I work with mothers for a living. Every week, I hear dozens of stories from creative, motivated, educated, and relatively well-resourced women who love their children deeply. These mothers are intentional, committed to the health of their relationships, and willing to make tremendous sacrifices to ensure the well-being of their families.
Yet, for all their good intentions and hard work, the degree of frustration felt by most of these mothers is astounding. Though their life circumstances and personalities vary greatly, frustration is, undoubtedly, one of the brightest, thickest threads woven throughout the tapestry of their collective narrative, which I believe to be a microcosm of the larger narrative shared by most mothers in our culture. I’m even going to be so bold as to proclaim the following:
For all our many differences, frustration unites modern-day mothers. What, aside from the love we feel for our children, do we feel more frequently than this?
If it were mere frustration we were feeling, I wouldn’t be so concerned. There’s an inherent amount of frustration that seems quite natural when it comes to managing chaos, after all, and kids are, by nature, chaotic.
But we’re not merely frustrated. As a whole, we’re also incredibly stressed, drowning in self-doubt, and filled with anxiety. No matter our demographic, many of us also feel ashamed of our messy lives and inability to “keep up,” isolated and unsure of who we can trust, and guilty that we can’t give our children more of what they deserve.
The irony is that we’re more intentional, better resourced, and more informed than any generation of mothers in the history of the world, yet we still feel inadequate, burned out, defeated, and unfulfilled much of the time.
I hear variations on the following questions nearly every day:
What else do I need to do/learn/buy/add to my plate, in order to alleviate some of this stress and discontentment I feel?
What am I doing wrong?
And most heartbreaking of all:
What is wrong with me?
This last question not only pains me, but more and more, it infuriates me. From my vantage point, the question, “What is wrong with ME?” from an overwhelmed, hardworking mother, sounds like the brainwashed confusion of an abuse survivor who’s trying to figure out what they did wrong to bring on the mistreatment.
“What’s wrong with ME?” is simply the wrong question.
Or, in the language of poet David Whyte:
It’s a question that’s keeping us trapped in a conversation that’s too small for us.
Here’s what I think we need to be asking ourselves (and each other) instead:
What circumstances are contributing to the epidemic of frustrated, self-doubting, overwhelmed, anxiety-filled mothers in our culture?
Or, more simply stated:
Why does modern-day motherhood feel so frustrating?
So, I decided to start a list of all the contributing factors that I’ve observed in my work, my personal relationships, and my own experience as a mother. My desire in doing so is three-fold:
Clearly, we’re not going to solve all these problems overnight, nor even in our lifetime. But each of us can take the first and most important step toward making things better. We can begin to dismantle the “What’s wrong with me?” narrative that has us keeping ourselves trapped, confused, isolated, and disempowered.
Without further ado…
(The Beginnings of a Master List)
Of course, each of us is human, which means that none of us is perfect. We all mother imperfectly, all the time. But this doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with us. As Tara Brach says, “Imperfection is not our personal problem—it is a natural part of existing. We all get caught in wants and fears, we all act unconsciously, we all get diseased and deteriorate. Yet, when we relax about imperfection, we no longer lose our life moments in the pursuit of being different and in the fear of what is wrong.”
Abuse survivors are imperfect, too. But that does not mean they are responsible for the choices of their abuser. We did not create the aforementioned circumstances. But we can choose more empowered reactions to them.
Naturally, we all want to reduce the feeling of frustration in our lives, but I think it’s essential that we not do so too quickly. Frustration–as well as all the other challenging emotions we feel day in and day out–is there to show us something. When we mask or minimize these emotions with quick fixes, and without first recognizing the gift of illumination they offer us, we miss out on opportunities for growth and healing.
Our everyday lives are given more purpose and meaning when we begin see our frustrations as lamp posts along the trail of transformation. There is always light being shone on the path to wisdom and thriving.
Have points to add to the list? Please add your voice and perspective via the comment section. My one request of you, should you feel inspired to join the conversation, is that you do so from a spirit of service rather than victimhood. Collective illumination is the goal, not blaming or shaming.
We’re worthy of a better, bigger conversation, mamas. A conversation created by us, for us, and in service to us all.
In it right alongside you,
*Photo credit goes to the incredible Jote Khalsa, who captures the beauty and power of motherhood like no one else.