My biggest regret after 10 years of motherhood

Photography:Rachel Burt Photography

By Belinda Haan

In a few days, it will be my 10th anniversary of motherhood. Today, I have noticed a tightening in my chest and throat, so I have sat with it. And what arose? 

Grief. 

An incredible sense of grief for our daughter. 

Grief for all the times I didn’t give you patience. 

Grief for all the times I rushed through the days without noticing the little moments with you. 

Grief for not always validating you. 

Grief for dismissing your strong emotions. 

Grief for not always meeting you with tenderness. 

Grief for not constantly role modelling presence and calm. 

Grief for the lost moments in distraction. 

Grief for any pain or shame that I have caused you that could impact your future. 

The pain was so acute in my body. My heart felt tight. My solar plexus constricted. My throat felt like it would close. The tears flowed freely. 

The love I feel for this girl is so deep, broad and unending. It is beyond words. And this love has very often caused me pain as I have felt that my behaviour hasn’t always matched what she deserved. 

Since becoming a mother, I have very often written this in my journal: 

My kids deserve a better mother than me

And I have really believed that. For possibly seven years, I felt I had this dirty, shameful secret: I am a bad mother and if everyone knew, they would be as disgusted with me as I am. 

I read all the books. I was conscientiously learning about how to raise emotionally-resilient kids. I had the rules. I had a desperate yearning to be a nurturing, loving, present mother. The problem was, I expected to be like this all of the time

I wore a pair of sunglasses that were murky, dark, frosty and judgmental. I call them my inner dictator sunglasses. 

With them on, I scanned the environment for all of my mistakes. I narrowed in on the ways I wasn’t measuring up. I disregarded any good I was doing. I could not see things clearly. 

My care and love drove the highest need for perfection in my behaviour. 

The great irony is that when I went into shame about the horrible mother I was, I went inward. I spiralled through what Tara Brach calls a trance of unworthiness. I couldn’t be open-hearted and present. Which, of course, took me further away from my values and this made me feel even worse. 

When things were going well, all was fine. I felt good. Maybe I was a good mother, after all? But as soon as there was a sibling fight, a tantrum or things in some other way were going pear-shaped, who was to blame? Me. This was simply evidence that I was not a good mother. 

I measured my efficacy as a mother based on my children’s behaviour and happiness. For anyone with older kids, you may have already realised what a fool’s game this is. Like us, kids are not always happy. Nor are they prone to giving their parents positive performance reviews, or is it just mine? 

I realised that I needed to search within for this sense of being worthy as a mother. And through this discovery, I realised that my habit of beating myself up was simply not giving me any positive outcomes. 

It wasn’t taking me closer to being present. Or being tender and warm. Or being able to hold their strong emotions. It wasn’t helping me learn. 

It was time to listen to my incredible husband who has been the rock of love and compassion for me when I have not found it within. 

It was time to forgive myself. 

It was time to be with my chronic shame. It was time to open up about how unworthy I have felt as a mother. 

It was time to open and broaden my perspective. To take in the good. 

It was time to bring the tenderness and warmth to myself first. Because I can only love and bring warmth to the kids as much as I am willing to do it for myself. 

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