What does it really mean to be a mother or a father? What is the true definition of these roles? Can we still nurture and give life, even if we aren’t parents in the traditional sense?
Do we need to put our own personal growth on hold while we’re nurturing our children?
It’s no secret parenting is an emotional and in-depth experience. It’s a rollercoaster—a series of ups and downs. Often parents look back on the first years of their child’s life as a blur. We wonder if we did everything wrong. We may even feel like our own needs were put on hold or overlooked during those first years raising kids.
To understand why this is, we must explore the roles of mother and father.
When we hear words like “mother” and “feminine,” we think of emotional, nurturing qualities, especially as they pertain to our roles as parents. Motherhood is the very being of the parental role. “Father” and “masculine” might bring up opposite images—someone who DOES, rather than is. Father goes out, he obtains things to fulfill the needs of his family. He provides.
Now obviously in today’s world these normative gender roles no longer apply as rigidly as they once did, but there’s still a masculine and feminine component. Fathers today can be very nurturing, emotional and caring. Mother might be a high-powered executive and the sole breadwinner for the family, but at the core, parenting requires both the “being” AND the “doing” sides of the coin.
Male and female personality types aren’t cut and dry along gender lines either. Co-parenting and raising children as a family unit, rather just “being” in the mother role is becoming the norm as we move into a more evolved and modern viewpoint.
Still, there are certain qualities that are assigned to parenting by the very nature of the role—nurturing, growing, connecting and evolving right alongside our children (or our projects, whatever “creation” we give birth to), whether we fall into the traditional roles of father and mother or something else.
Every parent knows there’s a lot of “doing” as a parent, particularly at first—there’s tossing dirty diapers in the trash, warming up bottles, feeding, sleeping, washing, and so much more. While these things involve some nurture and care, they’re definitely process-involved.
Sometimes within the processes of doing parenting, we can forget we also need to embrace the being. The “being” is vital to our own social emotional growth.
As parents, and particularly as mothers, we might forgo our own desires and yearnings to meet the desires of our children. Years pass, and when our kids are grown or have moved beyond the stage where they need constant attention, we might find ourselves less fulfilled, even empty. We might wonder why we spent so much time ignoring our own needs while we focused on the needs of those around us.
During my graduate study work (and in my own journey as a parent), I closely explored this role of motherhood and the dichotomy of being constantly “needs focused” and yet forgoing one’s own needs.
On the purely practical level, there are the basic functions of the job of mothering—feeding, dressing, changing diapers, maintaining nap and sleeping schedules, etc.—that require a significant amount of time for the woman engaged in mothering, especially in the early years. One might assume a woman’s facility with her emotions is not significant in these day-to-day happenings, but that would be a limiting assumption. –Excerpt from my dissertation, Expanding Mothering: Raising a Woman’s Awareness of the Opportunities for Personal and Psychosocial Growth and Development in Mothering (pg. 21)
At the core of motherhood and through these practical actions, there’s a great deal of emotion, but these emotions are often undervalued by society, and even by the parents who are experiencing them.
Even from the first moments of being a parent,
she is confronted by her fear and scarcity/survival about being strong enough, or capable enough to birth and feed her baby. She will need to be in relationship with herself, allowing past fears and beliefs that she is “not enough” to come to the surface for healing, acknowledge that she actually is capable and move to trust—in both herself and those supporting her. Not only will she achieve the desired outcome more effectively she will have experienced it as a fulfilling here and now moment. –Excerpt from my dissertation, Expanding Mothering: Raising a Woman’s Awareness of the Opportunities for Personal and Psychosocial Growth and Development in Mothering (pg. 18)
Parenting can be both frightening and fulfilling. It can dredge up much of our past and our beliefs about ourselves—the doubts, the feelings of, “I have no idea what I’m doing,” and the fears can become almost palpable as we try to raise our children.
At the core of becoming a fulfilled parent is embracing our own personal growth alongside the growth of our children. The amazing thing about children is that they can become our model for how we can go forth and view the world. Children are always open to new experiences. They approach each day as a new adventure. They experience wonder and awe every day.
How wonderful for each of us, if we could learn to apply the same approach! By working through our fears and limiting beliefs, we not only discover and engage, but also thrive and evolve, not only as parents but also as individuals.
The Wright Foundation offers several parenting workshops, including our popular weekend family adventure retreats where parents can spend time with their children and apply the skills they’re learning to their parenting.
By expanding our own social and emotional intelligence and doing our personal growth work, we parents can look back on the years of raising our children as years of fulfillment and joy. We can fully engage and live with intentionality and purpose. Rather than simply “doing what it takes” to parent, we can BE what it takes to parent.
At the very core of parenting is a need to embrace, rather than shirk your emotional side. You must feel your emotions fully and understand your yearnings and innermost desires. Fulfillment isn’t something parents must forgo, it can be found within the act of parenting itself.
Gertrude Lyons is a human emergence coach and adjunct faculty member at Wright Graduate University. Her academic career spans from a bachelor’s degree in Finance and Accounting, a master’s in psychology from Antioch University, and a newly completed doctoral degree from WGU. Gertrude is wife and mother of two and resides in Chicago, IL where she continues to learn, grow, and develop her skills as a human emergence coach with the Wright team.
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Wright Living is a division of the Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential, a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.
Portions of this post are taken from Gertrude’s doctoral dissertation, Expanding Mothering: Raising a Woman’s Awareness of the Opportunities for Personal and Psychosocial Growth and Development in Mothering—A Curriculum Evaluation Study.