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How Do I Actively Re-mother Myself?

Part 2: Deliberately become your own “good-enough mother.”

Key points

  • Sometimes we must be our own mother to meet our emotional needs as adults.
  • There is no one perfect way to mother (or re-mother); it's OK to make mistakes and be "good enough."
  • The opportunities to actively be our own “good-enough” inner mother can be endlessly creative and absolutely unique to each of us and our needs.
Evgenij Yulkin/Stocksy
Source: Evgenij Yulkin/Stocksy

In my previous post, I discussed what re-mothering work is in theory and how and why this may be needed in our lives. I also touched upon what we stand to gain by doing active re-mothering work. Below, I want to dive more deeply into what re-mothering work actually looks like in practice.

First, we have to understand what it means to mother.

While there is no one, universal definition of what a mother is or what mothering means, myth, fable, legend and spiritual/religious texts over millennia have often ascribed certain qualities to the archetype of the mother. Some of these common qualities and attributes include:

  • Comfort

  • Nurturance

  • Empathy

  • Solace

  • Sustenance

  • Support

  • Grounding

  • Safety

  • Warmth

  • Care

And so these qualities might make up the sum of the verb "to mother." But, to be clear, these qualities are not relegated to mothers or to female-identified individuals alone. I believe strongly that men, male-identified, and non-binary individuals, fathers, and non-fathers can and do possess these archetypal mothering qualities and attributes, too.

Secondly, we need to consider the concept of the “good-enough parent”—a concept derived from the work of D.W. Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst. Essentially, the concept not only posits that there no such thing as a perfect parent, but, indeed, champions the “ordinary good mother…the devoted mother” who, at times, in developmentally appropriate ways, “fails” her child by not giving in to their every whim and desire—sometimes by making choices the child does not like, and at other times by disappointing them.

As Winnicott posited, this developmentally appropriate “failing” on the part of the good-enough mother (or father or parent) actually helps the child psychologically and developmentally as they confront the realities of the world—a world in which they, like all of us, will have to tolerate and cope with disappointment, failure, and letdowns from time to time.

The reality is, we also can’t re-mother ourselves perfectly. We—like the good-enough mother with her child—will fail and disappoint ourselves sometimes. But through the concept of the “good-enough mother,” we can aim for that ordinary good mother, not the perfect one.

Concrete ways to re-mother yourself

  • In much the same way that we wouldn’t shame, denigrate, or talk poorly to a small child who feels sad and angry about a disappointment in their world (having to go to daycare vs. staying home, for example), re-mothering ourselves as adults might also mean consciously speaking to ourselves more kindly, and with more compassion and grace for our experience, instead of shaming, blaming, or otherwise criticizing ourselves for how we feel.
  • In much the same way that we would create a soothing, stable, reliable, predictable, and calming bedtime routine and environment for our toddler, re-mothering ourselves might mean attending to and cultivating better sleep hygiene and a soothing nighttime ritual to ensure we support our nervous system with get good, adequate rest.
  • In much the same way that we prioritize making sure our children have healthy, well-rounded, and nutritious diets, re-mothering ourselves might mean stocking our homes and cabinets with nutrient-dense food and vitality-enforcing liquids, taking vitamins, installing a water filter, or otherwise taking action to ensure that what enters our body helps and doesn't harm.
  • In much the same way that we would ensure our homes are safe and comfortable for little ones (installing baby gates, locking up cleaning agents and baby-proofing the knife drawers, making sure there are adequate and comfortable linens and furniture), re-mothering ourselves might mean tending to the safety and functionality of our homes (ensuring the smoke alarms work, the fire extinguishers aren’t expired, the lock on the door is solid, the renter’s insurance is purchased).
  • In much the same way that we sometimes have to make hard decisions our young ones won’t like (turning off the screens, serving veggies at dinner, making them buckle up and hold hands crossing the street), re-mothering ourselves might mean making hard, less-satisfying-in-the-moment decisions in order to ensure long-term health, safety, and success—and being kind and patient with ourselves when those decisions come up.
  • In much the same way that we wouldn’t expect a toddler to sit still for a 14-hour flight or be able to recite the Gettysburg Address, re-mothering ourselves might mean being acutely mindful of our capacities—physiological, psychological, financial, and logistical—and honoring and respecting those capacities by not expecting ourselves to be magically more advanced or capable than we are (yet).

This list of active ways to re-mother yourself is not exhaustive. It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities, but I hope that this list—inspired by both the concepts of archetypal mothering, “good-enough” mothering, and some parallel real-world parenting examples—provides you with the inspiration and creative energy to approach how you treat yourself, how you re-mother yourself, and how kindly you show up for yourself on your own healing journey.

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