Lessons of Motherhood

On my 37th birthday, I came to realize the importance of shifting from the “me and myself” thinking to “us” thinking for the wellbeing of the family. When small personal expectations are not met due to unexpected events of the present moment, inner conflict arises. Despite that, if we allow ourselves to express the love we feel for the family, before we know it, we are back to inner balance.

Daydreaming

I’ve recently turned 37 years. My husband rented a boat and we went off sailing around the archipelago of Helsinki till sunset. We enjoyed the serenity of the still dormant nature of March in Helsinki. We had some white wine and blue cheese while sharing whatever thoughts budded in our minds. We danced salsa and played board games.

As a matter of fact, the related events are but mere imagination.

The reality

Being a family with two small kids, we had a silent agreement that we would focus the energy on our boys. Our family of four spends most of the free time together. Yet somewhere deep inside, I was hoping that my birthday or my husband’s would be spent with a tiny bit of focus on ourselves also.

 

The morning of my 37th birthday followed after a bad night’s sleep. Yet, the joy of life surmounted the sleepiness when my hubby informed that he’s taking the day off to spend it together with me and the boys. The first half of the day was spent at an indoors playground, where we were switching between the two boys. On way back home, I was thinking which tasty dish we would have for dinner while our boys would be sleeping like angels.

 

Hardly did we arrive home when our youngest son started crying. With every scream of help, my soul was overcast by worry. The face of our baby was furrowed by pain and we were watching helplessly. Half an hour later, which felt like an eternity, we figured out what the problem was. One hour later, our baby felt better but I was in an emotional blockage.

 

I was doing my best though to fake an “Everything is fine” smile to the boys. My hubby gave me a heartfelt hug while whispering, “You must feel awful now!”

Lessons of a meaningful moment

My birthday may not have been a day of celebration and romance, yet it was a day that showed to me the power of love and living meaningfully. I would not have wanted to be anywhere else in the world, but right there, in our flat, holding our baby in the arms during his moments of pain. I felt lost for not being able to find a rapid cure for his ailment. I felt guilty for ever thinking to put him earlier to bed so I can enjoy the birthday evening solely with his father. Most of all, I felt how my love was soothing him despite the pain. And this was a remarkable feeling!

 

As for our marriage, the love that we feel for each other has been expressed differently since we became parents. We passed the stage of salsa parties (where we met) or walking under the moonlight. We are at the stage of supporting each other in parenting the best we can. We certainly miss being just the two of us. However, we are aware we are at this stage when we have to wait for our turn to have a hug. The little ones are first in line.

 

It became clear to me that at this stage, living meaningfully means giving up on any other plans of enjoyment or must-do errands and be present with the whole being when our children need us the most.

 

Every new day may bring unexpected challenges for our family – i.e., the entire family waiting in the emergency room. Facing such challenges while finding new ways to express love strengthen the family bonds. The challenge remains a memory upon which we look back and say heartedly, “We did it together!”

 

How about you? What changed in your life after becoming a parent and how do you feel about it?

 

PS. On the 4th of March 2014, our second baby was born. I am still at home with both boys. Being a mom is the toughest job I ever got and the most meaningful at the same time. I feel lucky to be the mother of two wonderful boys who make me want to be a better person. Each day is a storm of emotions, such as love, empathy, joy, anger, irritation, frustration, etc. At the end of the day, there is the feeling of contentment for spending a full day together when I discover new faces of the boys’ personalities.

 

I will continue writing on my blog each time I get some time on my own. Considering how our life has been so far, the most realistic scenario is once a month. I hope you’ll enjoy the new posts! :)   

Why does falling in love not always have a happy ending?

“Because two people fell in love”. This is how it started the invitation to a friend’s wedding. My friend had been in love in previous relationships. Still, it was only once when falling in love took her all the way to the altar.

In the Western societies, we have the freedom to look for partners in love, the way we think it suits us the best. Some of us look for Mr Perfect, others look for someone to love, just the way he/she is. Irrespective of whom we are looking for, falling in love is the easy part. Without being aware, we, women are influenced by the romantic comedies we watch and the romance novels we read. I’d like to know if there is any woman who hasn’t read “Pride and Prejudice“, at least once in her life. Our minds get full of false expectations, which push us even further from understanding what real love is.

Another false expectation is for things to be easy when we feel real love. “There is no such thing as two people meant for each other.” says Michelle Givertz when she talks about successful relationships (http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201112/are-you-the-right-mate?page=5). She argues that one needs to adapt and to know oneself in order to get one’s needs fulfilled in a relationship. I totally agree on that. Relationships require deep understanding of ourselves and open communication with our partners.

