April 5, 2024

Motherhood and Thriving: Navigating with Grace

What serves to ground, connect, and direct towards joy? Dr. Pam King asks this question as a guide for Mothers and others.

I know from speaking to many mothers, many feel that the words “mom” and “thriving” don’t always seem to belong in the same sentence. Unless, of course, one is talking about moms helping their families thrive, right? Well, I’d like to pause that sentiment and think about how moms, themselves, can thrive. As a mom of three, I live with this challenge (or opportunity) day in and out.

The idea behind thriving is growing and adapting towards living out one’s purpose

In a world that has so many diverse expectations for women—as a partner, parent, professional, proficient curator of inspiring, wise, and witty social media posts, and (of course) a physique to go with it all—no wonder so many of us feel like we are languishing more than thriving. 

I want to recommend some basics of thriving particularly relevant to moms that focus on purpose. This idea of purpose guides who we are becoming. For moms, purpose is especially multifaceted and must incorporate our deepest desires around our personal, relational, spiritual, and vocational aspirations. The more honest we can be about what deeply matters, the more we can pattern our lives around those yearnings. 

Much of our wellbeing and joy is tied to how closely our actual lives are aligned to our ideals. 

This is especially tricky for moms. First, we face many external expectations and demands. Secondly, we pursue purpose differently in various seasons of life. The world around us often bates us with expectations based on performance and profession. I know I find it easy to be swayed from my sense of calling. My family members—whether my children, spouse, siblings, or parents—have needs that I want to meet.  The reality for many women is that much of our purpose or sense of calling is tied to relationships. This reality can be great because so much of human thriving is relational! However, the reality of changing family needs impacts the flexibility and practical ways in which we spend our time and energy to intentionally pursue our purpose. Life is full of ebb and flow—whether relational or professional—and how we live out our purpose needs to be realistically and continually re-evaluated and adjusted. 

Although these realities of external and changing demands may seem like challenges, they are actually incredible opportunities. Thriving involves adapting. Agility becomes second nature to moms. Who else can renegotiate a carpool, school conferences, and meetings; order Mother’s Day gifts for their mother-in-law; and respond to emails in a few swipes of the finger? A mom. 

As moms, we are adaptive. We are resourceful. We are resilient. We are other oriented. We have no choice. We are actually trained to be thriving ninjas. Whether we know it or not, we have been in a thriving boot camp since we conceived, adopted, or took custody. This agility is imperative to purpose, because thriving is never straightforward. A thriving journey always goes off road, but a sense of purpose allows us to recalibrate and eventually find our way back on track. If you feel lost or have ever felt lost, that’s a good sign—and suggests that you need to extend yourself some grace and space to get grounded, connected, and directed (learn more here). 

However, one obstacle moms often encounter when it comes to purpose is that we tend to replace our purpose with performance of how we meet other people’s needs. Now, this does not mean that meeting other people’s needs is not part of our purpose. Not at all. I take great joy and satisfaction of being there and providing for my loved ones. However, these activities are part of my purpose for being on this planet. 

Moms, I recommend giving yourself the gift of updating your sense of purpose on Mother’s Day. This does not need to be a stressful life overhaul. Rather, try this approach: pause and reflect on where you have felt the greatest sources of joy in your life. When have you felt especially invigorated and when have you felt delight? Conversely, when have you felt drained or drudgery? Reflect back, look at your journal if you keep one or even your social media feeds—whatever offers you a sense of those “highs and lows.” 

How can life be reordered to increase the joy and decrease the drudgery? Ask how can both of these be woven into a life of meaning and purpose? Perhaps a better question to ask yourself is what picture of purpose do they weave together? 

Pamela Ebstyne King Executive Director, Peter L. Benson Professor of Applied Developmental Science


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