The moment I became a mother I also became acutely aware of life’s great expectations. The milestones, it appears, were neatly laid out from the moment my son was born. Is he sleeping through the night? Is he walking yet? Will he become a lawyer, like you?
The answer to those three questions at each of the relevant times was a guilt-induced, ‘no’. Those sleepless nights dictated that he slept in my bed … for a couple of years. I was working full time and studying law, so I needed sleep as a priority and did what worked for me. Of course, then I placed him in day care at four months old, to more looks that guaranteed my last placing in the ‘mother-of-the-year’ awards.
As my mothering choices were routinely questioned, hesitation began clouding my own choices. I sought the advice of my health care nurse who matter-of-factly assured me that ‘mother knows best’. Satisfied with this course of action, I got on with life by assuring my well-meaning tribe that my son would certainly not be sleeping in my bed by the time he was 18!
Despite the barrage of conflicting opinions, so many new mothers sincerely attempt to obey the directions of the collective motherhood. I, on the other hand, lived by this new found idea, that apparently ‘I knew best’ as a parent, until it was apparent that my son had developed his own mature mind and legs to stand on.
A few years ago, I spoke on well-being at a working mother’s event. In turn, each of these mothers expressed their guilt for choosing a career over ‘stay at home’ mothering. They shared guilt as they confided ignoring some of the text messages from childcare when other pressing issues were happening in the workplace. This knowingness of collective guilt bought some relief; they were not alone.
When it was my turn to speak, I shared my ‘mother knows best’ experiences and proposed that the guilt we felt, arose from expectations that motherhood should look a certain way. I asked the audience to ponder the question: ‘who created these expectations?’. The room went silent when the audience realised that these expectations, whilst probably created by our ancestors, were nonetheless being perpetuated by each one of us individually. We were each responsible.
A mother in the group approached me afterward and said that she had been feeling a nagging resentment at constantly being criticized for her life choices. She was relieved to know that feeling guilt and resentment was a choice too, that once released allowed her the freedom to be her own version of motherhood.
Expectations have been created for us in so many areas of our lives, but rarely do we pause to consider whether we are living authentically or merely following the expectations of others.
- You are living authentically when decisions you make feel peaceful to you.
- If the words ‘should’ ‘must’ or ‘ought to’ are present, then you will find an expectation.
- If you feel any level of negativity, check to see whether you are experiencing guilt.
Guilt is a key indicator that you are following others’ expectations. We adopt the expectations of others at a very early age and if we can pinpoint the irrationality of their creation, we can easily move through them. It is when these beliefs are unconscious that you might seek out a little extra guidance in finding and dissolving them, so that you can individualize your life’s journey.
For the record, my recently turned 24-year-old son is successfully carving out his own milestones as a self-created entrepreneur who earns more money than I do. And as I predicted, he sleeps in his own bed … with his wife.
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