Well Woman Weekly: Dr. Gertrude Lyons on Redefining Motherhood

Every Friday, we send out a weekly roundup of what’s new on Blood & Milk along with articles you may have missed from the archives. We also include an interview with an inspiring woman and this week we’re excited to feature Dr. Gertrude Lyons. To get the newsletter, sign up here.

Dr. Gertrude Lyons is a Master Life Coach and Relationship Expert with over 20 years of experience. She is also a Lead faculty member, Senior Life Coach and Director of Family Programs for The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential.

Through her Rewriting The Mother Code initiative, which challenges the traditional notions of motherhood and womanhood, Dr. Lyons has become a national mothering revolutionary. Through her work, Dr. Lyons challenges the myths surrounding womanhood, mothering, and challenges the very notion of what it means to be a mother. Dr. Lyon believes that all women have a “mother code” instilled in them and that the current model for mothering in our culture is broken. It is limited, constricting, and disempowering. She questions preconceived beliefs and leans into topics that will tap into the powerful femininity within all of us.

Dr. Gertrude Lyons

Your work is especially resonant for me right now, as many of my friends are becoming mothers for the first time, others are trying to, and some still aren’t sure what their future holds. I’m so curious what you mean when you say the current model for mothering in our culture is broken—can you elaborate on this?

Our current culture is wrought with myths that disempower women on their mothering journey. These myths bind a woman into a narrow definition of what it means to be a mother and curtail the breadth of transformation possible in motherhood. We are led to believe that we have an abundance of choices in our decisions around mothering (when, how, and if we want children for example), but family and cultural norms often prevail until we bring new possibilities to the forefront and foster raw, open conversations in a safe environment.

You talk about breaking the thought pattern of “traditional” mothering and the “rules” that come with it. As a mother of two daughters, can you share how breaking these rules has affected your own life and experience as a mother?

Shortly after getting married, my mother said to me, “Now it’s time to have children.” Had I not been on a growth journey that allowed me to break a longstanding pattern of pretty much doing whatever my mother “suggested,” I would have robotically followed this traditional path. Fortunately, my husband and I created a vision that included being partners, lovers, and best friends. With this vision to orient rather than default to the unconscious wiring from our enmeshed relationships with our mothers, we chose to work on ourselves and our relationship for six years before embarking on the parenting journey. This decision allowed us to focus on really knowing ourselves and each other before expanding our family. When we had challenges conceiving I was able to see that we were a family whether we had children or not. And yes, children were a huge distraction but with our solid foundation, we weathered challenges such that we are now thrilled to be empty nesters and living deeply together for this next phase of our life. 

Let’s talk about Mom Guilt—is it just me or does this seem to be a particularly American phenomenon? How do you see mom guilt manifesting these days and how do you work with moms to move past it?

Yes, unfortunately, mom guilt is alive and well in our culture and has been for some time. Women are natural caregivers and we want to do a good job, but this feminine trait has turned into what Sharon Hays first referred to as “intensive mothering.” In this paradigm, the mother is considered the best person for the job; she also must provide lavish amounts of time and attention, giving way to a child-centered and expert-guided approach to mothering; and lastly, intensive mothering is considered the gold standard and is separate from professional paid work, giving it a self-sacrificing and all-caring status. 

It is both impossible and unhealthy to meet this standard which is why I coach women to first acknowledge where and how they are operating under the model. Then we can begin to create a personal model that reflects our own standards and values in our mothering. Doing this allows a woman to learn, grow, and transform along with her children.

I really love the reminder that women tending to their needs is not self-care. How did we get to the point where we need this spelled out for us?

When a woman is following the intensive mothering model outlined above, then anything she does for herself is going to feel selfish. I will point out here that this myth is kept alive by both the experts and an economy that benefits from a woman’s insecurity and belief that there is some magical “right” way to mother, as well as women trying to fill their yearning or deeper hunger to make a difference in a misguided way.

You work with clients to help them have tough conversations with themselves about the kind of mother they want to be. For those who want to dip a toe into this kind of work, do you have any suggestion questions or journal prompts they can think through to get started?

Sure! Ultimately we want to build toward articulating a personal vision and standards for ourselves as a mother. Here are a few prompts to get started…

What was the model of mothering you experienced in your upbringing – with your mother/caregiver and other relationships close to you?

What did you like about it? What didn’t you like about it?

What are the ways movies, social media, and books portray the ideal mother? What do you agree with? What do you disagree with?

These questions can help tease out what matters most to you and how you want to build a life and have mothering be a part of it.

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