Withdrawing my nomination
I have been thinking a lot about mothering recently. Actually, I’ve been thinking about my role as a mother. I have been coming face to face with some of my defensive soldiers/insecurities lately; not the least of which is my insecurity about being a “good mother.”
I believe insecurity is built into parenting – we all want to be the best parents we can be and there is no shortage of people and/or books who are keen to tell us all of the things we do wrong or could do better. As they get older, even our kids will join in with the chorus of “you suck.”
I have recognized that in my quest to fulfill a role, albeit a very important role, I lost myself in the process. This means that many of the decisions I have made, many of the actions I have taken and many of things I have said over the past 26 years, which is my entire adult life, have been done in defense of my role of “good mother.”
Imagine spending 26 hours trying to do something and you feel like you keep getting it wrong. Now imagine spending 26 days or 26 months trying to do something and feeling like a failure. Now imagine having a voice in the back of your head on repeat saying “you really suck at this” for 26 YEARS! Now imagine that the voice inside your head leaps out and those words start coming out of the mouths of your very own children, their friends and other randoms.
On this Mothers’ Day I have come to a few conclusions. One conclusion is that despite our best intentions and dedicating our lives to doing something, we may simply not be good at it. The other conclusion that I have come to is that insecurity is an insatiable bitch and is part and parcel of playing a role so this Mothers’ Day I am letting myself off the hook. I am no longer vying for the Oscar for the “Best Actress in a Mom Role” because I have withdrawn from the race.
You’re only as good as your last performance
I have discovered that the only thing that matters when playing a role is how well we are received as a performer in that particular role. Our performance is generally measured by the amount of credit, appreciation and/or praise we receive for it. In the absence of recognition and adulation we are simply pathetic, desperate, out-of-work actors playing dress-up – alone.
For most of my life I allowed myself to be defined by my roles and worked to be the best mother, best daughter, best sister, best partner, best friend, best employee, best whatever I could be. I allowed my performances to be measured by a completely subjective standard set by society and by others. In other words, I allowed others to dictate my value because I defined myself as roles that were relational in nature – their daughter, their mother, their sister, his partner, his/her friend, their employee, etc. I set myself up for a lifetime of both extreme co-dependence and abject failure.
I was only “valuable” or “good” as long as I was fulfilling the duties that had been subjectively prescribed for that particular role either by the other person or by society. The duties themselves ranged from very specific to nebulous but as long as I toed the line and kept busting my ass to fulfill my duties then everyone was “happy.” Everyone that is – except for me.
The reviews are in
Who are we outside of the relational roles that we allow ourselves to be defined by for our entire lives? What happens when the make-up comes off, the curtain comes down or the camera stops rolling and we stand alone in the darkness? What happens when we no longer read our lines, follow our cast-mates’ cues or care about fictitious awards for “Best ___?”
Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me when I stopped aspiring to win Oscars for my performances in my roles: The reviews came in and they were not favorable. The critics panned and continue to pan me every chance they get.
I have been accused of “abandoning” my children and elderly parents. I have been told that I lack empathy and that I am selfish, immature, cold, mean, uncaring, hurtful and unsupportive. And that is just some of the feedback I received directly so just imagine what is being said behind my back…
I only do Indie Films now
My life from age 0 to age 43 was a series of checklists. I worked really fucking hard to make sure I fulfilled my roles as well as I could so that everyone would be pleased with me. I was literally potty-trained before the age of 1; let that shit sink in.
I desperately wanted those golden statuettes for “Best Mother, Best Daughter, Best Sister, Best Friend, Best Aunt, Best Partner, Best Employee, etc.” In fact, my insecurities needed those statuettes because their entire existence was based upon those roles.
And then at age 44, I went rogue.
I decided that this life was also my life and I realized that I had no idea who I was or whose life I was living. I came to the realization that I was fulfilling roles but ultimately I was not fulfilled. I felt like I was working to fill the cups of others but no one was filling up my cup. (This illusion of reciprocity and lack thereof is one of society’s greatest fallacies, by the way, but that’s an entirely different post). I was not actually filling up anyone’s cup because none of us can fill up the cup of another.
I was operating under the premise of: “I will be happy and fulfilled one day if I just keep being of service to others and playing my roles as well as I can because these are the things that are supposed to make me happy.” Basically, I was pouring out fake drops of nothingness into the cups of others and hoping that one day someone else would somehow return the favor and fill up my cup with real joy and real love. This notion was always going to bring me back to an empty-ass cup save for some residue of anger, hostility and resentment caked to the bottom.
These days there is far less praise and adulation from my old fans because I am no longer busting my ass to fulfill society’s subjectively defined duties of my roles. Essentially, by the measuring stick of many, I really do suck in my roles because I am no longer playing them.
I am indeed a terrible friend if you define a “good friend” as always being available to speak even if you’re drunk, high, gossiping or otherwise stuck in a self-victimized state. I am a terrible daughter if you define a “good daughter” as one who lives near her parents. I am a terrible mother if you define “good mother” as being in the same city as her children. I am a terrible partner if you define “good partner” as consistently putting her partner’s wishes in front of her own. And I am most definitely not a “hard-working or good employee” these days since I haven’t worked in four years.
Once the initial sting wore off and I saw my insecurities for what they were – attempts to garner praise for being someone I was not – I gained clarity. I had to detach myself from the images of who I thought I was supposed to be for others before the real journey of self-discovery and self-healing could begin.
Some of the folks who used to praise me no longer even speak to me; I have lost their adulation and that of many others. I have also lost the insecurities that needed and wanted praise. I gave up the praise and adulation in exchange for real peace, true freedom and pure joy which no one else could ever have given to me.
I believe I am a calmer, more patient, more joyful, more compassionate, more appreciative person than I used to be. I love myself, I love my tranquil life and I love those in my life in the deepest most meaningful way possible because I understand that pure love has nothing to do with symbols, signs or acts – those are just what we’re conditioned to believe love looks like and feels like.
The applause is gone but so is all of the drama I created to in order to get the applause. I will always be a daughter, mother, sister, friend, aunt, etc. however I no longer define myself purely relationally or aspire to superlatives because I now understand that because I am the only version of me then I am already the “best” version of me.
Happy Mother’s Day to me – simultaneously the best and worst Mother in the world to Alex and Sage because I’m the only one they’ve got! And Happy Mothers’ Day to all the beautiful, hard-working mothers out there who consistently fill their cups up last.