Mother’s Day is just around the corner.
For many of my readers, for anyone who identified as coming from a relational trauma background, this can be one of the more complex and triggering days of the year.
Over the years, I’ve written multiple articles to address the complexity of this day to validate the experiences of those who don’t feel seen by Hallmark cards and dominant cultural introjects, and to comfort those who struggle when this calendrical day rolls around again.
And while I’ve talked, too, about the critical healing task of re-mothering yourself as an adult who comes from a relational trauma background, I’ve never quite articulated what that might look like in daily practice as an adult on an active healing journey.
Today, as I move through my third year as a mother myself, as I celebrate my own third Mother’s Day, I feel like I know – more concretely than ever – what re-mothering as an adult might look like because of my daily experiences now mothering my daughter.
And now I want to share my ideas and insights with you, to make more concrete the abstract that I’ve talked about over the years.
Not because my list is exhaustive or definitive, but because its attendant ideas might catalyze your own curiosity and creativity as you actively remother yourself.
So if you’ve ever asked the question, “How do I remother myself?” I hope you will find inspiration and encouragement for your own remothering journey.
The archetypal qualities of Mother.
In order to answer the question, “How do I remother myself?” we first have to understand what it means to mother.
While there is no one, universal definition of what a Mother is or what mothering means, myth, fable, legend and spiritual/religious texts over millennia have often ascribed certain qualities to the archetype of Mother.
Some of these common qualities and attributes include the following:
And so these qualities might make up the sum of the verb, to mother.
But, to be clear, these qualities are not relegated to mothers or to female-identified individuals alone.
I believe strongly that men, male-identified and non-binary individuals, fathers, and non-fathers can and do possess these archetypal mothering qualities and attributes, too.
Indeed, my husband – a cis-gendered male father – arguably possesses these archetypal qualities of “mothering” moreso than I – a cis-gendered female mother – do.
So please, as you read this essay, as you contemplate what it may mean to actively remother yourself, hold the concepts of archetype in mind, and leave sex, gender, and Patriachical roles at the door.
We’re all capable of possessing these archetypal mothering qualities.
The concept of the “good-enough” mother.
Also, in order to answer the question of “How do I remother myself?” I feel compelled to share with you the concept of the “good enough” parent.
The “good enough parent” is one of my favorite concepts in psychology.
It’s an idea and term made famous by the English pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicot, MD.
The concept of the “good enough parent” posits that not only is there no such thing as a perfect parent, but indeed, champions the “ordinary good mother … the devoted mother” who, at times, in developmentally appropriate ways, “fails” her child by not giving into their every whim and desire, by making choices the child does not like sometimes, by disappointing them at other times.
(For an example of developmentally appropriate disappointment and let down for the child think, “No, I’m sorry, we don’t eat ice cream for breakfast.” versus leaving the child abandoned alone at an airport in a different state with no return ticket home.)
This developmentally appropriate “failing” on the part of the good enough mother (or father or parent) actually helps the child psychologically and developmentally as they confront the realities of the world – a world in which they, like all of us, will have to tolerate and cope with disappointment, failure, and let downs from time to time.
The concept of the “good enough” mother is something I self-soothe with at least once a week when I question my own parenting choices.
It’s also a concept I find very helpful when working with clients to help them see their parents and early childhood experiences more realistically.
And it’s a concept, too, that I think is helpful as we contemplate the question, “How do I remother myself?”
Because the reality is, we won’t remother ourselves perfectly.
We – like the good enough mother with her child – will fail and disappoint ourselves sometimes.
We won’t get it right all the time. We’ll screw up some of the time.
But with this concept of the “good enough mother,” we’re aiming for that “ordinary good mother … the devoted mother” as Winnocot described it, not the perfect mother.
And in that, I find so much permission and ease. I hope you do, too.
A concrete list of ways to remother yourself.
As we hold the archetypal qualities of mother in mind, as we also recognize and hold the concept of “good enough” (and not perfect) in mind, consider the following examples of ways that you might actively begin to remother yourself:
- In much the same way that we wouldn’t force a toddler to move on to activity after activity without stopping to pee in the potty, or give them snacks and water, remothering ourselves might also mean paying more attention to our own basic biological signals – full bladders, empty tummies, thirst – and instead of pushing ourselves to tackle the next to-do list item first (with the promise of meetings our needs after it’s done), actually pausing and tending to our basic needs first. Go to the bathroom, eat your lunch, drink that cup of water. Tend to your basic bio needs first, then turn back to the to-do list.
- In much the same way that we wouldn’t shame and denigrate and talk poorly to a small child who feels sad and angry about a disappointment in their world (having to go to daycare that morning versus staying home, for example), remothering ourselves as adults might also mean consciously speaking to ourselves more kindly, with more compassion and grace for our experience instead of shaming, blaming, or otherwise criticizing ourselves for how we feel.
