This Messy Mama Life: Cultivating Compassion
Last weekend we had some family friends over for dinner and my partner and I were like a tag-team of efficiency getting the house prepared - cleaning up the yard, picking up toys, sweeping and mopping... I literally turned to him and said, "We should have company over more often! Our house hasn't been this clean in months!"
There is just something about our messy lives being witnessed, especially as mothers, that causes many of us such anxiety! There is a very real pressure we put on ourselves to present ourselves to others in the best light. Do I think our family friends would think less of us if there were toys on the floor? I know the times I've gone to friends' homes that resembled my own home's state of played-in chaos, I've exhaled a sigh of relief.
What if it all Made Sense?
What would it be like if our mess didn't cause us shame? What if, instead, we found a way to understand our mess as a byproduct of an important stage of life? A stage in our life that, when we consider it, makes us think: OF COURSE my house is a mess! These little humans are busy exploring, playing and learning! It makes complete sense! The messiness then can even be thought of as a reflection of our kids' age appropriate development, not a negative reflection on us as mothers. This doesn't mean that we don't tidy up behind our kids (or ask them to help us with tidying!), but our relationship to the mess shifts - we have more compassion and less shame. The pressure and the anxiety about it can ease.
Because ultimately it's not actually about whether the house is clean or has toys thrown across every room - it's about how we feel about the mess. Is it something we frantically cover up and try to act like it doesn't exist?...Or is it something that we accept as a byproduct of this stage of life and we do the best we can to keep on top of it, knowing that, inevitably, there will be days the house looks better than others.
From Outer Life to Inner Life
Let's take this metaphor and turn it inward - many of us play out the same drama with our internal states - especially Mothers that were raised in Dysfunctional Family Systems. The legacy of a dysfunctional upbringing leaves an emotional 'mess': insecurity, not good enough-ness, shame. Yet, many of us also learned at an early age how to 'tidy ourselves up' on the outside to appear otherwise - to act as if mess does not exist here.
OF COURSE there is mess, or legacy, from an upbringing in a Dysfunctional Family System. And OF COURSE there is pressure to hide that which feels shameful - thus the anxiety about keeping up appearances.
Trying on Compassion
The way to decrease anxiety, loosen control, and feel more congruent between your inside and outside is through building understanding and compassion for yourself. We all want to be the best mothers we can be and model to our kids how to be at peace with themselves - all parts of themselves. We do this, in part, by being comfortable in our own skin - modeling self-compassion. And this starts with acknowledging and growing a softness towards ourselves, our histories, and the legacy that we carry with us.
Try the following phrases on.
Notice how you feel and what thoughts you have when you say them:
OF COURSE I have left over feelings and insecurities - they are a byproduct of a discreet, challenging period in my life. It makes complete sense!
OF COURSE I have worked hard to appear put together - how else would I have been able to excel and succeed?
Compassion is not turned on like a light switch, rather it is a practice of deliberate and consistent cultivation over time. (And I KNOW you know a thing or two about nurturing something consistently over time.) Even when we forget or lose compassion, it's an opportunity to come back to it.
Every opportunity to build compassion for our messy lives paves the way for another Mama to do the same.
©Ellie Vargas, LCSW
Ellie Vargas, LCSW is a wife and a mama of two girls, a trekker on the bumpy trail of personal growth, and a Trauma-Informed Psychotherapist. In that order.