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Learning to mother myself

My mother had a stroke on Mother’s Day. I am an ocean and many miles away in a world with closed borders. 

I was already awake in the early morning hours with my seven month old daughter when my sister’s text lit up my phone like a little beacon from another planet. She sat next to my mother’s hospital bed in my home country, watching as she could barely lift a fork. I was not there to carry this burden with her. 

I began to feel the weight of another distance pulling me down; the emotional one between my mother and myself, planted perhaps by her own mother, always withholding approval and keeping her love at arm’s length. What care could I give her now to show that only love and compassion filled up all those empty spaces where misunderstanding used to live? On Mother’s Day of all days, I was crying for my mother, and for her mother, and for myself. 

One thing I wasn’t told before becoming a new mother was how much the experience would resurface all these deep emotions from the seafloor of my own childhood. Some of these feelings are steeped in nostalgia; they make me glow with thankfulness for the magic my parents released into my young life. Yet others are heavy with grief, like the hurt I felt when my mother left us, and the ways it made me afraid of being abandoned again well into adulthood.  What if I made the same mistakes with my daughter? 

Motherhood might bring up these complex emotions and memories for you too. Firstly, there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and we do well to start this whole becoming process with a healthy dose of forgiveness. Through the process of exploring what big emotions are brought up by parenting, we are able to heal old hurts and gain clarity about how we want to go forward and grow as mothers. 

Reparenting 

Reparenting refers to the practice of revisiting needs you had in your childhood that may have gone unmet, and becoming aware of what coping mechanisms you may have brought along into adulthood that no longer serve you. In her recent book, How to Do the Work: Recognize your Patterns, Heal from the Past, and Create Yourself, Dr. Nicole LePera summarizes her theory of reparenting as “the act of giving yourself what you didn’t receive as a child.” Learning to do this enables us to quiet that inner critic, show up for ourselves, and parent from a place of safety.

It all boils down to the self-compassion we can show to the little people that still live inside of us. What do we need to get through the day? Are we tired and hungry? Do we just need a huge hug from our partner or friend? Motherhood has brought me the opportunity to greet my grief and self-doubt with compassion. By embracing my little self with all the approval and affection she longed for, I am calling her forth into a maternal wisdom that I hope becomes her new home. 

The four pillars of reparenting 

In her counseling practice, Dr. LePera invites her clients to work the “four pillars”. The four pillars have been for me helpful guideposts as I look after and spend each day with my daughter.  When a big emotion shows up, I have these to lean on.  

Discipline

Knowing I am someone who will cast aside my own needs and wants for those I love, I need to exercise discipline in making a date with myself and showing up. 

Joy

I also need to discover and give voice to my own passions, and not worry about what may have pleased other people in the past. 

Emotional regulation

When my anxiety rears its head I remind myself that I am safe, and I affirm that I am not afraid of my own big feelings or the big feelings of my daughter.

Self care

Part of loving myself entails me having the courage to ask for what I need. The more we empty our cups as busy mamas, the more we might feel like we are failing. Ask for help, rest, recharge, be still, I remind myself. 

To these four pillars, I also add another, forgiveness. This forgiveness is for hurts in our past family of origin and forgiveness for any and all of the missteps we might make as mothers too. 

To offer the kind of love I want for my children I need to be conscious of all the wants and hunger in me that may have gone unmet, and know that I have the power and grace to meet them myself now. As I say these words to my daughter, I sing them to myself. 

I am so glad you were born. You do not have to be perfect to get my love and protection. You can make mistakes; they are your guides. All your feelings are okay with me. You are the delight of my eyes, and I am so very proud of you just as you are.

Read next: It takes two: the breastfeeding mantra that saved me

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