I had the unusual experience last week of coming across the same unfamiliar concept while reading two unrelated books! It was enough to make me pause- and get curious- and want to explore more about the concept I hadn’t even heard of before the week started. (more…)
As parents of school aged children everywhere face another back to school season, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences parenting my son who is entering his senior year of high school this fall. Since he was 5, I’ve sent him off to a new year of school anticipating what it would bring- the new friendships, the struggles, the frenzied pace, and-of course, the growth and learning.
And each year, as his mother, I’ve felt myself growing right along with him. I’ve had to learn how to manage the pace, set limits, and say no when needed. I’ve sat by his side, trying not to nod off as he worked painfully slowly sounding out his first little readers. I’ve tutored him through long division, made sure all of the dang science fair projects got done, and sat in the principal’s office with him. Multiple times.
Expectations, Expectations, Expectations
Mark Twain once said, “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it”. As the mother of a close-to-grown son, I relate to that quote now more than ever!
Because the relationship I have with my children matters so much to me, over the years, I’ve placed a lot of pressure on myself to be a good mom. Additionally, we face messages of cultural idealism around the idea of motherhood–idealism that stressed me out before I could even put my finger on it or had a name for it! I was bombarded with messages in entertainment, at church, and now- in social media- that idealized motherhood, and, as a result- turned up the heat on the pressure I felt. The unrealistic expectations that I allowed myself to build into my life added unnecessary hardship.
Dr. Julie’s Wisdom
Recently, Dr. Julie Hanks gave a talk at the TedX event held in Ogden, Utah. She spoke about the religious, cultural, and historic messages we take in as women, and the damage it can do when we hold motherhood up on a pedestal. She describes the difference between idealizing and valuing motherhood- valuing is to consider something important or significant, and idealizing is to regard something as perfect, or better than reality. Dr. Hanks explains, “When we accept messages from external sources about something that millions of women experience in millions of ways across the globe, it reinforces the idea that there is one right way to be a mother.” She challenges us to think about motherhood as a relationship, and not a role. Roles are rigid- prescribed, scripted, with set expectations and rights and wrongs. Viewing motherhood as a relationship, she shares, allow us to be our authentic selves. It allows us to value the connection between mother and child, and not discount it because it’s in any way different from the idealized standard.
Some of the most valued learning I’ve gained over the last 12 years is accepting and honoring the mom I am to my kids. I’ve kicked mom guilt to the curb and try hard not to let it cross the threshold back into our home– but like every bad ex-boyfriend, it tries to come back around again and again! I’ve learned new patterns and set realistic expectations. I’ve made peace with reality- our lives are not Pinterest boards, my kids get in trouble, and growth is hard. And that’s ok. I’ve learned to honor and value the ways I uniquely mother: with creativity, with humor, and with a little occasional snooping in Instagram DM’s. I’ve realized I’m a good mom because I value the connection I have with my children above all other indicators of success.
I love the freedom offered to us in Dr. Hank’s message- that there is no one right way to be a mother to my children. By focusing on connection in our relationships with our children, it frees us up to parent in the way that works best for our families- conventional or not.
This back to school season, give yourself permission to let go of idealized standards of parenting. You and your children will benefit when you honor the unique ways that you show up as a parent. Neither us nor our children are perfect- we all need space to grow and learn!
Lastly, if the growth and learning your child encounters this year lands you in the chair in the principal’s office, take a deep breath and know you are in good company. Many a good mom have sat in that chair in the past, and many a good mom will sit in it in the future. Consider this your across-the-internet fist bump.
Hanks, J. (2019, July 22). The Costs of Idealizing Motherhood, Julie de Azevedo-Hanks, TEDxOgden. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XlC8XqTSLUE
Twain, Mark. “A quote by Mark Twain.” (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7595047-my-mother-had-a-great-deal-of-trouble-with-me
In today’s busy world, it can seem nearly impossible to cultivate meaningful adult friendships. I mean, we have homes and careers to keep up with, family, marriage, and parenting responsibilities, bills to pay, groceries to buy, and we are all trying to get enough sleep and exercise- the thought of maintaining friendships beyond a simple “like” on Instagram can feel overwhelming!
