June 11, 2015 by Julia
I’ve always had a thing for mantras. If I am upset or lost, I’ll mentally flip through my most cherished sayings – feeling impatient? Uninspired? Depressed? Just plain grumpy for no good reason? I’ve got a mantra for that!
Of course I’m partly joking, because as I well know, when you’re truly depressed or anxious, a few words can’t pull you out of it. But darn it if my brain doesn’t love the search for a new encouraging phrase to get me through another day, week or month with fresh eyes.
This habit of self-assessment birthed a new mantra (pun intended) which not-coincidentally occurred to me around this year’s Mother’s Day: BE YOUR OWN MOTHER. And be a good mother. All of the best things that mothers do, we can do for ourselves too, you know!
I’m not just talking about treating yourself with a spa day (although that sounds wonderful, and I’ll take it). I’m talking about tough love, about boundaries for oneself, moderation with the candy, and eating your vegetables. I’m talking about cleaning up after yourself and doing the right thing even when you don’t feel like it. I don’t know about you, but I need someone to yell at me – “Don’t even think about leaving your socks there!” and “Carry those books upstairs with you!” I don’t really want my actual mom to be in my home doing that (I assume she’s with me on that one), but if my inner mama wants to do so, I would do well to listen to her.
Good Inner Mama Says:
Sometimes the simplest, easiest answer is the best. It might really just be that you’re tired or hungry. That doesn’t mean that your feelings of despair or fury aren’t valid. But let’s try sleep, food or water first, and then see how things look. Sleep is the toughest one; it’s boring, and there aren’t enough hours in the day as it is. But how often do you regret a good night’s sleep? It heals a multitude of wounds, it solves problems, it makes things better. Think of the over tired baby who won’t stop screaming when he just needs to let go. We do the same thing as adults, just at slightly lower pitches. Sleep, child!
Everything in moderation. Don’t overdo it. You have to know when to stop – stop eating ice cream, stop running around outside, stop watching TV, stop watching inane Youtube videos, stop wanting more and more stuff from the store. All of those activities are fun and add a lot to our lives. But there is always the possibility of too much. Even if the kids have been getting exercise outside, playing games all day – a great thing – I know that they need to get out of the sun eventually. Their day will actually be better if I make them come in and rest in front of the TV before the meltdowns occur. Yep, I just said that. Of course, we find ourselves in the opposite scenario, too, and the TV has to go off so they can go out and get some fresh air. The point is, good mothers know that there should be limits on everything. This not only keeps us physically healthy, but helps us to continue to enjoy the special things.
Daily rituals matter. I have a confession to make: I never made the bed as a teenager or adult until very recently. I just didn’t see the point. I don’t have to look at my bed during the day, usually, so who cares? But I decided to just do it anyway, at the urging of Gretchen Rubin, and it’s not like it’s changed my life or anything, but there is something nice about this little act of care for my future, nighttime self. It makes me think of previous generations, surviving war and chaos and hardship while keeping up the little household chores through everything. There is something to be said for civilization and order, you know? Otherwise I risk getting swept up into the great questions of the universe while my own little world crumbles around me. And I have to keep up with this little physical world because it does not pause whenever I feel inclined to contemplate the point of my existence within humanity. My inner teenager says, “Ugh, why does it matter if I put those useless decorative pillows on?” but my inner mama says, “It matters because it looks nice and it speaks of kindness and your covers will be flat for you when you come to bed at night and sometimes you do these things even when you don’t feel orderly inside, because one of those little acts of order may be your saving grace when you least expect it.” Other rituals that good mothers enforce: eating breakfast, getting dressed for the day, quiet time, staying in touch with family and friends, having family dinner, celebrating holidays.
Focus on the love rather than the flaws. Mothers fiercely love their children, but they are also usually more aware of their children’s shortcomings or personal struggles than anyone else. We see it all. The acne, the annoying habits, the cowardice and the bossiness and the spoiled demands. We love wholeheartedly, and yet…the imperfections pain us, for a multitude of reasons. I am learning, though, that the children and I do much better, when I simply focus on them with love, rather than trying to pick apart their flaws or constantly improve them. I think many of us fear that we’ll be so blinded by love for our children that we’ll miss the faults that are so obvious to the rest of the world. But consider this: I’ve never judged a parent for talking about what they love in their child; few things are so sweet to hear. And even as a parent praises their child, I don’t doubt that they are also more aware of their child’s “issues” than I ever will be – after all, they’re raising the child. The flip side is, if a parent criticizes their own child incessantly, I do judge them for that.
