It’s Mothers Day this weekend and plenty of people will be spending time with their families. I have to admit I find it a difficult time of the year and I’d like to share with you why.
Growing strong without a mother
I left my mother at the age of 16 when I left home. It wasn’t difficult as she wasn’t a nurturing mother; she wasn’t able to love me or meet my needs and was emotional and physically abusive. Although it’s been a huge struggle at times, I am thankful that she gave me the gift of life.
A poor early start meant I had mental health problems but years later I realise I am reflective, determined and resourceful, and I learnt to develop an emotional resilience. I have, over time, learnt what love is and to love myself. Although it took me much longer without a nurturing mother, I got there.
My experiences have given me a thirst to understand myself and my world and fast forwarding a few decades, and a lot of struggles, here I am working with mothers, sons, daughters and dads to help them through the difficulties in their lives. I still find it hard to believe I am now a person who others seek support from.
Can a motherless counsellor be a family therapist?
Some people may feel that I am a contradiction; I am a family therapist but not a mother myself (unless of course you count my fur babies). I have purposely chosen not to have children due to my own difficult childhood.
I have been accused of being selfish, some people finding it hard to understand the choice to not have children. It was a choice I made because I simply didn’t feel I had the skills or emotional capacity to parent. I’ve struggled with my mental health and I decided that there are enough children in the world so me not having one would be okay. I think it would have been selfish to go ahead and try to be a parent knowing I couldn’t give a child what they needed.
And I was once asked by another therapist: “Does a children and family counsellor have any creditability without their own children?” It’s a thought provoking question.
To date, I have found that my not having children has not presented a problem for my clients; I openly admit that I never wanted the job of mother. I am aware that a client could see me as less credible as I am not a mother; however, I feel that my approach of curiosity and acceptance means I have never been shot down in flames for not being a mother. Clients feed back to me that I am knowledgeable and compassionate therapist.
If I was a mother I doubt very much I would have dedicated as much time and energy to my work. It’s because I have the balance of quiet and calm that I find I can totally immerse myself in families work
I also strongly believe that you don’t need to have the experience of your clients to offer an empathic, safe space for them. Having said that, I do know what it feels like to be a child who didn’t feel loved and what a struggle that was, so I can offer parents and children that perspective, to add to their own.
Anyone who comes to me for support is valued and not judged. I respect mothers choosing what I feel is the scariest job in the world. I recognise you don’t get to resign from it when you’ve had enough. You don’t get paid annual leave; or any pay at all for the matter. Motherhood is a role that you will occasionally mess up no matter how hard you try, and one that you never get an appraisal for that says “Well done!”
I applaud those who choose the role of parent, especially as it often means balancing this heavy responsibility with a day job too!
I don’t have any right to judge or to criticise as a non-parent, what I do offer is help and support if it’s wanted.
Parents are blameless
I don’t believe that any parent wants to neglect their children, or mistreat them. I believe that life and our own difficulties can get in the way and the quality of relationships we build are influenced by the quality of the relationships that we have experienced in the past.
I don’t blame or shame parents who come to me for support. We can’t give what we have not received If you don’t have an emotional connection with your own mother it may be difficult to build that with your own children, and if nobody modelled any emotions to you how do you help a child manage their own emotions or even your own?
Pressures of motherhood
Having worked with many mothers, some who admit they didn’t want children, I see their struggles. It’s a tough job and it doesn’t matter if you feel ill or exhausted the children still need to be fed, taken to school, they still want your time to play and be cuddled and most importantly they need to feel loved.
The expectations and pressure on women to have children are huge. From the moment I was married I felt the pressure to have children and I am still asked. For some it’s an easy choice whereas for others it is extremely difficult, and for others they may want children but not be able to, whilst some come to motherhood through a pregnancy that wasn’t planned.
It doesn’t matter how you came to motherhood the story that everyone seems to want to hear is that it’s a fabulous rewarding job; and for many it is, however for many it is not. I think there are many women who struggle with being a mother but there is so much taboo and stigma and fear that stops mothers seeking the support they may desperately need.
Mothers can face many different struggles.
A lack of an extended network of friends and family to provide a break can mean a mother can become exhausted, always having to be there for their child with no respite or time for themselves.
Other mothers are unable to build an emotional connection to their child; they don’t feel that maternal instinct that apparently all mothers are supposed to feel automatically. Some can’t find anything to like about their child.
Confusion over the “right” or “best” way to parent can be overwhelming; there is so much information and advice out there (and a lot is contradictory) that a parent can be left unable to decide what is right.
Mothers tell me “you feel guilty because you want some time to yourself, guilt because you are unable to bond with your child, guilt because you don’t know what to do, guilt because you cannot afford everything your child wants, or guilt because you snapped at your child”. Guilt can be huge in a mother’s world.
My view is simply that mothers don’t have to be perfect they just have to be good enough; their children need to feel loved and safe. If you have a good relationship with your child, if they feel loved and safe, then they will do okay.
I don’t believe the way I was parented with power and control and fear worked. It just left me with a scared anxious brain and fearful to make mistakes. I was told so much of what was wrong with me that it took a long time to feel there was anything right.
Positive caring parenting is where we raise children to make the right choices, because it’s the right thing to do. If you tell children off or remove their things this just makes them angry and unheard. We need empathy towards them so that they can learn empathy and to care for others in return.
I don’t believe it is discipline that we need more of in this world, it’s more empathy. Children can build this from adults who model it. We as adults need to model the behaviour we wish to see in children.
If you are struggling with behaviour then understanding the emotions is the key as this drives everything. If we can understand children better maybe we won’t get so frustrated with them and can adjust our expectations, and if we listen to ourselves and seek support when we are struggling then perhaps we can provide a nurturing relationship and model that you don’t need to do it all on your own.
How do I work?
When parents come to me for support, I don’t provide magic answers or solutions. There is no “you should do it this way or that way” here. What I do provide is a safe space, without judgment, where, with empathy, I try to guide a family to a better understanding of themselves and each other.
I point out what I notice as an independent party and I check all the time how we are doing. We manage any guilt and shame together and I strive to provide a new perspective or insight, with some suggestions and ideas to experiment with.
I come with a vast knowledge range having spent nine years studying counselling, human beings, attachment theory and neuro-science. I am always attending to the relationships and the emotions because it is by exploring these that we find the change we are looking for.
If you’re struggling I am here with kindness, care, and lots of ideas and suggestions you can try out, but there will be no blame or shame and the decisions are all yours.
There will be curiosity and a focus on fun and emotional connections because those are the things that children require to grow into healthy resilient adults.
The role of a mother is huge, because you don’t just teach a child how to tell the time and tie their shoe laces. You teach them how to do relationships, how to make sense of the world, whether the world is a safe place to explore, how to have friends and interests, and how to love themselves and others. We know now that the first three years are fundamental for a child’s brain development so if you are struggling then seeking help as early as possible is advisable for you and your child.
Children need love and safety, boundaries, and help to make choices, and to trust in their own decision making process; once they have all the knowledge they can make informed choices.
And I will say it again, perfection is not necessary!
I wish all those who are mothers or have mothers a happy Mother’s Day. For those of you without a mother, I’m sending you a hug and urge you to spend some time with the ones you love.
With thanks to my two volunteer editors Counsellor Hazel Hill and my husband.
Images courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, Stuart Miles, & Ambro respectively, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net