‘The Other Mums’ and The Great Illusion

Welcome to the January 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: The More Things Stay the Same

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have talked about the continuity and constancy in their lives. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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'The Other Mums' sonnet and image by Marija Smits

‘The Other Mums’ sonnet and image by Marija Smits

The Great Illusion

Illusion is ever present; us mothers are both magicians and members of the audience, all of us taking part in the great big magic show of human life. It is our very human fascination with illusion that appears to be a constant through the years.

As a child I was unaware of the illusion – I simply knew that I desired to be like my peers. I wanted to fit in, to blend in with the crowd. I was fascinated by the illusion of “normal”. Normal was not having foreign parents. Normal was having sausage, beans and chips for dinner. Normal was having an English name.

Studies and work came and went. The illusion shifted slightly – my colleagues were more successful than me, or so I thought; they were happier than me, they were more fulfilled than me. The illusion of success was a good trick indeed.

Romance came and went. When I experienced challenges in my relationship everywhere I looked I saw happy couples. No one else had problems to contend with. Ah, this illusion was rose-tinted indeed!

And then I became a mother. The first year of being a mother was particularly challenging and this time the illusion was manifold. I looked to others to see if my mothering was normal; if I was getting it right; if I was successfully raising my child.

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When we consider our daily lives we often look to others to see if we are successful. Comparison with those we consider more successful than us can be useful – it can help us to reflect on our own choices and implement change. Perhaps we see a mother who appears to be endlessly patient with her children. Does it make us consider the times we’ve been short-tempered with our children? Would we like to be more patient, like that mother?

Sometimes we focus on the material illusions, on the appearance of other mothers. Do we want to look like the mother who is beautifully made-up and wearing stylish clothes? Is clothing and make-up important to us?

And what about activities? Do we feel as though we’re not doing enough with our children? Do we envy the family who goes out most weekends and takes holidays throughout the year?

These questions are useful if there are answers and if positive change comes about from those questions. But if no useful change is brought about, we assume ourselves to be failures, heaping more and more blame on our shoulders.

Equally, comparison with those we consider less fortunate than ourselves can be useful too. Perhaps we consider a woman who is experiencing fertility issues. Our heart goes out to her and we count our blessings. We hug our children a little tighter. We consider those who are experiencing financial difficulties and are thankful for the food on our table, the roof over our heads, the warmth in our home.

Yet if we use these comparisons to hold us back from achieving our dreams then they are not useful either. A mother may long to run her own business, say, but it may bring financial uncertainty to her family, so perhaps she says to herself that she should simply count her blessings and forget about her dream for a bit. The only problem being that “a bit” can sometimes be a long time!

And then there is the ever-present matter of illusion. It takes thoughtful reflection and a relaxing of our knee-jerk judgements to really see the shimmer of illusion. We see a mother who is apparently well organized, always on time, and if these things are important to us, we immediately assume her to be a success in all areas of her life. Perhaps we’re tired and crabby. We’ve had a hard night with our toddler who’s been teething and we mentally fight back. What a control freak! we say to ourselves, lashing out in an attempt to defend our own woeful timekeeping. Maybe we see her later, at the school gates, and she asks: “How are you?” We put on a fake smile and say, “I’m fine,” immediately shutting down the conversation. ‘A gag o’er honesty’ is now in place.

Yet is this mother really a success in all areas of her life? No doubt an honest conversation would highlight some difficulties in the mother’s life. For nearly everyone has their secret sorrows: their past regrets, present difficulties and future challenges, as well as joy and success.

I would like to think that perhaps this gag o’er honesty is loosening; certainly when I’ve met with other like-minded mothers in a comfortable setting, the mother-host a good facilitator, the discussions are honest, the mothers empathetic. Yet back in the great big “real world” I can almost feel illusion wrapping it’s silvery arms around me. It is both helpful and harmful: it protects me and potentially isolates me from others. I am the magician who weaves illusion through my own appearance and in the way I interact with my children in public. I am also the entranced audience member when I view “The Other Mums” out and about, and online, their photos capturing glimpses into beautiful, calm and creative lives. I sit at home, amongst the toys and clutter, getting nothing done, my children bickering, and I can’t help but wonder: Why me? Why is everyone else leading a more successful life than me?

