While acknowledging the wonderful aspects of the parenting journey, the conscious approach to
raising children also embraces the madness of this journey, with full awareness of the level of
the psychological, emotional, and spiritual commitment it takes to raise a child—and the potential
this has to alter forever a parent’s self-understanding.
Because the parenting journey is one of the extremes, it can bring out both the best and the worst in us. For this reason, it behooves us to face just how difficult this can be for many parents, especially the mother. While recognizing that not all parents face the severe challenges that others do, it’s nevertheless the case that all parents go through a profound emotional and psychological transformation. As we began seeing in the last two chapters, no one really explains to us what a life-altering event becoming a parent will be. No one tells us that the love between a parent and child has the potential to tear open our heart, leaving us at the mercy of the destiny of our children. No one explains that if we are going to parent consciously, life as we know it will no longer exist, and the individual we believe ourselves to be will evaporate before our eyes. No one tells us we will have to endure the death of our old self and that we will have no clue how to develop a new sense of who we are.
Parenting is one of the most difficult endeavors a person ever takes on. Ask any mother of a child who refuses to go to sleep at three in the morning, while she has another on her breast, and she has to be at work at nine in the morning—not to mention that her husband expects her to be a temptress in bed and look beautiful for the world. Ask any father who has to do homework with his inattentive son, constantly trying to bring him back to the task, while being on time to pick up another child from soccer practice, before tackling work brought home from the office.
More than perhaps any other role, parenthood causes us to second-guess ourselves. We question our competence, our worth, and even our sanity as we ask ourselves, “Now, just why was it I thought I wanted children when all I want is for them to go to sleep and leave me alone?” Having said this, if you can recognize the spiritual potential of the parenting journey, you will be equipped to enter its depths without resisting or becoming stuck in a state in which you are utterly overwhelmed and confused as you attempt to grapple with its complexities. For this reason, rather than feeling guilty about the feelings that arise as you move along the path of raising a child, you are asked to embrace the insanities of parenthood, capitalizing on the way having a child opens you up—or rather tears you up, shreds your old identity, and replaces it with an expansion of yourself.
THE PARTICULAR ROLE OF THE MOTHER
Both parents undergo a transformation in their identity during the years of raising children. However, for women, the parenting journey holds an especially emotional and spiritual significance because we house this growing child within our body for the first nine months of its existence. These months of gestation render the mother-child bond particularly unique in its intensity, leading to a complex relationship that’s highly symbiotic and profoundly personal. This is one reason mothers are often invested in their children in ways that fathers sometimes aren’t.
Expanding not only our skin but also our psyche as we participate in the emergence of a new spirit, during these nine months we witness our sense of who we are starting to alter as we grapple with this miraculous event taking place within us. Our identity comes into question as we understand that our life is no longer ours to own, but is betrothed to our child. We watch our heart surge with a protectiveness that’s as invigorating as it’s unfamiliar.
We know we aren’t the same woman we were pre-birth, but neither have we articulated who we are post-birth. Consequently, we get lost in our role as mothers, giving to our children with the zest and zeal only a woman possesses. In this giving, our sense of self fades, and we find ourselves increasingly alienated from who we intrinsically are. We feel as if we are in a no man’s land, neither here nor there. True, we feel purposeful, but mostly only in our role as a mother. Our children grow up, our spouse climbs the corporate ladder, yet we who have in many cases put our life on hold find ourselves without an anchor in the world around us, let alone a sense of individual purpose. As the years go by, we may long to feel secure in an identity separate from our children yet tend not to recognize the gateway to any such identity. Part of us may desperately want to recapture who we were, while another part realizes who we were has died. Though terrifying, this loss of our identity can also be potentially regenerative.
In the course of raising our children, many of us become almost unrecognizable to ourselves when we look in the mirror. We see in the lines around our eyes the incident when our child slammed the door in our face because we didn’t buy them a video game, the occasion they fell and broke a limb, and the day we thought we had lost them at the fair. If we look closer, we also see in these lines the joy and awe of all it means to be someone’s mom. We may find we can’t help ourselves when we grumble about our children while washing the dishes, complain about them to our own mother, blame their inadequacies on our spouse, or bemoan our luck that we, of all the people in the world, produced such a “difficult” child. Only another parent knows what the eye roll truly means, resonates with “who knew children were so much work,” understands “thank goodness the house is empty for a while,” and can appreciate “I’ve got a few hours to myself.”
For many mothers—as well as for fathers who bear the brunt of raising a child—parenting can be emotionally, psychologically, financially, and physically draining, yet few of us ever honestly share how exacting, incredibly tough, and emotionally burdensome we find it. So invested are we in being “good” parents that we would be embarrassed to share our feelings with friends and family. Because of our fear of being judged, we tend to hide the degree to which we feel torn asunder, shredded, and psychically distorted by the demands of our children. Consequently, most of us walk the path of parenthood feeling alone, truly believing we are abnormal in our occasional longing to be who we were before we became a mother. However, were we to reach across our mantles of perfection, we would discover a kinship with other parents and realize we aren’t at all unusual for having such feelings, just human.