Regardless of the gender we identify with and if we have children or not, mothering refers to the natural female energy of “bringing up a child as a mother … in the protecting, nurturing, teaching spirit”. Most of us, who identify primarily with our female energy have been mothering many throughout our lives to a great cost to us and often without recognition for all we do.
According to a NY Times article “There’s a Stress Gap between Men and Women. Here’s why it’s Important”, Kristin Wong explores different contributing factors to the high level of stress and anxiety suffered by women. Wong reports that women are twice as likely to suffer from severe stress and anxiety as men. The elements discussed include: disparity in salaries based in gender, unvalued and unpaid domestic work, emotional labor, and others.
However, at the base of any speculated contributing factors is one common denominator: deeply ingrained covert social expectations. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our ways of thinking and behaving are greatly influenced by cultural expectations of roles and gender, which have persisted through millennia with little change.
Social expectations are imbued in us by our primary caretakers through a system of emotional and behavioral reward and punishment. There is a myriad of unconscious social expectations based primarily on gender that demarcate the “appropriate” behavior and ways to relate to the larger society. When we are in alignment with those desired behaviors we are rewarded with a sense of inclusion and maybe praise. When we deviate from those expected behaviors, we are punished by being rejected and criticized. By the age of five, we have unconsciously integrated our family’s behavioral expectations of us. As we continue our maturation process entering the larger society by participating in school and other institutions we also incorporate and make ours the expectations of our social groups. In early adulthood, most of us came to believe that our views of the world are “ours” rather than an integration of social expectations.
Taking into consideration cultural differences such as western vs eastern values or developed vs undeveloped countries, truth is that for most women love has been equated with sacrifice, suffering and enduring rather than with respect, responsibility and balance. When we integrate these views of love, we have little choice but to mother within the spirit of self-sacrifice. This will affect not only how we mother others but how we mother ourselves.
Becoming an adult is about developing the capacities to parent ourselves as we no longer have our parents to guide us or provide the structure for us to function successfully in the world. We are to become our own father and mother to provide both structure and nurturing and create the supportive environment where we can flourish. When our understanding of love and our role as mothers is of self-sacrifice, enduring and suffering we mother ourselves to experience these qualities in most or all of our relationships. We don’t set our needs as a priority and don’t create healthy boundaries. We over give, overwork, overextend and deplete ourselves in the process. The superwoman expectations that we have integrated from society have been so normalized that we can’t even see how unhealthy they look and the effects on our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.
For instance, being a psychotherapist with years of postgraduate studies I was blind to these pervasive beliefs and expectations in my own life until I hit rock bottom. It was fifteen years ago when I touched my lowest point in life. I was morbidly obese with 100 lbs. above my recommended weight. I had developed hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and hyperglycemia. I was also suffering daily excruciating pain as the constant pressure of the extra weight had deviated my kneecaps and preparing for knee surgery. Every day I felt depleted and experienced no joy in my life. Most of the time I was irritable and felt as a victim of circumstances that were out of my control.
I was working as a psychotherapist for a mental health agency specializing in children, adolescents and families and these were the expectations that my employer placed on me: I was paid for 35 hours a week while having a caseload of 65-75 clients. In addition, paperwork required by the institution and medical insurances demanded at least 2 hours per day. Most cases also required coordination of services and/or connecting our clients with additional services which required countless phone calls, letters and applications every day. I also needed to attend to client’s crises, translating documents, interpreting during psychiatric appointments, etc. Just to keep up with these demands I was working a 70–80-hour week.
Adding more stress were the expectations of my clients. Most of these parents were mothers overwhelmed by their own life conditions who expected me -the professional- to change their child’s behaviors or “to cure” them. The children expected me to transform their mother’s and other conditions in their lives. Other institutions such as legal courts, medical insurances paying for services, and schools expected me to produce miraculous and instantaneous changes as well. The pressure of all these expectations was overwhelming and each day I felt like a hamster perpetually trapped in a wheel I could not get out of.
Aside from the work context, in my relationships with family and friends, I had no healthy boundaries, and I was constantly assisting others and making commitments to them that severely affected all of my resources of money, time and energy. My most basic needs were not a priority. I sacrificed my time and money, not making time to exercise, eat healthy meals, have spiritual practices such as meditation and of recreation. Yet, despite all I did for others it was never enough. Their expectations of me continued growing.
It was at this point that my doctor stressed that if I did not take care of myself, my knee surgery will be the first of many hospitalizations and surgeries. This was a wake-up call that helped me to release the expectations that both myself and society had placed on me. I made the decision to mother myself in a different way through absolute unconditional love. Instead of knee surgery, I underwent bariatric surgery to help me lose the 100 lbs. that were the physical manifestation of what was dragging me down. At the same time, I undertook my transformational process to resolve my subconscious self-sabotage and the blocks that held me back from my self-care and self-love. As a result, I placed my needs as a priority. I made a commitment to not lose perspective of responsibility and I constantly asked myself: what and whom am I really responsible for? Then I gave back to others the responsibility and privilege of choice where it belongs, to free myself from frustration and stress.
As a result of this transformation, Love Into Wholeness was conceived. In my work I use this and all other previous experiences to support other women in their own transformational process, mothering themselves through soft processes and releasing the unhealthy expectations that they have integrated from society. There is nothing more satisfactory and exciting to me than seeing women loving themselves truly, unconditionally, placing their needs as a priority, and living the life they have dreamed.
Now I would like to ask you a question: How are you mothering yourself? For a free exploration about your current life situations and how you can get the support you desire to learn to mother yourself through real unconditional love, experience a deep sense of belonging in truly reciprocal relationships, joy and fulfillment follow this link and schedule a free consultation session.
Kristin Wong (November 14, 2018) “There’s a Stress Gap between Men and Women. Here’s Why It’s Important”, New York Times.