I really should keep a joke book to hand, because for me, humour is one of the most powerful dispellers of illusion. First, I must laugh at myself for being so ridiculously melodramatic and egotistical in my slanted view of the world and then I must employ my skills as a storyteller. For the magician always has a story, just as each audience member has a story too. One day we will all tell our stories and perhaps one day the magic show will end – all illusion gone forever.  Yet us humans are dreadfully fascinated by the show – it is one of the reasons for the cult of celebrity. So will it ever end? For now, I believe, it will remain…

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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Always an Artist — Some kids take longer than others to come into themselves, so you have to stick with them, as a parent, long after everyone else has given up, writes Douglas at Friendly Encounters.
  • Not Losing Yourself as a First Time Mom — Katie at All Natural Katie continues to stay true to herself after becoming a new mom.
  • Using Continuity to Help Change {Carnival of Natural Parenting} — Meegs from A New Day talks about how she is using continuity in certain areas of her life to help promote change and growth in others.
  • Staying the Same : Security — Life changes all the time with growing children but Mother Goutte realised that there are other ways to ‘stay the same’ and feel secure, maybe a bit too much so!
  • Harmony is What I’m AfterTribal Mama gushes about how constant change is really staying the same and staying the same brings powerful change.
  • A Primal Need For Order and Predictability – And How I Let That Go — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares how she overcame her primal need for order and predictability once her awareness shifted, opening her eyes to the impact this had on her young daughter. Take a short journey with Jennifer and she bares her soul, exposes her weaknesses and celebrates her new outlook and approach to living life, even in the face of total chaos.
  • Breastfeeding Before and After — Breastfeeding has come and gone, but Issa Waters at LoveLiveGrow finds that her relationship with her son is still just the same and just as good.
  • A Real Job — Back in high school That Mama Gretchen had a simple, but worthwhile career aspiration and today she is living her dream … is it what you think?
  • Comfortingsustainablemum never thought she would want things always being the same, but she explains why it is exactly what her family wants and needs.
  • ‘The Other Mums’ and The Great IllusionMarija Smits reflects on the ‘great big magic show of life’ and wonders if it will continue to remain a constant in our lives.
  • Unschooling: Learning doesn’t change when a child turns four — Charlotte at Winegums & Watermelons talks about the pressure of home education when everyone else’s children are starting school.
  • Finding Priorities in Changing Environments — Moving from Maine to a rural Alaskan island for her husband’s military service, Amy at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work found that keeping consistent with her priorities in changing environments can take some work, but is vital to continuous health and happiness.
  • Keeping it “Normal” — Kellie at Our Mindful Life has moved several times in the last two years, while doing her best to keep things stable for her kids.
  • The Evolution Of Our Homeschool Journey — Angela at Earth Mama’s World reflects on her homeschooling journey. Homeschooling is a constant in the life of her family but the way in which they learn has been an evolution.
  • Sneaking in Snuggles: Using Nurturing Touch with Older Children — When Dionna at Code Name: Mama’s son was a toddler and preschooler, he was the most loving, affectionate kiddo ever. But during the course of his 5th year, he drastically reduced how often he showed affection. Dionna shares how she is mindfully nurturing moments of affection with her son.
  • Steady State — Zoie at TouchstoneZ writes a letter to her partner about his constancy through the rough sailing of parenting.
  • A Love You Can Depend On — Over at True Confessions of a Real Mommy, Jennifer has a sweet little poem reminding us where unconditional love really lies, so it can remain a constant for us and our children.
  • Same S#!*, Different Day — Struggling against the medical current can certainly get exhausting, especially as the hunt for answers drags on like it has for Jorje of Momma Jorje.
  • New Year, Still Me — Mommy Bee at Little Green Giraffe writes about how a year of change helped her rediscover something inside herself that had been the same all along.
  • One Little Word for 2014 — Christy at Eco Journey In The Burbs has decided to focus on making things this year, which is what she is loves, as long as she doesn’t kill herself in the process.
  • The Beauty of Using Montessori Principles of Freedom and Consistency — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares the continuity of her teaching, parenting, and grandparenting philosophy using a combination of freedom and consistency.
  • My Husband’s MiniCrunchy Con Mom shares which of her sons looks more like her husband’s baby pictures — and the answer might surprise you!
  • Growth Happens When You Aren’t Looking — Lori at TEACH through Love is treasuring these fleeting moments of her daughter’s early adolescence by embracing the NOW.
  • A New Reality Now – Poem — As Luschka from Diary of a First Child struggles to come to terms with the loss of her mother, she shares a simple poem, at a loss for more words to say.
  • Making a family bedroom — Lauren at Hobo Mama has decided to be intentional about her family’s default cosleeping arrangements and find a way to keep everyone comfortable.
  • New Year, Same Constants — Ana at Panda & Ananaso takes a look at some of the things that will stay the same this year as a myriad of other changes come.
  • I Support You: Breastfeeding and Society — Despite how many strides we’ve taken to promote “breast is best,” Amy at Natural Parents Network talks about how far we still have to go to normalize breastfeeding in our society.

