What would it mean to step out of the roles and expectations of motherhood that we are reminded of each time Mother’s Day comes around?
Every woman has a relationship with Mother’s Day, whether we celebrate it or not. It is the one day of the year that has been designated as a special day to celebrate mothers, and everywhere we look in the weeks leading up to it, we are reminded that it is fast approaching!
Mother’s Day can be a time for reflecting on what it is to be a mother and whether we value the women in our lives or simply pay tribute to the role of mothers on this one day of the year. Are we able to distinguish between the woman and her role? And, as mothers, are we able to do this for ourselves?
Every woman is either a daughter, sister, mother or grandmother, or all of the above. What expectations do we bring to these roles? Do we have a true sense of what it is to be a daughter, sister, mother or grandmother? Perhaps it is fair to say that for most of us, we simply make it up as we go – especially motherhood!
There is no rule book, however, there are many pictures and expectations of what it means to be a ‘good’ daughter, sister, mother and grandmother. These influences come from family and the broader community and are equally generated by governments and the media. Those of us who are elders now will remember the 1950s image of the happy post-war wife and mother with a smile on her face, wearing a fresh apron, standing next to her modern new household appliance. This was the image that many of us grew up with, keeping women happy at home – an image of motherhood at that time perpetuated by marketing men and the government wanting to keep jobs for men and to reproduce and populate at home!
Today, the image is one of a woman juggling the many demands of work and family responsibilities, with pressure on her to be ‘good’ in all these roles and provide ‘quality’ time to her partner and children, as well as being successful in her job or career, and sexy to boot! We see her rushing about in the morning, changing from active wear to a business suit, grappling with school bags, lunches and briefcase, perhaps with a piece of toast in her mouth as she bundles everyone into the car! Then at the end of the day she’s expected to be a sex goddess in the bedroom.
Many of these images of what it means to be a woman and mother have come from media and advertising. Have we stopped to feel into how this has set us up with unrealistic expectations and undermined our self-worth as a woman?
The cycles of motherhood span many decades, from being a young ‘new’ mother, to raising young children, teenagers, providing support and guidance to our adult ‘children’ and then the cycle of becoming a grandmother. There may also come a time where we may be in the role of mother to an elderly parent if they are ill, frail or incapacitated.
We have many childhood memories of our mother and grandmothers, which have influenced our understanding of what it means to be a mother as we grew into motherhood ourselves. We have lived through the cycles of intergenerational relationships and these role models inform us now as we come into our elder years.
Mothering is a very strong consciousness in every culture where beliefs and ideals inform women of what is expected of them to be a good mother. As elders we have the opportunity to reflect on the different cycles that we have lived through as a woman and a mother. The different stages of a woman’s life all come with expectations. For example, as a grandmother do we have expectations of self-entitlement that we should be honoured as the elder matriarch with years of experience that others should respect and pay tribute to?
There are pictures every way we turn! What images are we still holding onto?
Have we bought into others’ expectations of how to ‘play these roles’ or have we listened to our inner knowing of what a true relationship with ourself is?
We can be overlaid with images, pictures and expectations of these roles rather than focusing on the quality of our relationships. When we live with a deep settlement and trust in our knowingness then our relationships with others are enriching for all, whether it be with our children, parents, siblings, friends, work colleagues or the broader community. Then our relationships will have an ease and sense of equality and a foundation of respect.
On reflection, we can see that we have been enriched throughout our lives by our relationships. Letting go of roles and expectations and focusing on relationships instead – that is, the quality of our interactions with others, whether blood family or the wider community – offers fulfilment and enrichment in our day-to-day life.
Stepping out of the many roles, including the role and label of ‘mother’ or ‘grandmother’, and simply being a woman, allows a true connection to ourselves. This is the beauty of what we can reflect to all those around us, young and old.
As women, whether young or old, we have the opportunity to re-define what it means to be a true role model – to live our own truth, living responsibly and free of the imposition of roles, expectations and labels.
Written by three elders from the Joy of Ageing, Esoterically team who are mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and once were daughters, learning to step out of roles and expectations: Bernadette C., Judy F., Ruth A.