As the mother of two young children, ages 6 and 3, and a driven and busy physician and researcher, I spend many nights wondering if I have a split personality, a twin sister or perhaps two heads. And, like most mothers, I am excessively hard on myself, with endless guilt and uncertainty about if I am good enough, kind enough, patient enough, wise enough, strict enough, fun enough and so much more. I replay scenes and conversations from my days with the kids and wish I said something a little differently, responded a little more brilliantly, or acted a little more appropriately.
Being a mother is the most anxiety-instilling, fear-provoking, insecurity-inspiring job in the world. But it is different than any other job we assume. Some of us chose this job, some of us did not. We don't get paid for a one-hundredth of what we do. We rarely get recognition for what we do. And we certainly don't get promoted for what we do. We also cannot give two weeks notice and quit what we do. So we weather these tides of worry and guilt, hoping that we make it through and trying to be the best we can.
On the flip-side, being a mother is the most love-creating, heart-filling and joy-producing job we have. This explains why many of the women I know with kids who are healthy or ill, struggling or shining, gifted or slower and old or young continue to derive happiness from their children. Though we don't make a penny for this job, the dividends are many -- when your child learns to write her name for the first time, ties his shoes without help, lands a role in the school play, brings home a great report card, says something only you can understand, laughs a hearty laugh that only children can laugh, makes it through a tough medical, emotional or social battle, fights through autism or cancer, shares her toys with others, gives food to the homeless or grows into a person of honor and integrity, the reward of being a mother is priceless and boundless.
How then do we reconcile these very extreme realities of motherhood? A look into ancient Chinese philosophy, the Yin-Yang theory has really helped me understand this dichotomy. I have often asked myself how I can be all of these things at the same time:
A. The drill sergeant mom who puts things in defined order and has the day mapped out to the last minute... and the mom who makes up a Band-Aid song when the child falls while running in the house and scrapes their knee.
B. The mom who tells the child to "sit down" in one breath and "stand up" in the other, or "please smile" and "stop smiling" in the same minute.
C. The mom who tells the child to be strong and show fortitude when kids are mean to him at school then goes into her room and cries with a heavy heart.
D. The mom who fiercely pushes her child to complete her college applications and also sheds tears when the child goes off to college.
E. The mom who makes a perfect grocery list then gets to the store and buys ten things that were not on it.
The enforcer-giver, hard core coach-advocate, tiger-lamb, disciplinarian-doctor, teacher-student, boss-comedian, organizer-disorganizer, giver-taker, scared-optimistic, anxious-patient, passive-aggressive, tired-energetic, frustrated-proud and confused-confident mom. How can we be all of those, so often and so quietly?
Well there is good news for mothers like me who question their normalcy and search for their sanity! These seemingly opposing forces are actually natural dualities, and they complement each other. In Yin-Yang theory, these dichotomies are appropriate as long as they are in good balance. If we spend more time in one than the other, then we are off-kilter and imbalanced. But if we find that sweet spot, we have a harmony in our lives and our worlds that makes us superior and allows us to handle the profession we are in with nobility.
And it is in that harmony that we revel in the fact that we have the most personally gratifying and life-changing profession in the world. There is absolutely nothing else like it. One that we can never quit and one that stands the test of time and trials. One that pays so very little but rewards so very much. Let's embrace the dualities and dichotomies that we are and recognize that all of our insecurities are very secure -- we are Yin-Yang mothers.
© JN Olayiwola 2013
Follow Dr. Jacqueline Nwando Olayiwola, MD, MPH, FAAFP on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrNwando