Many of the choices we’re making during this incredibly stressful time in history, when mothers and other caregivers are bearing the brunt of so much societal dysfunction, are rooted not in our core values, but in our deeply unmet basic needs.
This is normal under the circumstances and has nothing to do with selfishness, a lack of caring, personal inadequacy, or ‘bad’ parenting.
Quite simply, there’s a direct correlation between our needs and values. The more deeply unmet a person’s needs are, or the more unmet needs a person has, the more challenging it will be for that person to make choices based on their values.
This is true for all humans.
Think about it. Under most circumstances you wouldn’t steal food to feed your family. But if your kids were starving? You’d do whatever it took to ensure their survival.
Here’s what that might look like for you right now (as it does for millions of mothers):
If you haven’t had a break from your kids in weeks or months, your unmet needs for rest, nervous system unwinding, even a regular freaking shower, are no doubt making it much harder for you to access patience, creativity, and optimism.
If you’ve had little choice but to set aside your career and/or passions in order to care for family members, your unmet need for a sense of empowerment and self-authority are likely making it extra challenging to stay present during the monotony of day-to-day family life.
We need to stop beating ourselves up about allowing our kids more screen time right now than we know is ideal (among other suboptimal decisions we’re having to make). In the absence of the village, years into a pandemic, we’re being faced with a bigger choice that will shape generations to come:
Do we mothers deplete ourselves to the point of despair in an attempt to preserve our children’s wellbeing, or do we recognize that mothers’ needs being at least minimally met is critical if we’re ever to change the systems that are oppressing so many people, including our kids?
I find the parable of the second arrow (a Buddhist parable about dealing with suffering) to be especially relevant and helpful right now. The idea is that any time life deals us a challenging hand, it’s like an arrow flying our way. Though we often can’t control these first arrows, most of us are in the habit of shooting a second arrow at ourselves in reaction to the first (in the form of self-judgment and self-criticism). This only serves to compound our suffering.
The meaning we make of these times (and the stories we tell based on that meaning) will absolutely shape mothers’ sense of self and quality of life for generations to come. The last thing we need are a bunch of second arrows in the mix as we dig our way out from this mess.
With gentle reverence,