petrol. I begin to stress about the day ahead. Am I ever going to reach work in time? Why does my laptop case have raspberry jam all over it? Did I take the chicken out of the freezer? Did I bring my notes for that 9.30am appointment? Throw in a bit of guilt about being a working mother who doesn’t pick her child up until after 6.00 in the evening, and so it goes on, the rooftop chatter in my brain, day in and day out. Exhausted yet?
After the initial frenzy of the day, a calmer mood sets in (it seems to coincide with my darling daughter’s bedtime) and I feel cheated as I reminisce about old days gone by. I used to meditate in the mornings, take long hot baths, absorb every book I could find on the meaning of life, and I would actively seek my path to enlightenment. Where did that path go? I always wanted to be the Lady of the Lake in Avalon, speaking in hushed tones, wearing a fixed, tune out’ expression all day as I floated on my little cloud of knowingness.
What happened to my spiritual quest? It seems a husband, child, career and a home, all conspired to distract me from my intended destination. Nowadays the chance to go to the bathroom without an audience is a quest in itself.
Each day goes by in a blur and I find myself wondering, as I’m sure many other mothers do, whether I’m actually a good mother. Where does one find the time? What is the definition of a good mother? How is it possible to keep some semblance of self through it all?
The 1950s smiling, perfectly made up image of mum who always has the dinner on the table by 5.30pm may be a little out-dated, but it doesn’t stop us from striving toward that ideal. Perhaps we no longer take the time to read how to make the perfect souffle and we are not quite as well versed in what kitchen ingredients lift greasy stains from the table cover, but there’s a very good reason for that.
Mothers today are all things to everybody, but least of all to themselves. Yes, we may indeed have more choices than previous generations, though conversely we are faced with far greater dilemmas and demons today. These challenges reach far beyond the confines of making sure our little darlings eat their greens, wash their hands before dinner, or reminding them of the importance of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. While these traditional sentiments are still valid, the modern mother is more worried about drugs in the playground, the bully in Year 6, the amount of time spent online, or fretting about the fact she isn’t spending enough quality time with her family at the end of the day. Add to this to the knowledge we are living in a volatile world and it becomes easy to allow a state of impending doom to reign.
So how do mothers cope with what, for some, is a raw deal? The majority of households now depend on two wages to stay afloat, yet women still find themselves coming home, rolling up their sleeves ready to do another shift. The mother of the household is still the primary nurturer, teacher, cleaner, cook, spiritual advisor and psychologist to the whole family. The health and wellbeing of everyone still rests on her shoulders. Is it any wonder that nerves get a little frayed around the edges when there are such extreme pressures placed on both her time and energy.
My own experience has shown me that it is vital to let off steam. It’s essential to exercise, to eat well and to soak up whatever spiritual nourishment is available just to sustain myself before I can be of any use to the rest of my family. Easier said than done you may well say.
The secret is to look after yourself first. Selfless beings though mothers are, I cannot stress enough, the importance of being ever so slightly selfish. I must confess, it took me a long time to learn this lesson, happy to indulge my martyrdom on all who would listen, just as my mother had done before me. I learned not to resent my position in the family, but embrace it and recognise the true value of the job I was doing.
Before I ‘got selfish’ though, I had to take on a change of mindset. I realised my family represented a microcosm of what’s going on out there in the real world, so I decided it was my role to lead my example and hopefully create a ripple effect starting with my own family.
I make sure we eat as well as we can within a budget. We take walks together, we invite friends over, we watch TV together, we read, or play games. But most of all we talk.
Interestingly enough, we argue a lot too, It’s no Little House on the Prairie in our home. We have heated discussions that the whole street can join in with if they so wish. But for my part, I feel secure in the knowledge that my family are growing up in a safe environment and have a positive image of themselves that they can hopefully share with others.
I have also shared my philosophies on everything life has to offer. While my daughter is well aware of my spiritual beliefs, I have encouraged her to find her own path, to discover what is right for her. I try to provide my family the information they need to make themselves better when they are ill or look to holistic therapies rather than reaching for the first over-the-counter drug they can lay their hands on.
By encouraging this ethos in the family, I feel I am doing the best job I can with the situation I find myself in, whether it’s as a single parent, or as a working mum (and I’ve been both). I am teaching the whole family to be independent emotionally, physically and spiritually, so that in the long run, they won’t necessarily have to come to me to take on the challenges they face in their lives. This is their journey. Their experience.
The teachings, the guidance, the words of wisdom a mother gives her family, (not to mention the domestic and financial contributions), the kindness, love, compassion, being a best friend, a nurse, a carer…it all comes at a price. But why should mum be the one to pay?
Like everything else at the moment, I get my spiritual nourishment on the run from reading books and magazines, observing the universe’s little coincidences from the kitchen sink. But I know in the not-too-distant future my family will fly the nest. So in the meantime, I’ll have lots of long hot baths with the bathroom door firmly locked. I take long walks along the beautiful beaches close to my home, even if it means the whole family tagging along while I’m tuning out. I make sure that at least one night a week I can do whatever I want for two hours whether it’s visiting a friend, going to the movies, or reading a book. I have to be strict to keep these appointments with myself because it’s all too easy to give in and give all of yourself to whomsoever asks. I try to maintain a sense of balance, aware that the more I give out, the more I have to replenish.
For now, I have realised that part of my spiritual appetite is satisfied in knowing I am playing one of the most important roles in the world. Mothers aren’t just all things to their own family. They are the keepers of the planet. They cry when they see starving children on the television, or campaign when a nuclear dump is to be constructed in their back yard. They work hard for a better world for their loved ones, be it their children, their siblings or their partners in life.
As my candle flickers and the essential oils pamper my skin and senses, my eyes close and I’m walking through the Mists of Avalon.
First published by NOVA, Australia,
copyright Evie McRae.
Evie McRae is former Deputy Editor of leading UK holistic health title Natural Health and Wellbeing.
She is also a Reiki practitioner and devoted mother.