This story does not start with anything out of the ordinary.
In fact, there could not be anything more ordinary than this experience—it was Saturday morning. I got the kids up and made breakfast, tidied the kitchen, and read them two stories. Their dad (who had been working all week and typically spends Saturday morning with them so I can work) took over, and they all went into the basement to play. I went up for a shower.
As I was drying my hair, my oldest (four) came to my room. He wanted me to play. I gently said, “Mommy is taking some time to get ready now,” as it is a pretty firm belief of mine that a person, regardless of their gender, is indeed entitled to hygiene away from the larger family.
As I continued drying my hair, he needed help in the bathroom. I could feel the irritation creep up inside, a slightly bitter taste of resentment at the request.
It hit me in that moment, as it often does: the crux of modern motherhood.
To be stretched in every direction. To not be able to have a shower without interruption. To have sacrificed and given so much of myself and not be granted the same freedom to walk around my house and take a long sh*t when I want to, work on a project in the basement, or simply have a shower and a cup of coffee alone on a Saturday.
And yet, in the same breath, an awareness of my son’s stage of development. A need for attention and affection from the mother—his mother. From the one who birthed him and nurtured him into this world. If I am not attentive, I am emotionally unavailable. If I do not respond from a place of peace, I am putting my feelings onto him. If I am not conscious of patterns in my lineage and my spouse’s, they will keep perpetuating. I am trying to intentionally cultivate a home environment of approachability, receptiveness, and equality.
So I asked my husband for help. But the slight resentment had made its way into my tone—which, to be fair, will automatically put him on the defensive. And thus, off we went into the same cycle; one where neither comes out winning.
After some time passed, I (the mother) was still contemplating this exchange and why it felt so frustrating. I landed on it because I am the glue. Because I am the one caught in this wild storm of yearning coupled with a fiercely loyal (and also expected of me) commitment. Because all the systems around me for hundreds of years have perpetuated the exact same storyline, but this time, with a modern twist: I know better. And yet, here I am. And in good company too—millions of homes, millions of mothers, and from what I’ve come to understand, we pretty much all feel the exact same.
Our Greatest Spiritual Challenge
I have read in my studies that one of the greatest spiritual challenges an individual can experience is to keep their hearts open while simultaneously deflecting negativity. Well, tell me, God, how a mother is to do this in today’s modern world?
Not only do we need to deflect the negativity we receive from our own inner stories and dialogue (shhh, don’t say this, don’t do that, watch out, don’t shine so bright), we face negativity from virtually Every. Other. Source: spouses, parents, in-laws, Instagram comments, articles we read, shows we watch, hearing one woman tear another one down simply because she made different choices. It is inescapable. Our modern society is based on comparison, lack, and perpetuating separation and fear. How on Earth can a mother do her job in this sort of insidious environment?
The following is what I have come to believe as truth, as it relates to our experience particularly as mothers, women, and children.
>> Modern motherhood does not currently allow for the embodiment of spiritual health.
>> The patriarchal society and mainstream belief system perpetuate this problem in a dangerous way.
>> We will continue to experience “the mother wound” on both a macro and micro level until this is rectified.
>> There is much hope for our children…if we all wake up.
What do I mean by “modern motherhood?” Hasn’t “motherhood” kind of been a thing since the dawn of time? Yes, it has. But there was a time on this Earth when motherhood meant something much different than it did today. Motherhood meant initiation—a girl transitioning to a club where she would be guided, trained, and supported through her maturation and development journey. Where she would be worshipped for the physical strain of creating, carrying, and nurturing new life. Where she was revered as the heartbeat of the family—her purpose was simply to “be”: available, responsive, and loving.
Motherhood meant a village, where she wasn’t left with the weight of the world on her shoulders. Motherhood meant service—service to new souls in her care and service to who she chose as her partner. And in return, service was granted toward her divine femininity—she was allowed to rest, she was nurtured by her community, she was…respected.
I have a hard time imagining this scene play out across modern families in the best of times. (Never mind in the pandemic environment we now find ourselves in.) Our society has devolved far, far away from what motherhood once meant, and we feel this isolation, disrespect, and quite frankly, spiritual crisis without even batting an eye.
When I took some time recently to visit my ancestral lineage for understanding and healing, I was faced with the following inner knowing: I am the first mother, in a long line of them, to break the chains of motherhood suppression. What do I mean? I mean that I dated and was choosey in my selection of a partner. Theoretically, my marriage should be stronger than what many were one hundred years ago. I am masters-level educated and pursued my education with passion and vigor before I had children.
Theoretically, I should earn a much better living than my grandmothers. I have not experienced childhood trauma. Theoretically, I should not pass down traumatizing experiences on my children. In some respects, this gives me great peace and hope. But on the other hand…
My marriage still has conflict present. Because I am married to another human being with an inherited belief system, differing needs than I, and different approaches to life. I am not guaranteed any sort of amazing income based on my education—the glass ceiling and amount of time “taken off” to raise a young family means I’m likely to never earn as much money as my male counterparts. Finally, I am not blind to the fact that I can easily create traumatic experiences for my children, regardless of the fact that my parents chose to end abusive patterns on their end.
The fact is, the state of modern motherhood opens up the potential for my children to be traumatized as it is. Because the marriage conflict persists; because the systems around us hold up unreasonable expectations; because we, as women, have inherited less than ideal coping skills, unhealthy perspectives of our self-worth, and no clue what it means to have a “purpose” outside of simply holding it all together.
So I say this again because of the reasons I have detailed above and will expand upon below: the pressure on modern mothers today creates an inescapable spiritual crisis.
