When last did you think about how you were mothered, how you are mothering now, or how your grandchildren are being mothered? When I listen to the chatter going on within me, I must admit that not a day goes by without remembering something from my past related to the delicate art of mothering. I had loving and responsible parents as models. That helped me be the best mom I knew how to be, but oh how I wish I had had the guidance that Patti Ashley, Ph.D., provides in Living in the Shadow of the Too-Good Mother Archetype. This book is full of wisdom, insight, authenticity and genuine love. It is less about child rearing techniques and more about how to take care of yourself when the paradoxes of mothering repeatedly slap you in the face and you feel like a failure.
Dr. Ashley shares the insights of many of her peers; her bibliography may keep me reading on this subject for years. She also includes Thought Questions and diagrams to help the reader understand the difference between being a too-good mother (Neglecting One's Own Needs, Depression, Resentment, etc.) or being a good-enough mother (Healthy Role Model, Acceptance, Compassion, etc.). It is a book for anyone who has ever had a mother and anyone who is a mother, including men who share the nurturing demands of parenthood.
Dr. Ashley uses her experiences as a mother and stories from other women to explain intellectual concepts that aren't easily understood but are crucial to the book's central message of rescuing yourself from the shadow of the too-good mother archetype and accepting yourself as a "good-enough" mother.
Shadow work is healing. It asks you to go to that place in the unconscious where we hide the parts of ourselves that seem negative to the conscious mind. Dr. Ashley sums up the process:
The shadow of the too-good mother is an archetypal representation of the perfectionism and resulting angst felt by mothers who want the best for their children, but go too far into the unconscious realm of unrealistic expectations, guilt, and shame. The shadow aspects of this archetype begin to integrate in a positive way into the experience of the whole mother when the paradoxical tension of the opposites can co-exist within the family, and when a mother is true to herself and therefore, true to her children.
Dr. Ashley personalizes this message:
As a mother, I experienced joy and pain simultaneously as I strived to provide a soulful, compassionate home for my children and myself. I had to allow my children to experience the pain and struggle of divorce, financial hardship, long-distance relationships with family members and chaotic world events. I could not take any of the pain and heartache away from them, nor could I make them happy. I know that they have the inner ability to find joy in their lives. They have questions about their future, and they have questions about their pasts, but for the most part, they have love and a sense of soulfulness in their day-to-day world.
This point of view illustrates the value of avoiding perfectionism and striving to be a good-enough mother who is happy. In my view, the wisdom this book contains is a continuation of the wisdom women received from Betty Freidan when she wrote about "the problem that has no name" in her book, The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963. Because of the serious shadow work that emerged as I read Living in the Shadow of the Too-Good Mother Archetype, I feel redeemed as a good-enough mom and joyful that my grandchild and all children of this era have parents with this new paradigm for parenting available to them. If the message of Dr. Ashley's book spreads, it will help to create a better world for all of us.
Dr. Patti Ashley, psychotherapist and parent coach, has over thirty years of experience in the fields of education and psychology. Currently, she owns and operates Breakthrough Psychotherapy and Parent Coaching in Boulder, Colorado. The intention of her work is to help individuals thrive, not merely survive. Visit her website.
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