I recently received an email from a woman who attends classes at the studio. She wrote to me about my latest blog post. In my return email to her, I recognized that I know she is a new mom and about how hard the transition to motherhood can be. I wanted her to know that she isn’t alone; we just don’t always talk about the reality of becoming a mother. In her response, she shared that being a new mom did in fact have some challenges.
For years, I have been contemplating questions that do not have clear answers, are difficult to put into words, change, at times are controversial and which are deeply personal to me. These questions keep coming up and finding their way into my conversations with friends and clients who either wonder about, struggle with or are curious about these same things:
What does it mean to be a woman? What have you learned from the women and men in your life about what or who a woman should be?
I first unconsciously learned what it meant to be a woman by observing the women around me- my mother and maternal grandmother. I learned by watching them… Work hard around the house until you are exhausted. Do for your kids as much as possible- regardless of the impact that it has on you physically or emotionally. Keep on going. Get over feelings quickly. What I learned is not a judgement on my females in my life. They simply lived what they learned from their mothers, the environment and through generations of challenges, living conditions and cultural norms.
I also learned about being a woman from my father. Women were not to be taken seriously, their value is determined based on who they marry- Is he a nice guy?- or your kids. I was not valued based on what I thought or who I wanted to be in the world. I was never asked about those things.
I was a clumsy young woman. I did not value my own gifts. In fact my creativity, curiosity, adventuresome and fiery nature felt more problematic than celebrated. I didn’t quite know how or where I fit in.
And so what many women do, regardless of how they are taught, is try to fit into an image of who they think that a woman should be or we overemphasize being someone we do not want to be. We never question: “Is this really me? What are my wishes and longings for in this life?” Or consider how these desires change over time with age and transitions.
I can remember no stronger longing in my life than to be a mother. When I visualized being a mother, I saw love. Hugs and kisses. Dinners around the table. Adventures around the world. Reading books. Walks outside in the rain. Spontaneity and a commitment to help my children grow into the best versions of themselves. My image was a mixture of my upbringing and aspects that were not part of the experience that I wished for my children.
What I hope for my children is that they are the best versions of themselves. I want them to have purpose and know their value and goodness, but also recognize their deficiencies. I want them to have support from their parents, but also from other adults in their lives. I want them to remember that they are meant to be in this world and are perfect just as they are, but never too perfect that they should not or cannot grow. I NEVER want them to have to make an excuse for being authentic.
I hope they grow into independence and orient and trust their inherent wisdom and essential goodness. I hope they navigate life in self-directed and self-guided ways and that they live free and sincerely.
Raising a daughter has brought up a lot of questions for me though. How do you raise an independent daughter who is in harmony with her own needs, demands, longings for womanhood, motherhood, family or marriage and all the while stay true to herself? How does she follow her dreams as a young girl and continue into adulthood if she chooses to marry and have a family? How do we teach honoring the inner life to our daughters when it isn’t an easy journey and one that we question in our own lives? And how do we teach our boys to be in relationships with women who are strong, contemplative, independent, contradictory and intelligent?
How do we acknowledge and listen to our needs and longings which sometimes compete with and are often even in contradiction with one another?
And how do we find peace between the tension of being dependent and independent? Between wanting to be successful and using our minds and choosing children and family? Between choosing our own life and not choosing motherhood? What about the tension between being stable and the free spirit or between our monetary worth and inherent worth? Between what society expects from women and women’s deeply personal longings and needs?
How do we not get caught up in the momentum of what women are supposed to do and who they are supposed to be? How do we feel at peace with ourselves when we do not fit like the rest?
Why don’t we talk about how hard it is sometimes to be a mother, not a mother, a wife, an unhappy wife, a divorced woman, a widow or simply a woman? What do our longings and wishes really want us to say or do?
We don’t have these conversations because they are hard, uncomfortable and it is often easier to follow along with what looks like everyone else is doing.
This makes me sad, not only for myself, but for all of us. Can we please have these conversations? You are not alone in your wonder of how to be a woman. Be honest…be brave… be courageous and let your inner wisdom lead you.