I suppose it has become typical of social media. A stay-at-home mum (SAHM) wrote an article saying that although she was grateful to be a mother, being at home full-time was just awful at times. She wrote of the stress, the loneliness and the boredom. Another SAHM then wrote in reply. She slammed the first mum’s confessions as unnecessarily negative—even downright wrong. She claimed it was the biggest joy she’d known and loved every minute of it.
So the war was on.
A war of words, a war of perspectives, a war of personality and difference.
It didn’t need to be a war, however. Surely it could be an ‘agree to disagree’ situation, an openness to difference - differences in passions, struggles, and in how we handle our circumstances and our stress.
In my experience, this seems fairly indicative of the way we look at many things in life—and parenting is no different. Somebody else does it (or feels it) completely differently to us and we wonder whether one is right and the other wrong. We may feel tinges of superiority or anger, or to the contrary, insecurity or even self-loathing if we don’t feel that we measure up. If the majority of parents in your circle of friends see or do things differently to you, it is easy to feel misunderstood and on the outer.
During the 10 short years of my parenting career, I certainly haven’t been immune to these feelings. There have certainly been times during those 10 years that I have struggled to feel ‘normal’ and felt desperate just to fit in. As an INFP, those who share my personality type are only 4% of the population (based on US data) and I share the Intuitive trait with only about 30% of the population. On that basis, perhaps misunderstandings are inevitable.
The fitting in
Perhaps there is a vision of motherhood that we hold dear in our Western societies. I have to admit that as a new mother I didn’t feel I fit into that vision particularly well: the Martha Stewarts of the world, who seem to be able to juggle a beautiful home and a full schedule, and cook, craft, sew and mother to perfection. Perhaps they hold a job outside the home, perhaps not, but either way they seem to have just the right balance of discipline and care with their children yet still entertaining their friends and maintaining good social lives. Their lives seem well organized and appear to skip along with little effort.
This has not been my experience.
As a new mother, I found myself trying to figure out where I fit in this new world. I came off a stimulating full-time career in social work into a full-time parenting role that I delved deep into. I loved my new baby and I did everything in my ability to do parenting well. For me, this meant reading copious amounts of information about parenting and child development and trying to implement the ‘right’ things into our lives. I very quickly realized that there was no ‘one size fits all’ as I became frustrated, infuriated, exhausted and lacking in confidence when I couldn’t implement or maintain the ‘right’ things—especially when it required routines or disciplines that went against my INFP nature.
Although I was aware that other new mothers were struggling to maintain tidy houses and were also exhausted by the lack of sleep, there were aspects of parenting that they seemed to take in their stride that I just couldn’t get my head around. My housekeeping and organizational skills have never been my greatest asset (as I discussed in my last post) and cooking is just a necessity. I found that my chores became even more overwhelming as I juggled trying to devote my attention to my child and manage my time and household. It was disheartening at times to see other mums dealing with this in a more relaxed and efficient manner and unable to understand my struggles.
At times, my deeply introspective and emotional nature seemed heavy in comparison to other mothers and something I didn’t feel was particularly understood. My whole-hearted devotion to being a good mother came in the form of attempting to be fully in tune with my child and her physical and emotional needs. If my baby cried, I felt her emotion deeply and just wanted to make it better. I found it difficult to be rational about her tears, or switch off in the hope she would just go to sleep, and I hated waking her for an appointment or outing. Although being emotionally connected was natural and important to me, it was all-consuming and extremely exhausting. I wasn’t prepared for the emotional overload. I wanted to understand and work through what this meant for me, but it didn’t seem to be something other mother’s understood or wanted to discuss. Plus, although I wanted to be honest about my struggles, I felt insecure about my seeming inability to cope.
Meeting up with other mothers was invaluable in those early years, but I also felt at times that I didn’t quite fit in. It was a great source of support and encouragement and great to get out of the house for some sanity. I quickly found myself caught up in the social (and primarily extraverted) aspects like group exercise classes, play-dates, shopping and cafe’s. Having this social connection was important to me and I felt for a little while that perhaps I wasn’t so different and I could do what other mums were doing. I realize now, however, that being with my child all day (and a child that didn’t sleep very much) and then also connecting regularly with other mums, I was getting very little alone time. What I didn’t understand at the time was that as an INFP, although I enjoyed being with people, I needed more time to process my thoughts, to read, to write, and to seek out more one-on-one deep and meaningful conversations to energize my depleted resources. Exercise and group catch-ups, although enjoyable for me, were not my primary way of re-energizing.
Feeling like a ‘good’ mother has not always come naturally to me. In my attempts to fit in, at times I have compromised on what I really wanted or needed in order to feel accepted or ‘normal.’ I (like that SAHM blogger) feel that being at home full-time with the kids—although a joy in many ways—has at times been emotionally and intellectually draining - sapping more energy than it generates. I always felt it was important for me to be a SAHM while my children were young and I enjoy being creative, taking walks, building Lego and having good conversations with my children, but I have sometimes missed the intellectual stimulation of a career outside of the home. It has become important to me as my children get older, to find the right balance for me and for my family.
I believe that parenting is a learning journey for each of us. As we look around and see how other people parent, there is no doubt room for introspection and self-improvement. However, trying to emulate someone else’s parenting style in order to fit in or feel ‘okay’ is a recipe for disillusionment and frustration. I have found that understanding my personality type and coupling that with an understanding of my own upbringing has been invaluable. Knowing how I think as an INFP, recognizing and capitalizing on my strengths, but also accepting my weaknesses, has been an important part of being comfortable in my mothering skin. I’m not all there yet, but if this is an area you struggle with, I encourage you to do the same.