Pregnancy and impending motherhood often re-awaken a vast array of memories surrounding our own mothers and childhoods. We learn to mother largely from the way we were mothered, and this intergenerational teaching spans across generations.
When childhood leaves us wounded in any way, we may revisit these once hazy memories with new reactions and surprises as we attempt to create our own maternal map.
For many women on the precipice of motherhood, it may feel vulnerable to think about the fractures in their own maternal relationships. Yet, even a relatively smooth mother/daughter dyad is not without its hiccups. Without deeper examination and exploration, the past reverberates into the present, and, for better or worse, we may find ourselves mothering similarly to how we were mothered.
Psychologists and attachment experts recognize that emotional struggles are often shared across family lines. The residue of our familial experiences and the impact of these experiences live forever in our psyches. For example, if a woman’s mother suffered from a mood concern, her risk of struggling in a similar way increases. Additionally, harsh, neglectful and dismissive parenting styles are often repeated across generations. Children of parents who grew up in these families often report that they did not envision parenting similarly, yet without any other guidance, the past repeats itself. As psychoanalyst Daniel Stern says, “What else is there for you to fall back on?”
These examples highlight that beneath the decision to become a mother, our own childhoods reside. Pregnancy and motherhood stir up memories, thoughts, fantasies and feelings about our mothers and how we were mothered. While we are not inoculated from these memories and experiences, we can emotionally prepare for motherhood by pausing to reflect on some tender questions about our own maternal histories.
What is one thing you hoped for in your childhood that you did not receive?
While we may not have all experienced serious childhood traumas, none of us is immune to loss. Perhaps we moved when we were younger, lost a family member, pet or a friend, or our parents divorced, separated or had a less than ideal partnership.
Becoming a mother can open up unresolved or buried grief of any sort. Birthing, loving and raising another human being means that we have to relinquish some freedom of our own, and loss in the process is inevitable. We can become clearer about our path by digging a little deeper into our psyches to ask ourselves, in a kind and compassionate way how these losses might impact us, and if they are apt to excavate any buried wounds from the past.
For example, a new mother once told me how she insisted on buying her daughter a pair of pink cowgirl boots. Her daughter was not into pink and refused to wear them. This mother was distraught by her daughter’s rejection of the shoes, and upon reflection realized that it was because she had always wanted a pair when she was younger. Being from a large family, there was never enough money for more than necessities, and birthday parties and holidays were often celebrated with handmade gifts. Until that moment, this woman did not realize how much her childhood loss was driving her decision-making as a mother.
It’s important for us to remember that our children have not suffered the same hurts and life disappointments that we have. When we become more aware of our own process, we stand a better chance of mothering from a place of presence.
How do you feel when others depend on you?
Motherhood thrusts you, front and center with the emotion of dependence. In the newest days of life, your baby is completely dependent upon you for care. There are few other life experiences that evoke such vulnerability. When we are depended upon so heavily, we become more intimate with our needs, too. If our childhoods were bound in unconditional love, or taught us that our needs were not valued, these feelings may surprisingly reappear during the new months of motherhood.
During this whirlwind of a time, women may feel guilty about taking care of themselves. They may believe that because the baby’s needs are so pertinent, their needs must fall to the wayside. And while there may be some truth to this statement, the new days of parenthood, which are laden with sleep deprivation and a multitude of adjustments is a time when some self-care is essential for emotional wellbeing.
When others depend upon us, our needs come into the forefront, too. Asking yourself what it is like to ask for and receive help is one way to explore this emotional dynamic that plays a large role in parenthood.