Amy Taylor Kabbaz has spent the better part of a decade trying to answer the question: “what happens to a woman when she becomes a mother?” In this excerpt from her book Happy Mama, she talks redefining success.
There’s something about the images we create in our minds as teenagers that are very powerful. Full of hope and hormones, we construct this image of who we are going to be when we grow up … and build her into a goddess. She is everything we long to be, whether we can see clearly what she does and how she does it, or whether it’s just a general ‘feeling’ of what we’re going to become. It’s the dream.
The problem is, that teenage girl didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. She didn’t know about mortgages or mamahood, she didn’t know about endless emails or empty ambition.
She thought that high heels, a cool boyfriend, and an exciting job was where it’s at, and so she created a masterpiece with that in mind. And we’ve been hanging on to her ever since.
Even after all the work I’ve done on my superwoman ego, I still struggle with this at times. There’s part of me that still wonders if I sold out, or let go of my dream too quickly. I feel like I’ve let myself down, because I didn’t do what I thought I would do, and I’m not where I thought I would be. There are times when I see a foreign correspondent on the news and feel pangs of jealousy. Was that meant to be me?
I’ve put part of my dream on hold, even though I thought I never would.
The truth is, I want to be there for my family. Being a mama and wife is part of my daily ‘job’ at the moment— and it’s taken me a while to be okay to say that out loud.
This has been big. It’s brought up a truckload of issues surrounding women’s rights to work, my own (outdated) beliefs, what’s politically correct, and judgement. A whole lot of judgement. Why can’t I have it all? What about my own dreams? Maybe, if I juggle enough, move things around enough, book in some more daycare and hire an after-school nanny, I can still get it all?
I tried. I really did try. And I failed, miserably. What I came to realise was that all I was doing was trying to prove myself to everyone. I was hanging onto that image I’d set two decades earlier and was blindly chasing it, even if it wasn’t what I wanted anymore.
So … what does this mean for that woman I’ve been idolising for thirty years?
The Feminine Mystique is a book written by Betty Friedan in the early 1960s, widely credited with sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism in the United States. It affected me deeply. She described the pain so many women felt, being stuck as a housewife in the 1950s. But it was the recognition of their struggle and deep despair at the daily reality of just being someone’s wife and mother that affected my own story.
We can no longer ignore that voice within women that says: ‘I want something more than my husband and my children and my home’. I was brought up with that story. That belief is in my DNA— and I’m guessing it’s in yours. Our mothers were the children of those mothers, and they saw firsthand how unhappy a controlled, ‘caged in’ (as Betty Friedan described it) woman at home was. They saw the pain their mothers went through, not being able to venture into their own dreams or ambitions. They witnessed their mothers give all of themselves to their families, and decided that they wanted more.
And their mothers wanted that too. The deep stirring that began in the late 1950s, around women being chained to the sink, saw mothers whisper dreams of something different into their daughter’s ears. Take on the world; be more than someone’s mum and wife. And so our mothers did. They came out into the world determined to right the wrongs of that time. And in the process, they gave birth to us with the same deep-seated desire to do more.
Can you understand how this was planted deep into our psyche too? Is there any wonder we struggle with the transition to motherhood, when so much of what we carry within is full of judgement about this role?
If we are to look at matrescence as a natural and beautiful opportunity to emerge anew, then what we most need to do, to make it as painless as possible, is to recognise this: It is our attachment to our beliefs about the role of mother and wife and woman that causes us the most pain.
It is how we value what we are doing, and who we are in the eyes of the world, that causes us to suffer so much. Can you see that?
Let’s take the role of mother. What did being a mum mean to you before you started on your mothering experience? How did you feel about your mum, and the job she did? How do you feel about her life, and her happiness? Do you want to do things and see what you’re doing in a new light. Because it is the only way to be.
This post is extracted from Happy Mama (Hay House), RRP $22.99 – for more information see https://www.amytaylorkabbaz.com/mamarisingbook
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