By the same token, I am always fearful of being blind to my own flaws, which makes me prone to bouts of self-loathing. It’s good to work toward self-awareness, especially in areas where I can grow, but when it comes to my self or our children, disgust is not the greatest motivating force. It does no good. Love is the most trans-formative balm for any perceived flaws. (Excuse the cheesiness.)
Get some contrast. Sometimes you need to see people; sometimes you need to get away from people. Sit indoors with a book, or walk in the park. The best days offer a little of everything. Dark and light, quiet and loud. As a mother, I plan our days and our summers with the contrasts in mind. Rarely will a mother allow an entire week spent in front of screens; we assume that to do so would be morally wrong, even if we can’t articulate why. I think it comes down to our understanding that our kid will feel like crap if that’s all they do all day, every day. It wouldn’t be healthy. The same goes for us, although in general we are much less restrictive with our own screen time. We are not made to sit at desks all day, or only speak with people online but never in person. Sometimes we have to kick ourselves out of the house. Or go on a trip. Or say no to a project when we’d rather hang out it with the family. Choose to expand, change it up a little – and you will be better off.
Be responsible for yourself. Mamas stop caring after a while about who started to fight – they just want someone to step up and walk away from it. And there are few actions that will please a mother as much as a child who cleans up after themselves without prompting. Placing blame everywhere but one’s self gets tiresome. Spare yourself the embarrassment of getting pushed out of the nest, and do it yourself, without prompting. Usually, we know what we need to do. I don’t mean to push yourself past your limits, but I do mean that we are better off dealing with life than we are procrastinating about it. I need to do so many things that I often procrastinate about, even if I love those things – because I crave solitude, or am feeling lazy, or am afraid. The truth is, at least ninety percent of the time, if I do that thing that I know is the most right, best thing to do, despite my own waffling for various reasons, I feel better. I don’t regret it. Another way to look at it is: do the work so you can enjoy the restful and/or fun part. Finish your homework, clean your room, call your friend and talk through that thing that’s been bothering you. Eat your greens. Think before you spend money. When you’re doing the right thing, your inner mama can stop nagging you. Hear that? It’s a clear head. Ahhh.
Offer a safe haven. When we think of good mothers, this is often the first characteristic that comes to mind: the ability to protect, nurture and comfort. Sometimes we need to go easy on ourselves in the same way. If we can’t be gentle with ourselves when we are hurting, I’m pretty sure we can’t get better. Sometimes a spa day IS called for.
Disobey when it matters. As nice as it is when children follow our parental rules, I think most of us would be a little freaked out if our kid did so without ever testing the limits, or ever disagreeing with us, or challenging our beliefs. We don’t want perfectly behaved children, not really. We want children who feel things – like passion, joy, excitement, courage – who are willing to question and explore and yes, be bad sometimes because that is part of being human. Mischief is sometimes necessary, and so too is occasional carelessness, and disregard for what we might feel like when the adventure is over. Looking back, many of my best memories have nothing to do with being responsible, reasonable, or careful. This doesn’t mean that well-meaning mothers are wrong, or that we don’t want them in our lives. Just because something isn’t true all the time doesn’t mean it’s useless. It’s just that there is a time to listen to your inner mama’s best advice (don’t hurt anyone, don’t put your life in extraordinary danger), and there is a time to debate or even ignore her, like when a spontaneous opportunity for joy presents itself: Nightswimming in the lake. Questioning figures of authority at great social risk. Eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s in one sitting. Road trip to nowhere. Career change. Nose ring. Sacrificing something for our strongest political beliefs. Dancing all night when you have to get up early for work.
Inner mama would rarely advise these choices, but she is secretly glad you are living your life to the fullest.
Now go clean up your room!