15 comments on “‘The Other Mums’ and The Great Illusion

  1. Comparison is such a double-edged sword! Sometimes, it can be useful, but when we start to internalize the messages that comparison sends, without guarding ourselves against our own inner-bully. . . we can get ourselves into a great mess! I loved this post. Thanks for participating in the carnival this month!

  2. Charlotte says:

    I love this post, it’s so very true and I feel the same way myself most of the time, it’s hard not to sometimes isn’t it? x

  3. […] ‘The Other Mums’ and The Great Illusion — Marija Smits reflects on the ‘great big magic show of life’ and wonders if it will continue to remain a constant in our lives. […]

  4. […] ‘The Other Mums’ and The Great Illusion — Marija Smits reflects on the ‘great big magic show of life’ and wonders if it will continue to remain a constant in our lives. […]

  5. Although I have become the woman and mother that strays from the norm, everyone is always asking questions about kids meeting milestones, eating a certain amount of baby food, breastfeeding expectations, etc. I have found it hard to stray from the norm because of resistance, but I must do what my instincts tell me to do.

    • Marija Smits says:

      “I must do what my instincts tell me to do.”

      I totally agree with you and only hope that you find more support and mother-to-mother encouragement so that you feel as though you’re less ‘straying from the norm’ but rather being the norm. Thanks so much for commenting – always appreciated :-)

  6. […] ‘The Other Mums’ and The Great Illusion — Marija Smits reflects on the ‘great big magic show of life’ and wonders if it will continue to remain a constant in our lives. […]

  7. I love your rewriting of the sonnet! How fun. I know some of the most stifling moments of my parenthood have been when I’ve felt shut down from being honest — and conversely, the most freeing have been when someone will admit, “Me, too!”

    • Marija Smits says:

      Thank you Lauren! It was fun (but also difficult!) to rewrite the sonnet, but worthwhile, I think.

      It is stifling when not being honest, but sometimes it is a protective mechanism too… And yes, it is so freeing to have someone admit, “Me, too!” and you can then find common ground and camaraderie; just lovely :-) And thanks so much for continuing to organize these lovely carnivals, they’re inspiring and fun!

  8. A lovely post which really resonated with me, I can remember a time when I always felt like this nowadays, thankfully, it is less often. I read a book, when I was a new parent, which described feeling like this and how the author came out the other side. It was one of the few books I read about parenting and has forever stuck in my memory.

    • Marija Smits says:

      Thank you, and I’m so glad to know that the post resonated with you. I wonder which book it was that you read and which stuck in your memory? I’d be interested to hear. Thanks for stopping by to comment; I appreciated your post too :-)

  9. Your sonnet is amazing! And this post was just what I needed to read today. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Marija Smits says:

      Many thanks Dionna :-) So glad my post helped you when you needed it most! I think we all have those days (particularly when we’re tired and haven’t had much time to refresh our soul-selves) when it seems that everyone else is getting it right, but we’re not. We’ve all been there, I think, and it is sometimes useful to be reminded of that.

      It’s been lovely to have the opportunity to take part in this carnival. I will go and read some other posts after I’ve spent some time reading books with my daughter! Thanks for all you to do to create a network of natural parents who are supportive and encouraging of each other :-)

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