4. Am I at peace with myself?
You don't stop being a woman when you start being a mother. Motherhood doesn't define you. It is one of many roles that you assume. You have to bring all your own gifts, traits, and characteristics to the role. Your actions must be consistent with what you think, hope, believe, and value as a person. You cannot have peace in your mind and heart unless you are being authentic.
In any relationship, you either contribute or contaminate 24 hours a day. You contribute when you feel empowered and peaceful; you're toxic when your own journey is tortured and troubled. Maybe you're bitter in your life, and you think, "I won't be that way with my children." But if you don't have faith, compassion and empathy, you can't fake it for the children. And you certainly can't teach it to them. Your personal walk through this world is the most powerful determinant of what you will express and give away as a mother. A mother's lifestyle, personality, and principles often set the tone for the household. If the mother is stressed and chaotic, the family will be chaotic. If a mother feels peace and harmony, that becomes manifest in the family.
Getting to the place where you are a healthy and happy woman starts with putting yourself at the top of your own priority list. Women have been socialized for centuries to believe that they are here to serve and that self-focus is a hedonistic exercise tantamount to neglect for family. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are like bank accounts: If all you ever do is make withdrawals, you're going to wind up with a zero balance or worse. You simply cannot give away what you don't have.
If you truly love your children, and I know you do, then you will take care of their mother. This begins with a shift of attitude in which you say, "I must nurture my spirit and my body." To do that, you have to make appointments with yourself, really commit some time to filling yourself up. This means different things to different people. If for you it means meditation, then you need to set aside time for it. If what fills you up is exercise, expanding your mind through a book, enjoying music, or using your creative talents in the arts, then those are the areas where you need to make regular appointments with yourself.
I have had many mothers tell me that what fills them up is taking care of and nurturing their children. I get that; I understand. But there is no job, no mission that is fun, rewarding and gratifying all the time. If you don't feel the need to change some of what you're doing, then you may need to just change how you're doing it. The bottom line is that you have needs, and those needs cannot be pushed to the bottom of the priority list. It boils down to parenting without guilt, being a wife without guilt, and recognizing that the world has enough martyrs and needs more vibrant, alive, guilt-free women giving themselves permission to be more than just a mother. And I say "just a mother," fully acknowledging that the way you raise your children, the role that you occupy in their lives, is your highest and most noble calling.
5. Can I let go of the guilt and do better?
You may think your family life and parenting skills have failed. You may feel like you've tried everything. You may feel tired, deflated, and defeated, and you blame yourself for how your kids are turning out—whether your 2-year-old throws temper tantrums or your teenager keeps getting in trouble with the law. Perhaps you've realized some mistakes you've made. But cut yourself some slack here. Self-blame can create a paralyzing guilt, and I have no time for you to be kicking yourself. I need you fully in the process we are about here. My survey revealed that a significant number of mothers and fathers feel guilt and blame themselves for their poor parenting practices. But there is a huge and important difference between blame and responsibility. You need to understand the distinction and to realize that it's never too late to take back control.
To deserve blame, you must have intended your actions or recklessly disregarded the possible consequences. By contrast, responsibility simply means that you were involved and took actions that generated consequences, but there was no malicious intent. I'm not just playing semantics to make you feel better. This is an important point.
Poet Maya Angelou's comment on past behaviors says it best: "You did what you knew how to do, and when you knew better, you did better." Whatever you have done in the past to raise your family, you did what you knew how to do. You are responsible for it. But from here on out, you will know better and you will do better—a whole lot better. You can start now by making intelligent and informed choices about how you lead your family and parent your children. If the plan isn't working, change the plan. Find new ways to deal with your children so that they can respond in new ways. Step up, start running things again, set clear objectives, and implement them with a strong, unified front and a commitment to consistency. Redefine your family dynamics, and focus on the priorities that you know in your mind and heart are required to meet your goals of family success. By opening yourself to the idea of changing and improving, you are making a difference this very day. You may not have all the tools you need yet. But you do have the most important element for success there could possibly be: You have the unconditional love for your children that only a parent can have.
Printed from Oprah.com on
© 2014 OWN, LLC. All Rights Reserved.