I want to share with you that in the midst of juggling all of the balls you keep in the air, devoting time to your own grown up friendships is one of the most significant ways you can care for yourself.
Friendships provide the social support network needed to effectively ride the waves of the ups and downs each of us will experience in life. “Women are each other’s emotional support system. From giving advice, being a shoulder to cry on, keeping secrets, lending a listening ear and boosting self-esteem—developing strong and healthy female friendships is something all women can benefit from” (Fuller, 2018).
Neuroscience confirms the benefits we receive from our friends! Oxytocin is our love and bonding neurochemical. It’s what floods a woman’s system immediately after childbirth, enabling maternal attachment with her new child. It contributes to the bonding between romantic partners. Oxytocin is also released in the brain when we are interacting socially. “At our most elemental level, humans are social animals. Our brains evolved to ensure our survival, and they operate best when we interact and connect with others. Science has proven that social exchanges change (oxytocin) and circuit activity in your brain which decreases stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms and ups those calm and happy feelings” (Hampton, 2015).
Women specifically reap benefits of social interaction with friends. “Women…are genetically hard-wired for friendship in large part due to the oxytocin released into their bloodstream, combined with the female reproductive hormones. When life becomes challenging, women seek out friendships with other women as a means of regulating stress levels. A common female stress response is to “tend and befriend.” That is, when women become stressed, their inclination is to nurture those around them and reach out to others” (Kamen, 2013).
Have you ever felt the need to reach out for support and a listening ear when you are feeling depressed or are facing a crisis? That’s your biology doing it’s best to urge you towards what will help you! Several years ago, I hit a critical time in my life when it felt like everything was falling apart. As I leaned heavily on my girlfriends during this time, I felt buoyed up by their strength and support. Their love made me feel worthy of care again. Their belief in me helped me re-learn to believe in myself. Reaching out for others while I was in distress created a pack of powerful, wise women around me. It turns out- my biology really did know what I needed to survive the crisis at hand!
Developing and nurturing positive female friendships will not just boost your emotional health, researchers have shown friendships impact women’s physical health as well. “The Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School showed that the more friends women have, the less likely they are to develop physical impairments as they age, and the more likely they are to lead a contented life.The study also showed that not having friends or confidants is as detrimental to your health as being overweight or smoking cigarettes” (Kamen, 2013).
My grown up girlfriends have been one of the biggest factors to my happiness and success navigating life. We’ve cheered each other on, been shoulders to cry on, and have celebrated the innumerable milestones of each other’s children. This pack of women let me know that I’m not alone in the world, that my parenting experiences are mostly normal, and that my thoughts and feelings are valid. They encourage me to live my best life and I cheer them on as they do the same.
We tend and befriend.
When women support each other, the results are incredible.
Fuller, K. (2018). The Importance of Female Friendships Among Women. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happiness-is-state-mind/201808/the-importance-female-friendships-among-women
Hampton, D. (2015, June 21). Why Spending Time With Friends Boosts Your Oxytocin. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-20069/why-spending-time-with-friends-boosts-your-oxytocin.html
Kamen, R. (2013, January 29). Why Friendship Is Good for Your Health. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/female-friendship_b_2193062?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAKRqwsqXN2ISO0cd4MZpmvcOtHedW2ancajDKUQIZPz02lS9cbK8dWHy8oKqr9vI0BTvdwQq6fNU-i4J-KDeAMajvfr1Gaj1xyqX2K6_3r0FdVb3cwdY66csfmeCMQxK7rPO5ZtfRnkBhO_44qeuUbTWa1MEnKgEsABDcKxvCFz5 (more…)