- In much the same way we fastidiously ensure we attend every postnatal appointment and Well Child visit for our little one, keeping them up to date with shots and seeking out all the necessary medical care at the right time, remothering ourselves might mean making sure we proactively (not just reactively) schedule and attend regular maintenance medical appointments (annual physicals, pap smears, mammograms, bi-annual dental visits) and then seeking out extra care in times we think we may need more medical attention (noticing the margins of a beauty mark changing on our body, finding a lump, etc).
- In much the same way we would create a soothing, stable, reliable, predictable, and calming bedtime routine and environment for our toddler, remothering ourselves might mean attending to and cultivating great sleep hygiene and a soothing nighttime ritual to ensure we support our nervous systems and get good, adequate rest.
- In much the same way we would offer hugs and touch and soothing words when our little one is hurt or scared or upset, remothering ourselves might mean asking for hugs, touch, and extra support when we are in need, when we feel scared, sad, and overwhelmed. This can look like asking friends and loved ones for words of warmth and touch, or it can look like paying for professional support that can offer this, perhaps in the form of a trusted therapist or skilled massage practitioner.
- In much the same way we prioritize making sure our children have healthy, well-rounded, and nutritious diets, remothering ourselves might mean stocking our homes and cabinets with nutrient-dense food and vitality-enforcing liquids, taking vitamins, installing a water filter, or otherwise taking actions to ensure that what enters our body helps and not harms.
- In much the same way that we would ensure our homes are safe and comfortable for little ones (with baby gates, locking up cleaning agents and baby proofing the knife drawers, making sure there are adequate and comfortable linens and furniture in the house), remothering ourselves might mean tending to the safety and functionality of our homes (ensuring the smoke alarms work, the fire extinguishers aren’t expired, the lock on the door is solid, the renter’s insurance is purchased).
- In much the same way that we would ensure our toddlers have comfortable, well-fitting, and weather-appropriate clothing in their closets and on their small bodies when they head outdoors, remothering ourselves might mean likewise ensuring we have clothing and shoes that are comfortable, suits the body we have (versus the body we long to have), and that protects us in a variety of climates, ensuring we stay dry, comfortable, and protected from the elements.
- In much the same way that a good enough mother might notice her child’s budding interests and then actively seek out more experiences in that vein of interest for her to explore and engage with, remothering ourselves might mean paying attention to the hobbies, interests, and little fantasies that light us up (versus what we think we “should” do or be interested in) and then following what lights us up, exposing ourselves to more of what we love and what enlivens us.
- In much the same way that we might work to balance both stimulation/adventure/newness alongside calmness/predictability/routine for our little child, remothering ourselves might mean paying attention to our nervous systems to make sure we’re providing ourselves with both stimulating and soothing experiences to help regulate our window of tolerance.
- In much the same way that we would bathe our toddler every night, scrubbing the dirt out from their toe and fingernails, washing the yogurt out of their hair and making sure they brush their teeth well, remothering ourselves might also mean attending to our hygiene well, keeping our bodies clean and healthy and in good order.
- In much the same way that we would ensure we’re equipped with snacks, drinks, diapers, wipes, spare clothes, and toys for entertainment when we have to run errands with a baby, remothering ourselves might also mean making sure we have all we need and want to meet our biological and psychological needs when we have to do something that might feel like a chore. Water at hand, nourishing snacks, all the right tools, and some promise of play throughout or at the end.
- In much the same way that we would mark our beloved child’s birthday with something special, or make sure that certain holidays are celebrated and made memorable, remothering ourselves might also mean actively making special our own birthday, or other mindfully commemorating holidays or important days on the calendar so that our years have meaning, joy, and special memories laced throughout the calendrical cycle.
- In much the same way that we wouldn’t expect a toddler to sit still for a 14-hour flight or be able to recite the Gettysburg address, remothering ourselves might mean being acutely mindful of our capacities – physiological, psychological, financial, and logistical – and honoring and respecting those capacities, bearing in mind the context of your own capacities, and not expecting yourself to be magically more advanced or capable than you are (yet).
- In much the same way that we sometimes have to make hard decisions our young one won’t like (turning off the screens, serving veggies at dinner, dropping them off at preschool so you can earn a paycheck, making them buckle up and hold our hand crossing the street), remothering ourselves might also mean making hard, less-satisfying-in-the-moment decisions in order to ensure long term health, safety and success. And being kind and patient with ourselves when those decisions come up.
This list of active ways to remother yourself is, as I said, not exhaustive. It’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the possibilities of actively remothering yourself.
I hope that this list – inspired by both the concepts of archetypal mothering, “good enough” mothering, and some parallel real-world parenting examples – provides you with inspiration and creative energy to approach how you treat yourself, how you remother yourself, how kindly you show up for yourself on your own healing journey.
Until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.