I grew up in the midst of the women’s movement, with Marlo Thomas’ “Free To Be…You And Me” record playing daily in the background. I vividly recall days the house key dangled from my red yarn necklace and phoning my working mother the moment I returned from school. Other days, I sat under her ironing board, chatting away while she caught up on her household chores. Back then, the undercurrent of anticipation about what the next generation of women would become was enough to satisfy and release the fears of exhausted mothers trying to fulfill their new prophecy.

Decades later, when I became a young mother myself, I fell victim to the expectations of what many believed a modern mother to be, approaching motherhood in the same way the ‘90’s yuppie delved into her career. I believed if I was not actively engaging my child in a lesson, volunteering in their classroom or using flash cards during rare down time, I was slacking in my duties. I held playgroups at my house, entertained on a daily basis and bought a sport utility vehicle to house the numerous children to whom I offered rides. In exhausting myself, I somehow felt I was living up to the expectations of those who had fought for my right to work—a right I declined, choosing instead to stay at home with my kids.

But this fatigue led me to confusion about whether I was doing right by my generation, my family, myself. I began to turn to others for approval and reassurance that I was making the proper decisions for my children. Was I disciplining well enough? Was I was feeding my kids the proper diet, putting them to bed at the right time? Did their teachers think I was reading enough to them at home? Did my friends and family think I was a good mom? A good-enough-mother? A just-getting-by mother?

Most people had answers to my questions. Some were kind, but not honest. Some were honest, but not kind. And some were honest and kind at the same time…but I wouldn’t have dared believe them, since the key to the yuppie-dom philosophy is that enough is never, ever enough.

And after many weary years of driving and playing and entertaining, all the while trying to please others…I realized that no one had ever actually asked to be pleased. Sure—lots of people have opinions and, unfortunately, lots of people have judgments. But none of these people were my children, who were the ones looking up to me with wide-eyed innocence, watching and learning what it means to be a grown up, a person and a parent.

These children—these sponges ready to take in the lessons of the world—deserved to be taught the importance of listening to ones’ own heart.

So, I began to listen to my inner conscience, my instincts. I began to understand that what works well for one, may not work at all for another. That the way each family operates is different, unique, and oftentimes perfect—for that particular family. But replicating those same techniques, relying too much to others’ opinions, and falling subject to the judgment of those who choose to deliver it—would be unsuccessful—and damaging—to my own family.

I no longer care what others think about how my daughter chooses to dress herself. I know how much it means to her to have that individuality. I no longer allow myself to be bothered by looks when some see me discipline a behavior, while letting another slide. I know how much my son needs that small victory. And when I prioritize our activities and responsibilities differently than others, I know I am doing so for the good of my children.

Above all, I have realized the commonness of these feelings. Even the greats—the people we look up to and idolize and worship–have felt they, too, have fallen short of other’s expectations. Gandhi once said, “I should love to satisfy all, if I possibly can; but in trying to satisfy all, I may be able to satisfy none. I have, therefore, arrived at the conclusion that the best course is to satisfy one’s own conscience and leave the world to form its own judgment, favorable or otherwise.”

Each day I listen to my heart, I find bits and pieces of fulfillment, contentment. Listening to my instinct allows it to speak more freely, more frequently. I realize the freedom that women fought for years ago wasn’t just the right to have a job, or to choose the direction of your life…it was to have freedom of thought, from which inner peace can be found.

I have a long way to go, but I’ve also realized I don’t need to be perfect. And before I allow myself to feel the pressure to be, I will remember another thing Gandhi said: “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.”

Published in The Broomfield Enterprise, 10/7/07

Author's Bio: 

Intent.com
Intent.com is a premier wellness site and supportive social network where like-minded individuals can connect and support each others' intentions. Founded by Deepak Chopra's daughter Mallika Chopra, Intent.com aims to be the most trusted and comprehensive wellness destination featuring a supportive community of members, blogs from top wellness experts and curated online content relating to Personal, Social, Global and Spiritual wellness.