Martyrdom In Motherhood
Updated: Jul 11, 2022
‘Don’t lose yourself to motherhood’
It was advice from an elderly Italian gentleman who had a holiday home next to us on Lake Garda when we lived in Italy. I was pregnant with my first child. I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time.
He used to be a primary school teacher, understood childhood development well and was extremely nurturing of children who grew up in troubled homes in the centre of Florence. He understood that their challenging behaviour was often linked to their home life.
Although I respected him a lot, I didn’t really ‘get it’. I was planning on going back to work when my baby was 3 months old. Life would be reasonably normal but I would just have an extra commitment - a child. I couldn’t understand or see how I could possibly lose myself.
Fast forward to motherhood. As the clock ticked onto 3 months I began to realise that actually, no - I didn’t want to return to work. These moments with my baby., precious times, I would never get back. I spent our last few months in Italy reading about parenting, breastfeeding and nutrition, learning how I could be the very best mother to my child.
As time ticked on and as my baby grew into a toddler and we had a second child, the phrase that my neighbour had said to me continued to bounce around in my head.
‘Don’t lose yourself to motherhood.’
What did he know? He didn’t have children himself. I wanted to be an amazing mother to my children. I had read all about attachment theory and I knew where my childhood had left me with holes in my confidence and with crippling but well-hidden insecurities that were buried deep. I was aware of all of that. My children needed me. All the time. Because if I wasn’t present for them, I wasn’t a good mother. I chose to home educate because I didn’t believe in the system, but also because it would prove and show how committed I was to be the mother that I felt under pressure to be.
I began judging other mothers. The ones who went to work and put their children in school and nursery. The ones who went on nights out. How could they do that to their children that needed them so much? How could they put them through the trauma of being left with another person to be upset while they were away? My children needed me.
With the judgement came resentment. Resentment for the situation that I found myself in. Torn between wanting to be the perfect mother but at the same time having completely lost myself to motherhood. Resentful to my husband. No matter what he did, it didn’t feel enough. No one seemed to acknowledge or recognise the work I was doing to bring up my children. No praise. No ‘well done’.
Inside I became bitter. I felt trapped in my situation. Using my children as an excuse as to why I couldn’t do things that I wanted to do. I couldn’t kickstart my career because of my children (I was afraid I wouldn’t get the role). I couldn’t start a business because of my children (I had 7 ideas and was shit scared of starting and being a failure and even more terrified of being successful). I couldn’t work on my relationship with my husband, things were not well at all and neither of us felt emotionally safe, constantly triggering each other. We both put it down to having children, their needs were more important. When really, I didn’t want to make the change when it was him who needed to change. (I talk about using our children as an excuse to not work on our relationships here.)
I was preventing myself from living a life I wanted, that I desired, because of this idea I had created about myself, about motherhood, about my children’s needs. I used my children as a source of my identity and value because it was safe. Because I didn’t need to or have to challenge myself. I could hide in my cave, wave the ‘good mother’ flag and point my finger at those that weren’t doing enough.
The real truth was, I was drowning. I was overwhelmed. I was suffering from anxiety that was making my life inhibiting. I over questioned every decision, every action. I sought advice for everything. I didn’t trust myself. I went on retreat for a few days to have a break as I was on the verge of a breakdown. In our opening circle on retreat we were asked what our intention was for the retreat. The other women talked about profound ways of healing themselves and what area of their life they needed support in and how they wanted to grow. When my turn came, I didn’t know what to say. I just blurted out the first thing that came to me which was true,
‘I needed a break’
I spent the next few days crying. Releasing the overwhelm. The tension.
I had lost myself.
I had lost myself to motherhood.
And finally I knew what that meant.
I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t know what I liked.
I realised that I had been very present for my children physically. But looking at the stress and overwhelm I was in, I wasn’t present for them emotionally.
So as I had set out with the intention to be there for my children to create a secure attachment, I had in fact created a situation where I struggled to emotionally present and in effect, the environment was not supportive of a secure attachment.
So I began the process of healing. Of exploring boundaries, of nurturing my own inner-child. I explored the feeling of guilt that was so strong. I felt that I couldn’t have needs so I would hold myself with the feelings of guilt and concentrated on forgiveness. I write more about my forgiveness journey here.
I began exploring being the mother who is ‘good enough’. Not the best. Not perfect.
Just trying my best and if the day doesn’t work out how I would like, I forgive myself, apologise where I need to and move on.
Where do I find myself now?
I find myself with a purpose greater than me in supporting other men and women in the journeys my husband and I have travelled. I find my children at an amazing school where they are supported and nurtured and have teachers who are in alignment with how I believe children should be treated to create secure attachments. I find myself with better headspace and time to really enjoy my children. I find myself with my own business. I find myself feeling my most confident and sexy self in my early 40s. I find myself at a place of inner-calm. Anxiety, a thing of the past and I’m also less worried about what other people might think of me.
I’m doing my best.
For me, my children and my relationship.
Carla Crivaro is a trauma-informed and certified Sex, Love & Relationship Coach, she works with men and women internationally to reach their goals in delicious sex, profound love and authentic relationships. Carla helps men and women understand themselves and each other, sexually and relationally, in and out of the bedroom. You can reach her at email@example.com.