Tuesday, April 26, 2016


I stumbled back upon this the other day.  I think about this essay frequently but wanted to put it somewhere I could refer to it often and share it with others I think could benefit from its heart felt words and sentiment.

The Transformations of Motherhood
Honoring your "caterpillar self," as well as the butterfly you have become
By: Amy Tiemann, Ph.D.

     It is tempting to romanticize miraculous transformations.  A homely, leaf-munching caterpillar spins a cocoon, incubates and emerges as a gorgeous butterfly.  It's an image we're all familiar with, and we are always happy to see the new butterfly stretch her wings.
     But I bet you have never asked yourself, "what about the caterpillar?"
     The caterpillar is gone.  After she enters the cocoon, her cells completely rearrange.  The new butterfly is an amazing creature; one that is beautiful, strong and able to soar to new heights.  But one thing is for sure - she will never be a caterpillar again.
     Becoming a mom means that like the caterpillar, your life will change in amazing, and significant ways.  Getting a whole new life does not have to be a bad thing, but it comes as quite a shock if you don't realize that's what you are signing up to do.
     Our culture doesn't do a very good job of explaining this to people before they become parents.  Birth is such a big event that it is natural for us to over-prepare for it.  However, we do new parents a disservice by failing to look beyond the issues of delivery and infant care.  In many ways, the birth industry is to motherhood as the wedding industry is to marriage.  You get so caught up in the "big day" that you don't look beyond it to the rest of your life.
     A new baby is not just a temporary diversion in your plans, like a big project at work that takes over your life for a few months before things get back to normal.  Adding children to your family means creating a new way of life - a new "normal" - especially for the child's primary caregiver, usually Mom.
     Becoming a parent sets you on a lifelong path of constantly evolving challenges.  By the time you've figured out the terrible twos, you are faced with new three-year-old issues.  Having a baby means that five years from now you'll be the parent of a kindergartner, and in thirteen years you'll have a teenager!  You are signing up for challenges you can't even envision yet.
     The clash between expectation and reality can be one of the most stressful aspects of the initiation into motherhood, especially for women who are used to being in control of their lives.  Motherhood is an exercise in letting go of absolute control and making peace with chaos.  One of my goals is to reduce the shock of becoming a mom by giving women a more realistic view of what motherhood is really like.
     Becoming a mother takes on a new set of challenges when a woman has spent 30 years or more developing her own identity into the most wonderful caterpillar she could be before becoming a butterfly.  The older a woman is when she becomes a mom, the more of an established identity she has to leave behind.
     So after four decades of social change and increasing opportunity for women, we find ourselves faced with life at the intersection of feminism and reality.  Motherhood brings gender roles to the forefront for the first time in many women's lives, creating new negotiations with spouses about fairly sharing the care giving and household work that come with family life.
     Women are challenged to carve out career paths that balance the goals of financial security, finding an outlet for our professional talents, and at the same time "being there" for our families.  And on top of it all, somewhere in this complicated equation, we hope to find a place for ourselves in our lives.
     My hope is that in 21st Century America, women can learn to feel free to talk honestly about the joys of motherhood as well as the challenges.  It is not only okay, but also important to mourn the loss of the parts of your pre-motherhood "caterpillar self" that you miss.
     Find a way to express these feelings and honorably say good-bye to the parts of your old life you may not be able to - or don't want to - reclaim.  Find a trusted friend to talk to who will listen to your losses without minimizing them.
     Once you have let go of the idea of returning to life just as it was before you became a mother, you will have more emotional energy to devote to finding new pathways in your life.  If there is a part of your caterpillar self that you have put aside but long to reclaim, hold on to that goal.  You may be able to revive that part of your life as your children get older, or you can identify its essence and come up with a new outlet that gives you the same reward.  The goals of my work are to encourage you to make a conscious choice to continue developing your own identity after becoming a mom, and to provide inspiration and practical ideas to help you do so.

Media Contact: Michelle Tennant, 828-749-3200, michele@tennant.org  www.mojomom.presskit247.com

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