Mothering is tough—no question about it. I have said it before and I’ll say it again. It is the toughest job on Planet Earth.
But when it goes beyond being difficult to being painful, it is time to take stock of the situation. Something has to give; something has to change.
If it is painful for you or your children the majority of the time; if the fun and joy of being together are diminishing or non-existent; if you can’t work and play together without major conflict, then you need to assess the situation and see what changes can be made.
There are many factors that can make mothering difficult: single parenting; marital conflict; lack of significant resources or health care; a troubled neighborhood or school; isolation from extended family. The list goes on. There are some things we can change and some we cannot.
But when we have made all the external changes we can and there is still trouble (right here in River City) it is time to look in the mirror. It’s time to ask the tough questions. How am I contributing to the turmoil or conflict? Can I discipline more effectively? Can I let some things go that really don’t matter? (That‘s a big one for me.) Am I favoring one child and blaming another?
As I said in my book Family Entanglement https://www.createspace.com/4008162 the private anguish that we thought well-hidden is, “like a monster, hidden in the depths of the lake, sleeping with one eye open…and children inadvertently awaken the monster of old memories and long-forgotten trouble spots. (p.16)” Children inevitably bring out the best in us…and the worst!
When I became a parent—ultimately of four sons—the caregiving began to wear on me in unexpected ways. I felt frazzled all the time. It wasn’t even the physical exhaustion—though that was a factor. It was the sense that I wasn’t meeting my children’s emotional needs even though I was trying my best. When my children cried it tore holes in my soul and my own heartache came bleeding out. I couldn’t contain my own sorrow so how could I help my children?
Psychotherapy became the answer for me. I knew that my problems were deep and that I had spent my whole life covering them up. So could I work this out with a friend or a religious advisor? The answer was no. I needed someone with the skill and experience to tell me when I was fooling myself. I needed a person who could identify the destructive patterns and ways of reacting that I was loathe to give up. Most of all I needed someone who wasn’t afraid of the terrifying monster within me; someone who could hold its pain and white-hot anger.
It has been a lifelong journey.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.