i’ll be in the self-help section

I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of this mama thing. I know, I’ve said it before. It’s an incremental thing; every day I feel slightly more competent, with some days bringing a false sense of accomplishment (I have the happiest kid in the world; I must be a great mom) or an inflated sense of failure (my kid won’t stop crying; I must be a terrible mother).

It’s a strange thing, motherhood. It’s not like having a job, where you go through your training and learn all the tricks and show up on time and behold! You’re a good employee. It’s more like puberty. Things happen pretty much without any input from you, and somehow you’re expected to take it all in stride. Unlike puberty, you don’t have the luxury of self-absorbtion; there’s another person who takes priority and requires most, if not all, of your attention.

I recently rediscovered the bliss that is the library card, so I’ve been doing a lot of reading. Right now there is a stack of parenting books next to my desk, which I’ve been slogging through any time I have a free moment. It feels almost decadent to read for pleasure these days, and I try to justify it to myself somewhat by focusing my leisure reading on motherhood. Also, as when I was pregnant, my focus is almost exclusively inward. I want to rid myself of any bad parenting ideas before they have a chance to manifest. Because, seriously? My own parents did not exactly set a good example. On a related note, I miss my therapist with the fire of a thousand suns, but until we start making “extra” money, I’m the only therapist I can afford. Hence, the parenting books.

The one that’s made the biggest impression on me so far is Mothering Without a Map by Kathryn Black. It’s the idea that women who grew up without mothers for whatever reason (death, abandonment, abuse, whatever) are at a disadvantage when becoming parents; we can’t refer to the wisdom of our mothers or rely on them for advice or support, so we essentially have to teach ourselves to navigate this territory alone. The thing I found most interesting was a comment Black made about subconscious traits of the under-mothered. Among the various coping mechanisms, Black mentions “[s]ome women develop a sense […] of being behind schedule or otherwise out of sync, no matter what they’ve accomplished.”

That resonated with me, for reasons which should be obvious. It also made me think that perhaps I’m not as self-aware as I should be, and, at the same time, maybe I’m doing a better job than I think I am. Because if the majority of my anxiety is just echoes from my childhood? I’m probably okay.

There’s a certain comfort in self-analysis. I’ve always felt better when I could categorize my issues, label them like lab samples and keep them on a shelf in plain view. I’m finding, though, that motherhood has changed my M.O. I still want to shine a bright light on my issues, but I don’t want to keep them anymore. I’ve got better uses for that shelf. I don’t need my problems to define me.

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