Giving selflessly doesn’t make you a good mother. Being fiercely protective of the quality of what you offer to others makes you an extraordinary mom and human being.
Motherhood is not a time for sacrifice. It is a time of deep exploration of self. You didn’t live your “good life” before you had kids. You lived a different kind of life. This new chapter is equally exciting, if not even more.
I put everything I learned and lived these past years into this book, the Manual for Motherhood, because I would have really appreciated having this given out to me as I left that hospital, with my three-days-old baby in my arms, clueless and unprepared, about to start the most mind-blowing, soul-scattering, painful, but the most necessary transformation of them all.
Whether you are just thinking of having a child, or they're in high-school...
For the moms of toddlers or tiny babies...
This book is for you, the woman, and the mother.
The following is an except from the book, Manual for Motherhood, by Talida Van Boxstael.
The one constant in our lives is change.
In my family, we've changed continents every two years in the past seven years. My children were all born in different countries, and we no longer live where they were born. Neither do my husband or I.
We are a multilingual household, and we are learning new languages every time we move. I had to learn to connect, adapt, say hello and goodbye, find my way and support every single member of my family while they found their own way. But this is the luxurious part of life, because we expected the change and we were supported in it.
Sometimes, other big life changes happen, more dramatic than just moving, such as losing a job, a relationship or dealing with death.
Of course, there is no successful way to deal with the shocking events that shape your life. Everybody is different and has various coping mechanisms that work or at least leave the impression that might work. I won’t pretend there is a universal recipe to deal with it.
What is universal, however, is embracing rather than denying, and facing rather than hiding. And the order is crucial as well. You can’t become optimistic before you cried all of your tears, and your tendency to numb can’t be recognized unless you agree that pain is in your soul right now.
But change is hard, even when it’s for the best. When you’re in the middle of it, here are some things I found helpful:
Honor your pain
Whatever it is that you go through, your pain is real. All of your feelings are valid and should be allowed to exist.
Most of our upbringing has been influenced in such a way that we deny our soul any dose of pain. Because it’s bad, and it hurts and we, gentle, helpless creatures, might crumble and lose our minds. Instead, we distract, deny, numb, employing under-emphasis or over-identification as our default tools.
This isn’t so bad. It’s all in your head. This happened for a reason. You should be grateful for what you have.
Instead of this monolog (sometimes dialogue), what if you say to yourself:
This sucks! This is hard!
And just be in it. How revolutionary would that be? And what would happen to your beautiful soul, mind, and body then?
Beware of numbing
Another widespread practice for all of us, the generation of people best connected to each other, is numbing. The abundance of our resources offers us ample opportunities to get distracted. Some of us even take numbing to the next level, multi- tasking the sources: we watch Netflix while manically moving our thumbs scrolling through our feeds, all while eating Nutella straight from the jar and washing it down with wine (or tequila, depending on the severity).
And it momentarily works. Until it doesn’t.
That’s when it becomes fascinating because the breaking point is usually not what you expect. The crumbling becomes an almost relief. There is comfort in finally allowing yourself to fall apart. When you get there, stay there. As long as you need to. Come back for air, feed your kids pasta every day. Take your time. There is no rush to get through this faster or more graciously than you already are.
Practice grace at the resistance
The next day you will stand up again, pretending to be strong and saying that you’re better. You’re not. Restart. Feel your pain. Don’t numb. Don’t try to convince yourself you are ok.
The tiny little crack of light that will come in will be very subtle. You might brush your hair for the first time in weeks. You might eat and actually taste the food.
You might notice that somehow, through your revolutionary journey, the sky is still blue.
That’s when you are starting to be ok again. Small, tiny, almost unnoticeable shift. You won’t need to say it. You will be it.
Cry all your tears for all the good that has been left behind.
A change means we must reinvent something. Our identities, our daily habits, or the familiar feeling we miss. There is so much good in what no longer is there. It deserves all of the sorrow you feel for no longer being where you were before this happened. Let your tears come out. Crying is a release, a reset, an unloading of the soul. Allow yourself to experience this. Snot, ungraceful, sobbing tears that will cleanse and refresh.
Cultivate conscious optimism
This is the clean-up after the earthquake. Aware, mindful and awake. Recognizing the good that is still there. The smallest ones first. The sunrise, the clouds, the smell of your babies, the hugs, the flavor of your favorite tea. It’s like using for the first time the muscle that helps us see the good in every day.
This is completely counter-intuitive and unnatural for us humans. If we want to become happy, we must make conscious small contributions to the goodness bucket. Recognizing it. Praising it. Looking for more and speaking it every day. It is like trying to switch programming languages. At first, it won’t make any sense. Then it will slowly become familiar. And eventually, our brains will catch up to this rewiring and recognize it as the default operating mode.