Putting yourself back in the picture

Blue Frame.jpg

Self Portrait, Acrylic on Glass

I had fun playing around with ideas for this self portrait. I wanted it to be positive, reflecting the sense of contentment and gratefulness I feel at the moment. I have so much to be thankful for, not the least of which is an amazing husband and beautiful son. So I chose colours that make me happy, particularly the floral fabric in the background. The image is painted on the glass – partly because it was fun, but also because I didn’t want my portrait to be encased or suppressed by the well-meaning protective glass… Yes, I guess that’s metaphorical.The one thing lacking is a mouth. I just haven’t found my voice. Of all the things that I am – a woman, a mum, wife, friend, colleague, student, there’s so much more that I want to be and so much I want to say. But my voice has wandered away for the moment. It’s probably found a hatter’s tea party and is busy pondering the all important questions of life “why IS a raven like a writing desk?” But that’s OK. I’ll catch up to it, eventually, and when I do, I’ll be ready for it.

If nothing else, becoming a mother transforms most women, in how they feel about and see themselves. Women can experience this stage as both vulnerable and empowering, as they negotiate contradictory feelings of separation from, and connection to, their babies and children, and work towards integrating their experience as a mother with their identity as a woman or person.

Desai (2016) suggests that the process of becoming a mother and starting to negotiate the disruptions to the sense of physical self begins in pregnancy. This complicated process takes mothers from understanding their body as their own, to an understanding of the same physical body as containing two people. 

Once the baby is born, our society further asks that mothers set aside individual needs, desires and expectations and place priority instead on attending to the needs, desires and innocence of the child. Beyond meeting essential needs such as safety, food, shelter and clothing, there is enormous social pressure for mothers to be self sacrificing – that is placing their children’s needs before their own, often at the expense of their own needs or identity.

Where a mother is perceived to not be putting her child’s needs before her own, or not perceived to be selfless, she can experience judgement and guilt. This can result in a change of identity that only allows for the self to be defined solely as mother. For many, this can cause maternal distress due to the dilemma for mothers to deny the many (other) aspects of her identity. At its worst, it can result in women feeling that their identity (outside her children) is disappearing; feeling like she has lost her identity.

Other women experience mothering as a life-changing process that brings with it an evolving expanded identity; the deepening of identity as a woman; a partner, a friend, a person. Motherhood offers opportunities to realise that the self and others are inextricably linked and can result in women becoming more caring and responsible people (think about who it is in our communities that demand social change for the better? Often mothers!). It is this sense of shared responsibility that arises from positive interactions with their children and with other mothers, that strengthens women’s sense of self, and can result in learning from one’s child, compassion towards one’s own mother and other mothers  and a repairing of fractures in the mother-child relationships.

For most women it is probably a bit of both these experiences at different stages in their mothering journey.

Regardless of your experience of identity since becoming a mother, most mothers’ wellbeing is intimately intertwined with the child’s wellbeing so it is as important for mother to attend to her own needs as it is for her to attend to her child’s needs without this.

Consider these statements and questions:

  • While mothering is the most important job in the world, it is not everything. How can we value mothering without sentimentalising it?
  • On this journey of self-discovery, how can we be kind to ourselves, and find self-acceptance?
  • How can we embrace our imperfections while striving for a society which demands less ridiculous, unrealistic expectations of women who are mothers?
  • How can we work towards a motherhood which recognises and integrates a variety of factors that lie outside the mother-child dyad, namely, in being individual, in other close relationships including with partners/fathers, siblings, friends and families and communities….and to promote secure attachment of all children/parents not just one’s own?

Some ideas to explore:

Putting yourself back in the picture – do you find most of your photo’s are of your children, or your partner/family with children? How can you ensure you are part of these photo’s/memories, can you share a photo of your family WITH YOU IN IT! Or a selfie?!

Why do you think it is important for you to be depicted in these special moments? Here’s an article that may inspire you? – http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/parenting-and-families/why-do-mothers-hide-from-family-photos-20150818-gj1sq0.html

Inspiring mothers – can you depict (photograph, draw, write a letter to) a mother or person that has positively influenced, supported or motivated you in some way….strong mama’s!

What part(s) of yourself do you like? What is one of your strengths as a person, woman, mother? Take a photo or make a collage of that body part or aspect you like about yourself, be brave!?!

How have children added to your identity, what have you gained as a person from having children? Can you represent this in someway? A letter to your children? To yourself? AN image that depicts you as stronger as a mother?

How do you struggle or have you resolved to maintain yourself separate from your children? Take a picture of something you like doing that isn’t related to being a Mum or having/being with children? It might be as simple as a TV show, something you like to look at (the clouds) or a hobby or interest, even if you haven’t done it for a while)?

Self portraits – can you represent yourself in a self-portrait? It doesn’t have to be literal, you might represent an aspect of yourself, or take a photo, or depict an object that reminds you of yourself in some way?
Self-portraits help convey a message you are trying to send, they capture a mood, an attitude, a belief. They are highly personal and create a strong biography or context for the individual. Portraits are particularly effective in capturing the individual within a moment in time and they are forever changing. If a person does a self-portrait every day, the results will always be different. Sometimes they surprise you, shock or give you insight.

Take the opportunity to reflect on your own self-perceptions, who you are as a woman, friend, sister, partner, etc. The portraits were not necessarily literal, and may find this activity confronting, as most of us as mothers feel there is not often a lot of time for other parts of ourselves outside of being a mother (especially in the early days/years of becoming a new parent).

Visual diary – can you explore your identity through your visual diary? Do some blind contour drawings of objects that are around you at the moment, or of yourself through a photo or by looking in the mirror?

Imagine you were an outsider giving yourself advice, what would you say? What strengths would you say you had? What aspects would you see about yourself, as a Mother and as a woman?

Write down three things you like/liked to do before or when you are away from your baby/children? In what ways can you still incorporate these important interests and parts of yourself into your life currently?

Ideas from this post were taken from Rose Ennis, L. (2016). Intensive Mothering: The Cultural Contradictions of Modern Motherhood. Demeter Press: Canada.

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