Every year on Mother’s Day I think about all the articles I have written about motherhood. The day and its associated fanfare serves as a cue to write something new.
In May 2021, a few months before my children left home to pursue their future away from home, I compiled several of my past articles on motherhood and compiled a bouquet of essays which marked a significant portion of my journey as a mother.
When May 2022 arrived, I made an uncharacteristic move. I deliberately chose to not write about motherhood. Until, I came across a caption in a calendar that compelled me to speak.
“The image of a woman as mother is universal, not specific to any culture. But in India, that image is elevated to iconic status by a society that puts marriage and motherhood at the core of a woman’s existence.
As a young woman growing up in Mumbai, I may have doubted my ability to live and work abroad, but I had never doubted my ability to bear children.“
These words are from the chapter “Chasing Motherhood” from my book, Rewriting My Happily Ever After – a memoir of divorce and discovery.
Although my book is the true story of the period before and after my divorce, it has a big focus on my life as a single mother.
Becoming a mother was not easy for me. I suffered from infertility and endured painful medical treatments. I like to joke that getting a Ph.D. was easier. While my Ph.D marked the end of a long period of study, giving birth marked the beginning of a new phase of life.
I was thrilled to finally have my baby in my arms. Although the early days were not easy physically and emotionally, returning to work made it even more difficult as I tried to balance a budding career with the responsibilities of motherhood.
And years later when I decided to walk away from my unhappy marriage, I thought long and hard about the impact of my decision on my child. After all, she was a gift to both of us and not my property alone.
Motherhood has been the most humbling experience of my life and the most significant measure of my growth as a person.
Every year, mother’s day serves as a reminder that nurturing a child is a privilege and a choice. But unlike any other responsibility that you undertake, it requires great commitment for the long haul.
The pretty face and the ugly truth about motherhood
My reluctance to write about motherhood this year felt strange, even to me, given my strong feelings on the subject. I wasn’t sure if it had anything to do with the stage of my life (empty nester) or just my general state of mind (lethargy) but I was galvanized into action when I saw this on a calendar for May:
“DO NOTHING DAY – Moms are always there to shower us with love and care every day whether we are 6, 18 or 30. Let’s do the same, starting with giving her a well-deserved day off on Mother’s Day and treating her like the queen she is.”
So moms get a sanctioned day ‘off’ once a year for a job well done? Or is she elevated to ‘queen’ status for a few hours for a lifetime of labor (not just the part in the delivery room)? Who gets to decide that the attention is “well-deserved”? If this is an annual appraisal, what about bonuses and equitable pay for all the hours and energy that mothers pour into raising children?
The condescending tone of the words brought to mind a book I read several years ago. In “Still Life With Bread Crumbs“, a novel by Anna Quindlen, one of my favorite American authors, the title refers to a famous picture of a messy kitchen taken by the central character, a young photographer who is also a mother.
The picture taken the morning after a party captures the quiet clutter of a house that has not been spruced up to make it photo-worthy. It showcases a living space that is far from pristine – the antithesis of the glossy mother’s day photos you see splattered across social media.
A sentence from the book – “Funny, that no one had ever asked what had happened to the dishes, the scraps, the crumbs in the photographs, on the poster,” clearly reflects the feelings of the narrator.
Sometimes a picture is truly worth a thousand words!
The truth about motherhood is that it is difficult and messy and out of control on most days. While some part of it has to do with the physical demands of giving birth, the greater investment is of time and energy that women pour into their homes and lives because NO ONE ELSE PICKS IT UP.
From putting away toys to handling doctors appointments, responding to emergency calls from school, managing birthday party invites and navigating exam schedules – it all falls on the mother whether or not she is willing, or even the best person to do all of it.
Jobs don’t accommodate and appraisals don’t account for the invisible emotional labor that goes into keeping a home running. Society prefers to pay lip service to Instagrammable moments while ignoring the ugly reality of women’s lives that are untenable due to disparity in gender roles when it comes to family life. And this situation is not restricted to a particular country or culture. It is ubiquitous.
Why women need to prioritize themselves
One of the most important lessons I learned in my journey as a single parent was that I needed to take care of myself in order to do well in all my life domains. To do that, I had to put myself on the top of my priority list on a regular basis, not wait for permission to do it once a year.
I was a champion of self-compassion long before self-care became a buzzword.
What does self-compassion really mean for me as a busy mother?
- Prioritising my health – going for regular yoga classes and a daily walk
- Getting enough rest – listening to my body when it asks me to slow down
- Making social connections with other adults without children tagging along at all times
- Taking adequate breaks between tasks instead of constantly attacking the to-do list
- Making time for solitude to replenish my soul
Happy people make happy parents. One happy mother influences not only her children but also buoys other mothers around her. A peaceful, enabling house is the most nurturing environment in which your child can flourish.
With mothers being the life breath of every home, it means imbuing your living space with an authentic sense of peace and calm that comes from loving and appreciating yourself on a daily basis. And it can’t be created by a single day off or an annual expensive brunch on the second Sunday of May.
Becoming a good mother is part of the overall process of becoming a good person. It’s not a destination but an eternal work in progress. There are no guarantees, no prizes and no definite finish line.
One thing that is crystal clear to me is the fact that as women, as mothers, as thinking individuals, we need to support each other as we perform the important task of nurturing the next generation of caring, compassionate individuals.
Happy (belated) mother’s day!
Photo credit: Pixabay