The part which I disagree on is the one about two people not being meant for each other. I believe there is the hand of fate that orchestrates circumstances to enable the two people who fell in love to get united in the holy matrimony. By the time when the game of destiny is over, we say wholeheartedly, “I do!” in front of the priest, the family and friends. See for example, the story behind Elizabeth Gilbert ‘s marriage (Committed A Love Story). I keep on giving her as an example in my posts because I find her stories to be very inspiring (and I love her funny writing style). Another example is another friend whose first attempt to wed failed. She moved to another country where she met her present husband. In my case, the leaking ceiling in the flat triggered the chain of events, which led to our marriage decision. Today, it feels that the decision didn’t even belong to us and it was taken before we even met.

It took me some time after getting married to realise what an act of bravery my husband and I had committed. And everyone who gets married commits this act of bravery when you welcome in your bed, soul and mind, the person who is going to affect the most your well being. Do we really know the person we marry? Do we really know how we ourselves are going to change? We only have the hope and willingness to keep up with each other throughout life.

In the long-run, there is no guarantee that we won’t suffer. In some relationships, the harder we try, the more things don’t work out. We may transform ourselves into better persons. We may read loads of books, which offer tips about successful relationships, such as Christine Meinecke’s “Everybody Marries the Wrong Person” (don’t get fooled by the title, it is a book full of wisdom about relationships). The best thing we can do is to learn from sufferance and reinvent ourselves.

Sufferance is a part of good marriages also. But if after sufferance, we feel the sweet taste of harmony, then we are in a good marriage. Arguing is a part of good marriages too. But if after each argument, we feel that we’ve grown to understand ourselves better, then maybe we are meant to stay married for a longer period of time.

Two people are meant to fall in love. The hand of destiny decided if they’ll walk hand in hand in marriage or if they’ll remain the sweet-bitter memory of a lifetime.

It’s never easy to be a woman

‘All the world’s a stage’. This is how Shakespeare begins the monologue in Act II, Scene IV, in the play “As You Like It”.

‘And all the men and women merely players:

They have their exits and their entrances;’

Shakespeare’s verses came to my mind after the visit to my workplace where I am currently on parental leave. It was a grey and rainy day of Autumn when I couldn’t spend much time with my baby outdoors. So, I figured out I could pay a surprise visit to my work colleagues. When we arrived at the campus, I was the one who was surprised. Most of my colleagues were away. In the department, there was a deadly silence, which was disturbed by the squeaking of the pram wheels . The only open door was to my boss’ office. He is the best boss I’ve ever had, so with a smile on the face and my baby in the arms, I stepped into his office.

Yet, he wasn’t the usual smiling guy. “Maybe he has a bad day.”, I thought and carried on the discussion, on a cheerful note. He asked if I can get some help with the baby so that I can return to work. (Note to the reader: The law in this country gives to women the freedom to choose to stay at home for the first three years of motherhood, without running the risk of loosing their job. )

“Of course, the problem is that your parents are living abroad. This makes it more difficult for you.” He mused.

The uneasiness became heavier with every minute, so when my baby started whining, I bid farewell and left his office.

I was about to get in the elevator when another colleague stepped out. She is very fond of my baby, therefore, we followed her to her office so she could cuddle with him.

“Can I ask you what are your plans?” She asked at one point.

I replied that I choose to stay home with my baby for one more year.

“You know, over here the competition gets fierce. These people have even higher expectations about publication performance.”

“Well, competition is always good, isn’t it?” I replied.

My head was spinning when I left. My boss wanted me back on the research stage. My colleague set the stage for me, by updating me on the atmosphere at the department.

In his play, “As You Like It”, Shakespeare describes the seven stages of a man’s life: Infancy, Childhood, The lover, The soldier, The justice, Old age, Mental dementia and death. What about the stages of a woman’s life? How many are there? Shakespeare is not addressing this question in his play. To me, it seems that in a woman’s life there are only two stages: Before and After getting married.

‘Before getting married’ stage starts very early when baby girls receive as gifts their first dolls. I received my first doll, the day I was born. My father bought it for me when he heard he is the father of a baby girl. It was my favourite doll until years later when my sister broke its neck. Nowadays, toy manufacturers outdo themselves by producing super dolls, which can be fed and which poo. As girls grow up, they get tips about how to behave when they get a husband, “when you are old enough”. Because a respectful woman should not get married before the proper age.

In the ‘After getting married life’, we are expected to focus on the well-being of the family, on having children and raising them. All these while carrying on with our professional life. There is a certain time window during which a woman is expected to become mother. And unfortunately, the Mother Nature supports the expectations. Nowadays, this time window can be between 25 and 40 years old, depending on the country. I’ll refer to these women as ‘mainstream women’. But since life is not like in the romantic Hollywood movies (I wish it was!), there are many women around the world who should be in this stage, and they are not. And there is very little sensitivity shown to them, these ‘other women’.

