I always thought – well, not always thought, but since I found the time to sit and read the book I have thought – how cool would it be if, when you gave birth, you were given a kind of Dorian Gray sort of picture?
A picture that you could shove under the bed, or the bottom of the ironing basket, where no one would ever see it, and it would hold all the thoughts and feelings of all those parenty type things you did ‘wrong’. Whenever you felt guilty or screwed something up, had yet another sleepless night or yelled, ranted, raved and screamed, it would take all those things that ravaged your face and transposed them onto the painting.
Your own face would remain youthful, possibly even retaining that ‘pregnancy glow’ that had everyone commenting on how fabulous you looked.
The painting, shoved in the plastics drawer would come to look sleep deprived, haggard and somewhat lunatic.
It would also be cool if it could seep the guilt and feelings of failure from you, too, but is that asking a bit much of a painting? I don’t know.
I still think it would be cool.
Instead, we resort to the Mask of Motherhood; that mask of a smile which we apply to our public persona to let everyone around us know we’re totally okay, when the reality is we’re feeling a bit tired, guilty, like we’re doing it all wrong and just feeling crap in general.
Some of us go to great lengths to create the most elaborate of masks that no one could possibly consider the alternatives, keeping up an elaborate pretences of all not just being well, but go so swimmingly as to make everyone around you feel remarkably inadequate.
The Mask is a fabulous way to hide the reality of a situation; to cover the bags under the eyes, to shield the guilt you’re feeling and stop the prying eyes from others from realising that you may not be the perfect parent.
The Mask does a wonderful job of hiding any and all, in many cases, symptoms of things like postnatal depression. Really, who is going to believe this well dressed, well made up woman, with the immaculate house and who is super organised goes home, cries uncontrollably and tries to figure out the best way to kill herself?
This is, of course, one of the cons of the Mask of Motherhood; it hides from those who love you, who can help those things you are experiencing. It builds resentment and hate. It creates a vicious cycle inside your head that can lead to anxiety and paranoia. It finds your flaws, as teensy as some may be, and blows them out to all proportions. Others seem competent and capable and you feel less so; even though your facade says very differently.
Maintaining this Mask, hiding the bigger things only makes it all worse … for everyone involved. It’s exhausting, it’s confusing and it’s damaging.
But is the Mask of Motherhood all bad?
I think it serves it’s purpose. In the right circumstances of course.
Some situations may call for your Motherhood to be hidden away entirely, or opening up the floodgates of your worst moments; the poo on your pants, the spew in your cleavage, the two hours broken sleep and the third broken coffee plunger this week are not required. That you find mothering so damned horrible and the worst decision of your life, whilst very real and true for many women, may not go down well.
Which is often why the Mask is applied in all and every social situation. Mums don’t hate mothering ever! It’s just not done, is it?
Sometimes, though, the Mask can serve adequately as a protective shield. Plastering a smile on a face and uttering the “yes, fabulous, thank you” when asked how you are readily prevents the barrage of unsolicited advice, often thoughtless and uttered because ‘that’s just what everyone says in those circumstances’.
Thus, rather than hiding the truth and reality, it serves as protection against feeling even worse; particularly after some conversations with certain people. You’ll soon work out who those people in your life are.
Sometimes, you just don’t need to be told the same old obvious solution or have advice thrust upon you when your circumstances are relatively unknown and/or you just need to get something off your chest, be heard and understood.
The Mask may prove useful under such circumstances.
It may also be argued that by constantly putting on the brave and happy face may cause you to feel brave and happy all the time – a bit along the lines of ‘fake it till you make it’.
This may work if you’re ‘merely’ stressed and/or overwhelmed, but if you’re hiding a depression, this is not a good strategy.
The trick is knowing when the Mask is being used as a force field and for protection from know-it-all advice givers, and when you’re using it to cover up what’s really going on.
As a partner, friend, health worker or observer, the trick there is to look beyond the Mask, into the eyes and see what the reality is.
What purpose is your Mask of Motherhood serving?
This week is PND Awareness Week – if you’re worried about a Mum with a new bub, and wondering if she is, indeed, wearing the Mask to conceal reality, check out beyond blue at www.beyondblue.org.au or PANDA at www.panda.org.au