As we approach Mother’s Day in the U.S. and many other countries, it’s a good time to ponder whether/how motherhood and productivity are connected or in conflict.
How does motherhood factor in to a life that matters?
This episode is being published a few days before Mother’s Day in the U.S. and many other countries. Mother’s Day is celebrated annually in many countries (not all on the same day) as a day to honor mothers and mother figures. This got me thinking: how do motherhood and productivity interact? What does it mean to be a productive mother? Or a mother who’s productive?
I have raised five children with my husband. They’re all grown, so we’re now empty-nesters. But for many years, our lives were consumed with kids in the house. I stayed home with my kids for a number of years, homeschooled for 10 years, and it was a challenging and rewarding stage of life. Thinking back on those years made me ponder what it means to be productive as a mother. Does having children interfere with productivity or does it motivate us to be productive? These are some of the questions I was thinking about as I prepared for this episode.
My first thought: motherhood matters. Raising small humans to be happy, healthy, well adjusted grown humans is a noble and meaningful undertaking. It is worthwhile. Mothers’ role in their children’s lives is immeasurably important.
I do recognize that not all listeners have children. For those who don’t have children, the subtle (or not so subtle) elevation of motherhood can make us feel “less than.” Motherhood is important, but it’s not a prerequisite to a life that matters.
Whether or not you give birth to children, adopt children, marry into a family of children, or share all or part of your life with children of extended family or friends, any role of care and influence over children (whatever their ages) is a vital role in our society.
On the other hand, knowing the role is valuable and valued doesn’t make it easy. There are high expectations placed on mothers — those imposed by society and those we impose on ourselves.
“The natural state of motherhood is unselfishness. When you become a mother, you are no longer the center of your own universe. You relinquish that position to your children.”
– Jessica Lange
To a point, I agree with what Ms. Lange says. Yet I cringe when I read this quote because it voices the ideal we all carry around in our minds, that makes us feel bad when we don’t feel unselfish, when we want something for ourselves. We feel like we’re less of a mother if we want time alone or an accomplishment separate from our children. I think we need to take quotes such as these with a grain of salt knowing that it’s expressing an ideal, and if you don’t feel that way all the time, that doesn’t mean you’re a bad mother.
“A mother is a protector, disciplinarian and friend. A mother is a selfless, loving human who must sacrifice many of their wants and needs for the wants and needs of their children. A mother works hard to make sure their child is equipped with the knowledge, skills and abilities to make it as a competent human being. Being a mother is perhaps the hardest, most rewarding job a woman will ever experience.”
Again, I agree with a large part of this quote, but my first thought reading it was, “No pressure, right?” It’s as if everything rides on us as a mom, and most of us feel like we don’t measure up most of the time. What if you don’t feel like this all the time? Does that mean you’re not being a good mother? And if you’re not being a good mother, does your life matter?
I think a lot of us can feel conflicted about our role as a mom and the other things that matter to us. Being a mother can feel like the most important job in the world – what you’re doing is meaningful and significant – yet it can feel like it’s hard to be productive when you’re caring for a family.
Part of the issue is the results of motherhood take a long time to show up. You often wonder if you’re doing it “right” and you won’t really know for sure until they’re grown and out on their own. Because you don’t see the results day to day, it can be easy to feel like you’re not being productive, as in, you see no results being produced on a day-to-day basis. And if the day doesn’t go well, you feel the results you’re producing are . . . not good. We judge ourselves harshly.
I’ve felt this conflict throughout my life. My kids are grown and gone, but to this day I wonder if I did it right. Three of my kids have families of their own; they are healthy, happy, and doing good in the world; they love each other; they love us and come home to visit, so I take comfort in these things. But I still look back at some of the choices I made when they were home and think, “I didn’t do it right.” I certainly didn’t always feel or act selflessly.
Some of the articles and quotes we read can inspire us, but they can also leave us with a feeling of guilt and not measuring up. If there are other things you want to do, does that mean you are too selfish to be a mom? Honestly, I think the answer is no.
I think it’s possible to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids and still accomplish other things you care about. Having dreams, personal and/or professional, doesn’t make you a bad mom. Taking time away from your kids to do other things won’t damage them for life. We feel like it sometimes. But it won’t. It’s important for us to internalize this.
Every one of us has to choose for herself how to be a mom, how to define and create that balance between your children’s needs and your own needs as a person. Looking at how other people are doing it can be instructive but also overwhelming and leave us feeling “less than.” I want to encourage you to be okay with doing it your way, and understand that even the suggestions I’m offering are simply suggestions of things that did or didn’t work for me.
Your experience may be different, and that’s okay.
Feeling like it’s hard to be productive is a common thing I’ve heard expressed.
It’s true that motherhood lends itself to interruptions and often to putting our needs aside in favor of others’. Children did not ask to be born, so we do need to make a provision for their physical, emotional, and mental health. That, however, does not mean the world needs to revolve around them. I believe there is a healthy aspect for children to see that mom has needs as well, and that she has interests beyond just her children and pursues things that matter to her. In so doing, she is encouraging her children to go after the things they care about.
A lot of what I’m talking about applies to fatherhood as well, but the experiences of men and women are usually different. For mothers, there often appears to be a risk of losing ourselves in the role and demands of motherhood. But it doesn’t have to be that way all the time. When we talk about making a life that matters, motherhood can be a part of that, but it is not the only part of it, and it’s okay to make room for other things.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you’re a mom (or even if you’re not):
- Be grateful – whatever your situation is, there is something in it to be grateful for
- Ask for what you need
- Protect your sense of self – no matter how much we love our kids, no matter now much we enjoy mothering, we need to recognize and make room for our identity beyond and outside of motherhood
- Recognize nothing lasts forever – every stage of motherhood (like of life in general) has its blessings and its challenges. In fact, the challenges are blessings if we learn to see them that way. What skills can you learn to help overcome those challenges?
- Don’t compare yourself to other moms, or to women who don’t have kids
- If you don’t have children, don’t compare yourself to those who do, or even to other women who don’t
- We certainly can learn from each other, but stop measuring ourselves by comparison to each other
- Be who you are, and be okay with that
- Forgive yourself when you mess up. And know that we all do.
“The absolute [greatest] thing about being a parent is that every day is a fresh start. You always can say, ‘Today we’re going to try this!’ And, if it goes horribly, you can say, ‘Today we’re throwing that out, and we’re trying this!’”
– Jennifer Garner
“The fastest way to break the cycle of perfectionism and become a fearless mother is to give up the idea of doing it perfectly—indeed to embrace uncertainty and imperfection.”
– Arianna Huffington
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.”
– Jill Churchill
Find your way to be a good mother. That’s what I want to say to all the moms out there: you’re probably doing better than you think you are. And whether you’re a mom or not, give yourself permission to be who you are, no matter what you see others doing. Give yourself grace.
What do you think?
Whether you’re a mother or not, I’d love to know your thoughts on motherhood, productivity, and making a life that matters-how motherhood and productivity are related. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below this post or in The Productive Woman Community Facebook group, or send me an email.
- What I Know About Raising Kids – TPW059
- Raising Productive Kids – TPW156
- Launching Your Kids – TPW202
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