Getting 30 is the threshold when people start thinking, “There must be something wrong with her that she is not married!”. I happened to read Melanie Notkin’s article, “Single and Childless Can We Just Move On?”. Melanie Notkin is best known for her bestseller, Savvy Auntie: The Ultimate Guide for Cool Aunts, Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and All Women Who Love Kids. The article above-mentioned was published in Psychology Today, on September 26. Melanie is about 40 and she gets tips from people about what online dating services she should use. No matter what their intention is, most certainly, they invade her inner world. The main idea in her article is that she came to terms with the thought of not being a mother, despite the fact that is wasn’t easy to do so.

What if a woman didn’t want to date any man any longer? What if a woman doesn’t want any children? There are destinies, which are meant to be meaningful in other ways than married, with children. Take as an example, Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of the bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love and the sequel to it, Committed: A Love Story.

I agree that marrying the right man and becoming the mother of his children gives the meaningful touch to life. You are a lucky woman, in the same way he is a lucky man. This is when your life, the mainstream woman, gets even more challenging. Once becoming a mother, the entire perspective on life changes. The brains start having a brownian motion, higher than before, and you become the master of multitasking. You will never again buy a dress for yourself, without feeling guilty that you should have bought instead something for your kid/kids.

The biggest challenge is to balance between being a mother, a wife, a woman and a career woman. In the first stage of motherhood, national laws stipulate how long a mother has the right to stay at home with her baby. The problem comes in the later stages of motherhood, when the mother returns to work. Out of 24 hours in a day, how much time does a mainstream woman dedicate to her work, to her family and to her baby?

I was given the right to choose my priorities. And yet, I feel the judgement in other people’s eyes when I tell I am a stay at home mother. The ultimate challenge is to be able to silence the voices of other players and connect to the core of your inner being. Over there, there is no role to play, only the authenticity of a meaningful life.

Marriage, more than one to one relationship

There is a saying, which says that when you marry a person, you marry the entire family of that person. It made sense to me but I didn’t really know what it actually means. Untill few days ago when I listened to my father in-laws observations regarding what I should do or shouldn’t do as a mother. The more I listened to the written words of advice, the more I felt an increasing pain in my stomach. My breathing became heavier. I looked at my husband as he was informing me about his father’s observations and I had no clue about how to start discussing with him about this sensitive issue. For the first time, I felt it on my own skin that being married is not only about me and my husband. This time it was also about learning how to tango with the in-laws. Other times have been a lesson of waltz with my own parents.

This time I was hurt by his parents and I didn’t know how to react so that I would not hurt my husband. After all, he only had the role of middle man in this whole issue. Being the fiery person that I am, I was afraid that I would say things that I don’t really mean. It goes without saying that when I opened my mouth, I blurted out. Exactly what I was trying to avoid, it actually happened. My husband got sad. The baby started being cranky and I had to take him out for a walk.

The pain that I felt in my stomach was still there. In addition, it extended in my chest. Luckily, the little one fell asleep in his pram. With each step, I took a deep breath and looked at the sky in search of inspiration for a peaceful solution to this family conflict. Then, out of nowhere, Belinda Carlisle’s song, Live Your Life Be Free, started playing in my mind. In a strange way, this song helped me to put myself together. I  remembered I am the best mother for our baby despite what other persons may think or feel about it. I use all my love, creativity, playfulness, and self-awareness that I am capable of in order to raise our baby.

I took few more steps, few more breaths but my soul was restless. Anger was still residing in me. I invoked God’s help, “How do I show my husband that I love him even in moments of conflict?”

Respect him. What else? “Empathy” this word came from the depth of my being. He had nothing to do with his father’s opinions. The culprit was my father in-law. He ignited my anger.

“Put yourself in his shoes”, my inner being suggested. “For few minutes pretend you are your father in-law”. And so I did. In the end, he only wanted to help his child, who is my husband and his grand-child, who is my son. He expressed his point of view, which is only that: a perspective into our life. A point of view on our life, which will be followed by others. I wiped from my mind the points raised this time. I let them be whispers of a wind that blew shortly on our life. My body felt lighter. No more hard feelings, no more anger. I returned home when our baby woke up. My husband and I hugged.

This conflict made me realize that empathy is crucial for my self-control and the amiable management of the family relationships. I found enriching the exercise of imagining I am my father in-laws for few minutes. I am relieved that next time when I look in his eyes, I’ll do it with serenity.

After this experienxe, I got curious on this issue of empathy and family relationships and I did a little bit of research, to the extent that my baby allowed me. I found a book worth taking my time, Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,by Daniel Goleman. I picked up on one underlying idea that it is human to experience emotions such as anger as long as we express them with self-awareness, self-control and empathy. I loved the quote from Aristotle: “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy”. Daniel Goleman uses scientific research into emotions to explore how intelligence can be incorporated into emotions to result in more caring societies. For me as a mother, wife and human being striving for becoming better,I discovered in this book a source of acquired wisdom.