At its very core, what does it mean to be spiritually healthy? A definition I found that resonates most with me sounds a bit like this: to be spiritually healthy is to be fully invested in a quest for meaning in one’s life. That could be via questioning current values and belief systems, through gratitude and recognition of one’s blessings, and intentionally considering how the joys, sorrows, struggles, and successes have all been avenues to deeper self-understanding. Simultaneously, as we seek to better understand ourselves and our own inner natures, we are, therefore, better able to accept and understand others, God, and the mysteries of life.
For many of us, spirituality assists us in finding our purpose in this life, hope, and comfort through uncertainty and inner peace as we flow through winding tides of life. Many of us find spirituality through some form of connection—with our bodies (yoga), with silence (meditation), in nature, through music, or in community (church or other spiritual centres). Whatever the case, spirituality is an individual journey with no right or wrong path.
So tell me, sweet soul, how the mothers of the world are encouraged to honour their spiritual development?
When we have been told that we are meant to bear children, give to them unconditionally and without question, and ask for nothing in return. When we are encouraged to pour every ounce of our love, attention, and selves into these delicate, little people, our partners, our larger families, our jobs (if we even can keep up with one), and our homes. When we are repeatedly told that we didn’t birth naturally or properly enough. When we face judgement for how we choose to feed our babies (especially considering all the intricate, holistic elements that influence a mother’s feeding journey, whether it be via breast, bottle, or both). When we swallow and put aside the time to ourselves because our husband works and brings the money in…and “resting for a moment” is not exactly a “productive” endeavor, is it?
How are mothers encouraged to honour their own inner self-development? To better understand themselves? To better understand and relate to their partners? To actually do the job they want to do in raising their children?
Simply put: they’re not.
I have touched on this in a few ways already, but it is no secret the subtle ways the patriarchy perpetuates the spiritual crisis many modern mothers find themselves in today. We are programmed to push—push for a lucrative career, push for a happy family, push for time alone or with friends, push for more. But this is not flow. This is not inherently feminine. Pushing is a masculine quality and one we have adopted over time, perhaps in opposition of many of our true natures.
What if we embodied a let-go mentality instead of the constant push? What if we didn’t step in, or someone else didn’t do it? Then what? Do all the things come crashing down, or do we just feel uncomfortable inside?
The problem is, as mothers, we are constantly under the influence of the environment and expectations the patriarchy has created for us—that we bounce back immediately after birth. That we resume work as soon as the baby is on a nap schedule—and if it’s not paid work, girl better start a blog or be deemed a lazy stay-at-home mom.
And that, as soon as that maternity leave ends, we find ourselves returning to a world in which we no longer fit in. Where we are constantly pulled between home and away. Where we wonder if it’s worth applying for promotion because we also want another child. Where we neglect our self-care (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual) because there are too many balls to juggle and it is ingrained in us to never demand for more. Because then, we would be selfish. Because then, we would be insulting the mothers ahead of us who gave without complaint. Because if we question anything, we are ungrateful. Because wanting more is not allowed when you already “have it all.”
Until this changes, until women are recognized and revered for their feminine qualities, the mother will undoubtedly suffer. Because we are attempting to mother in a man’s world. And we have been repeating these attempts, without change, for far too long. Let’s recall what the definition of insanity is again.
The Mother Wound
Inspired by the work of Bethany Webster, I have been doing a little digging into what the mother wound really is, what it means, and how we can heal it. I have come to understand the following as its definition:
“The Mother Wound is the pain rooted in our relationship with our mothers that is passed down from generation to generation in patriarchal cultures and has a profound effect on our lives. When left unresolved, we pass on the Mother Wounds our mothers and grandmothers before us failed to heal, which consist of toxic and oppressive beliefs, ideals, perceptions, and choices about ourselves, others, and all of life itself.”
We see the mother wound in action all the time. When we are afraid to be our true selves so we don’t threaten someone else. When we accept poor treatment or disrespect. When we are codependent. When we are competitive and judgmental of other women. When we self-sabotage ourselves. When we turn to things outside of ourselves for reinforcement (food, alcohol, scrolling, obsessive exercise). When we are rigid, domineering, and controlling. When we seek to control, to be perfect. Because inherently, we cannot ever be accepted for anything less than perfect.
The mother wound is passed on from mothers to daughters, as well as mothers to sons. It also does not discount the importance of the father and the resulting father wound potential from an emotionally unavailable father. But this is about mothers, so that is where I will stay focused. The mother wound affects all of us. If you have been born from a mother, you will have some form of a mother wound. This is not to say you cannot have a healthy and supportive relationship with your own mother, but let us also acknowledge that many, many of us feel like we have really complicated relationships with our mothers.
For women, this manifests in many ways on a personal level—through the unconscious attitudes, behaviours, and belief systems we apply toward ourselves, our relationships, and how we treat our children. What we pass on, how we self-talk in front of our kids, and what we model becomes unconscious sharing of our wounds.
On a collective level, the mother wound is gaping—the disempowerment we have faced over the span of history has eroded our confidence, spiritual connection, and sense of community. Our planet marks, perhaps, the biggest macro indication of a wound of this proportion—just look around. Is Mother Earth the optimal picture of health? No. And she hasn’t been for a long, long time.
A Way Forward
It is not my intention to make this seem hopeless. In fact, through sharing, my hopes are this opinion brings awareness. That it demonstrates me throwing my hat into the proverbial ring and signaling my unwillingness to stand by silently. To see you, mama. To share in your spiritual crisis. And to offer the hope—that with both intention and healing—your children and theirs will carry less of this burden for generations to come.
We owe it to our children to heal our hearts first. We owe it to our daughters and future mothers to shift their experience of motherhood to something new, something more supportive, more spiritual. Something more…peaceful, than this.