Here, Traci Ruble, LMFT, courageously offers insight into how we, as mothers, relate to our social environments—the constructed, patriarchal norms we face and internalize; the rage that arises when we “other” ourselves and/or our community; and the tension and suffering that arise in the fight to reclaim our authentic sense of self. Traci shares the beauty of compassion and responsibility in this redemptive struggle.
The Social Pressures of Motherhood and Reclaiming Your Authenticity
By Traci Ruble, LMFT
I live in a small town. And long before I had children I loved it with a passion. I came to surf, to spend time with people who were fishermen and farmers and didn’t have office jobs, to get some reprieve from my fast pace and connect to land, sea and fresh air. After I had kids something changed. I felt swallowed whole by what felt like a homogeneity that I experienced as isolating and engulfing. I got depressed. Where was I? Did I exist anymore? I felt the generations upon generations of mothers who came before me and the social norms imposed on them now being imposed on me. But when I tried to talk about this experience I couldn’t find any allies in my small town. I was rocking the boat. I longed for connection and understanding. I searched endlessly and clung to the wrong people. I talked to new mother friends of mine who lived in larger cities and, while they felt a similar suffocation that comes with the role of mother, they found other women to confide in on their path of crafting an authentic identity for themselves.
Eventually I came to hate my town. The isolation was unbearable. Some days I didn’t want to come home from the city and leave my kindreds behind. I felt like I had to make a trade-off between being me or being part of the community where I lived. I armored up with a prickliness that made it hard to locate allies who might be only a stones throw away. After what felt like years of a feverish rage, something lifted recently. I now find myself on a break from feeling either a lonely outsider or a haughty jerk. I hope it sticks. My reaction to my town reeked of my young life infused with an overbearing mentally ill mother and religion that defined for me what kind of woman and mother I should be. The narrow social code in a small town and the societal norms around motherhood were too much to bear. I can’t say I have the whole mess figured out but I think what I have discovered may offer something to mothers who have lost themselves to imposing norms around motherhood and long for a place to be seen.
For years I have been on a painful emotional deep dig. I had to stay uber present and curious with some pretty hot feelings and let go of the old message that something was wrong with me for feeling them (that part wasn’t always so easy to do so therapy has been imperative). I sat in the muck and did my best not to act out the “outsider” or the “I am better than you” extremes of my angst. In the middle of this tension I drew closer to my tribe of old friends that accompanied me on my journey. Without a fiercely honest and accepting tribe, I don’t know how mothers make it through. It reminds me of the tribe Honest Mamas are building with their online communities. One friend said, “Traci you have a tribe. Stop trying to force a tribe where there isn’t one. Just make the time for the tribe you already have.” So I did. And it gave me enough freedom and space to become curious and conscious.
With these soul friends there was a lot of room to be, express and discover who I was and what I stood for as a mother. With them, there was no social price to pay for being in a state of honest and totally messy, sometimes falling-apart-discovery. Over time I have come to accept the two opposing forces of motherhood for me: desire for comfort and stability in the sameness of community vs. my need to freely mother the way I do it as a unique individual.
Bethany Webster in her article, Why It’s Crucial For Women to Heal The Mother Wound, talks about motherhood, when ruled by patriarchy, leads women to unconsciously internalize socially stifling gender roles. She suggests that when women’s worth is called into question by patriarchy, they act out this unconscious devaluing by diminishing other women through competing or tearing them down. The combo of “security in sameness” mixed with “unconscious patriarchy” in mothering is a weighty burden too heavy to bear alone. Under this burden women are compelled to deny their unique gifts, their boldness, and their authenticity if it challenges the old status quo of what mothers ought to be. I was crumbling under this burden alone for too long.
How have I made it through? First, I had to sit in the feelings without calling myself or other moms crazy or stupid. Instead I dove (and I am still diving) into my raw sensations and emotions and accepted and studied them with compassion (it sucked some days). But feeling my own rage at the imposed mother norms opened me to the oppositional forces at play inside. My longing for community was at odds with my desire for freedom of expression and authenticity. There was nothing to do with this tension but feel it. By feeling what I felt, I stopped acting my dilemma out externally and tended to the hard feelings (with help) internally. Compassion, rather than rage, took over the show. I had compassion for my opposing needs and it was then I realized probably most women wrestle with these oppositional forces, conscious or not, and my heart swelled with compassion for them too.
I am still living in the same place. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it either. I accept that I must prioritize time with soulful friends who get me and my need for freedom. I have let go of demanding a kind of “freedom of expression” from people who find it destabilizing. I don’t wear my prickly armor (most of the time) and it has allowed me to find a few like-minded spirits closer to home, which feels like progress. I remain committed to looking inward at myself and make a regular investment in my own therapy. I no longer blame anyone or anything for my feelings of suffocation or isolation (at least today I don’t) but rather I open to them with compassion and when I do, relief always comes. I stand for fierce authenticity and liberation from the roles imposed by the outside on any of us as women and mothers. I know this fierce truth seeking is and always has been my path and I honor that it is stirring for people who value safety more. I honor them and I honor me. May we build bridges toward each other and learn something from the other.
Traci Ruble is a psychotherapist, an imperfect mom to vital boys 7 and 8 and the founder of Psyched in San Francisco and co founder of Sidewalk Talk.
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