Spoiler Alert! I intend to break a few age-old beliefs here, so brace yourselves. You might think that the placement of the words ‘mother’ and ‘challenge’ next to each other is an example of an oxymoron. [For the uninitiated, a. I am not calling you a moron, and b. I am not calling you an ox. An oxymoron is a figure of speech which means placing two contradictory words next to each other.] But surprise, there is no contradiction in terms here. Being a mother is the toughest job in the world. First, let’s talk about what it does to your body and mind. After you get over the initial shock of trying to lose those oodles of fat which wrap around you more ferociously than cling film; you will have to adjust to the years of sleep-deprivation. Yes, you heard me right. Years. You always feel like you are in a perpetual fog, groping your way to sanity. Then, once the child starts talking, there is this incessant noise of baby talk, and child talk, and you are constantly listening to it, even when you are pretending to tune out. The background noise is relentless. You begin to crave adult companionship and adult conversations – things you had taken for granted before you were a mother. And while you are doing this, you are repeatedly picking up toys or telling them endlessly to pick up after themselves, till your child tells you that your first name is ‘Where’s my phone?’ (because you never seem to remember where you kept it) and last name is ‘clean your room’. “Hello, I am Ms. Where’s-my-phone Clean-your-room. And you are? Oh, of course, you don’t have a hyphenated identity. You are a man! Nice to meet you.”
But you would be mistaken if you think that all this everyday drama is the challenging part of being a mother. That, ladies and gentlemen, is only the tip of the iceberg. The challenge comes into play when while it is easy to get annoyed and irritated and impatient with all this, there is an overriding guilt which makes you think and rethink and self-flagellate for feeling this way. How can you be a good mother if you are not patient with your child? More importantly, how can you express your anger and frustration or both when there are little eyes always watching your every move and hanging on every word you speak (even when they are in a different room)? And you want to be a good mother because a. you want to be a good role model for them to look up to if they decide to be parents when they grow up, b. you are better than this yelling bitch who fantasizes walking out on the mess of child-rearing at least five times a day (on good days), c. you want them to have a relatively psychological-scar-free childhood so that they become well-adjusted adults, d. you love your child with a depth and intensity that knocks you down every single day. In a nutshell, the challenge is to be a Zen Master when you feel like doing a Hulk Smash!
So, how does Mothering Challenge and Gratitude go hand in hand?
I think I can safely say that I am a relatively positive person. I try to find positivity in everyday little things. It mostly comes naturally to me. But I am no angel. I have my days of frustration when some ***hole tries to cut me in traffic, or when I am running late and can’t find my keys. I am usually thankful for my privileges. So when I started thinking about gratitude, I tried maintaining a Gratitude Journal but honestly, it felt too forced. It is a good exercise to contemplate on the things you are grateful for but the question that has plagued me is how is that going to be relevant to my everyday life. I am thankful for dandelions and butterflies. I am thankful for the sun and the joy of the outdoors. I am thankful for the Armed Forces, for Feminism, for epiphanies, for painters and paintings, for music, for dance. I am thankful for my health, memories, photographs, for laughter, for friendships, for family. But how is being thankful for all these things getting me closer to being the best version of myself? Because at the end of the day, I am thankful for having been given the opportunity to be a parent.
Step One and Step Two: Accept and change the inner dialogue
The first step I took was to accept that there are some things I cannot change in my motherhood journey. For example, I cannot stop my child waking up at the crack of dawn. I cannot avoid doing two loads of laundry every day. That brought me to Step Two. I needed to see if I could turn seemingly annoying situations which threaten to disturb my inner calm, into facts which would show me what I needed to be thankful about. I needed to turn them on their heads. I took inspiration from a list I found online and I wish to incorporate it into my life. It is a constant reminder to look at things in a positive light. That is Step Two – change your viewpoint.
- Early wakeups = Children to love. Instead of getting irritated about being forced to wake up on a Sunday, think of it as having children who love you and want to see first thing in the morning.
- House to clean = A home. Yes, the house is a mess, for the third time today. Let’s be thankful that there is a home to keep clean.
- Laundry = Clothes to wear. So the laundry basket is never empty. That just means that you have enough clean clothes in the wardrobe to last for weeks.
- Dirty dishes = Food to eat. Opposed to your life as a student when you only had one plate and spoon to wash, and sometimes not even that!
- Crumbs under the table = Family meals and children learning to become independent eaters. Bending down under the table is certainly uncomfortable, and especially if you have a bad back. But it also means that you have a family with whom you can share a meal and a laugh.
- Endless shopping lists = Money to use. A trip to the supermarket is always a complicated one but things could have been worse.
- Lots of noise = Kids having fun. You can enjoy all the solitude when the children leave your home. The empty nest will be worse. So, enjoy the hullabaloo.
- Endless questions = Kids learning. Questions means that children are paying attention and they are using their heads to connect, evaluate, analyse – all wonderful skills to develop.
- Getting into bed sore and tired = I survived another day. Alive and kicking, to fight another day.
It is about changing the perspective. You might ask what is so special about this idea? It is certainly not unique. But as a mother, I know and I empathize with other mothers who go through all of the above every single day and struggle to keep afloat. What is worse is that society doesn’t allow you to grouse about it because women are held at different standards, like Laura Dern very aptly and evocatively states in The Marriage Story.
Women, and mothers, and especially, working mothers, are supposed to grin and bear. So what is special about this idea is that you need to be mindful of your inner dialogue. So, how do you achieve this Zen-like state? How do you stop from unleashing your inner Hulk? At the end of the day, when I am crawling into bed with lower back pain, I am thankful for a pillow to rest my weary head. I escape from the chaos of the everyday by diving into a book. But how do I escape when I don’t have a book around? In the middle of a tantrum, how am I to stay level-headed? I needed a plan.
Step Three: 30-Day Mothering Challenge
Once I started focusing on the positive, I began to change the mental banter. That is, in my opinion, a positive step towards acknowledging the need to be thankful about things we have. Finally, Step Three is to actually express my gratitude by making my own 30-Day Mothering Challenge. How can I use my learning of being grateful to better myself if there are no actionable tasks? So, I then came up with a 30-Day Challenge of my own which will connect me better with my child.
Now that I have changed the perspective, what is left for me to do? I need to be held accountable for my actions. It just does not feel complete if I said, ‘Sure, I understand. From now on, I will be more thankful about my motherhood.’ My inner critic replied, ‘But how do I know that you are implementing this in your life?’ So, I came up with the 30-Day Mothering Challenge.
By having one single thought in my head every day, I will be training my mind to be more Mary Poppins and less Cruella de Vil. Life is beautiful and I intend to do everything in my power to ensure that I never lose touch with it, and the only way I know how is to journey through my inner self.