An important lesson for everybody, but especially mothers, who have a tendency to give and give and give. . . .
Initiation Into Motherhood
In my early days as a mom very few of my needs were getting met. I was constantly hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived (those words don't come close to describing it). I couldn't think. Between feeding and changing and holding my baby, I was a mess of confusion, loneliness, anger, resentment, helplessness, hopelessness.
My husband was working insane overtime at a crazy job and came home tired and overwhelmed. We had recently moved. I had a thousand acquaintances and few friends. My few friends came for brief visits, which was nice, but didn't touch the gaping hole of needs that was me. Our family were a great support, but from an emotional distance that didn't come near what I was going through.
Why was I so needy? Why did I need so much? Whatever inner strength I had was shaken from its foundation by the massive changes in my life. I was in a sea of pure vulnerability. What strength I had all went to caring for my son, whose endless needs trumped my own. There was nothing left to care for myself and nobody to do it for me.
It took a long time, but I eventually learned the hard lesson that I am responsible for getting my own needs met.
It was difficult to accept this. It didn't seem fair. I had too much to handle. Why didn't somebody help me? But of course alot of people DID help me. But they couldn't figure out for me what was most important, and decide what I needed. No matter how many people you have to depend on, nobody can do that for you. No matter where you are in your life, you can't rely on somebody else to supply the conditions for your happiness. You have to do it for yourself.
I spent alot of time resenting pretty much everyone in the world for letting me down. I needed something every minute of the day, and most of those minutes, nobody provided anything.
Learning from our Mothers
My mom and my mother-in-law were actually extremely helpful. I can't imagine how I would have survived without them. Grandmas are truly magical beings.
I even developed a closer relationship with my mom. I gained compassion and understanding for the struggles that are central to her identity, and realized how much of that actually comes from the motherly instinct to give selflessly. Things I blamed her for in the past became desperate acts of heroic selflessness, and deep, overwhelming and overwhelmed love.
And I realized that I never learned to take responsibility for getting my needs met, because my mother never taught me. Because she didn't know how either. (I'm oversimplifying of course, it's not as black and white as that. ie: Let's not be presumptuous about what my mother does and doesn't know).
The Power and the Danger of Motherhood (Too Much Love!)
I have experienced the amazing power that is motherhood, and the amazing danger--both coming from that deep love that fuels the need to GIVE and GIVE and GIVE.
Most mothers don't go through what I did. Not on that level. But many also don't learn the lesson I did, and spend their lives taking care of others' needs and neglecting their own. *Note: If you are going through what I did, you may have Post-Partum Depression. See your doctor or public health worker. There is help available.
If you look you can probably see it in every mother you know. The "great" ones, and the "bad" ones, and all the average and strange and unique ones too. Motherhood is all about meeting the needs of others. But if you don't take care of your own needs, you have nothing to give. And, what you do give will be distorted by compensating for your own unmet needs. And, you will not actually know what NEEDS to be given if you aren't doing the inner work to identify your own needs and find ways to accommodate them. You have to know what nourishes you. Or you cannot get nourished. . . and what you do give will not nourish.
It is a common type of mother who lives for her children, providing them with "everything they could possibly need." But it is also common for this type of mother to give things her children don't need, and to not actually be aware of her children's particular individual needs.
Of course we can't always know our children's needs--we do the best we can! And even identifying our own needs is easier said than done. But doing that work--inner questioning, inner listening, ongoing self-care--gives you the practice and the inner strength to both listen and to give without projecting your own needs onto others. And I think that is the difference between FEELING love for someone and actually GIVING love to them.
How to Identify Your Own Needs
ASK YOURSELF. Get out a journal and try writing an answer. You might find you already know. Or you might need to dig deeper.
- What makes you feel good?
- What do you love?
- What is good for you? Really GOOD for YOU.
- What are your highest responsibilities?
- What is most important to you?
People have a few basic needs to stay alive. Quite a few more to function in society. And a lot to actually thrive. You deserve to thrive!
There are many types of needs: physical well-being, connection, meaning, play, autonomy, peace. Here is a list. Write down your own needs. Go through your list and consider how each one is met in your life.
Make a new list of the ones that are not getting sufficiently met. Next to each one list one or several possible ways this need could get met.
Now, pick the need that has been the most neglected, or that is the most pressing for you, and take at least one step towards meeting that need. Stop reading and do it now!
Do you take responsibility for getting your needs met? If not, how could you get started? If so, how did you learn this lesson?