MamaBlogger365 – The Paradox of Parenting by Patti Ashley, Ph.D.

When my children were little, I used to think that the reason parenting was so difficult was because mothers would want to hold onto the joy forever and never be able to bear the growing up. The absolute splendor of watching an infant smile, the ecstasy of watching a child take the first step, and the delight of hearing a toddler’s first partial sentences makes it almost impossible not to smile.

Parenting is a paradox of joy and pain that exist simultaneously. The joy a mother feels is often happening at the same time as periods of grief, conflicts with self and others, fears of being a good parent, problems in family communication, uncertainties regarding discipline, and other challenges presented to parents.

The role of parenting is by nature paradoxical. Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, in their book Everyday Blessings, write that even though parenting is one of the most stressful and challenging of all professions, it is also the most influential and important in regards to the development of individual and collective conscience in the next generation. The responsibility implied in forming future generations is both stressful as well as enduring.

Paradoxes are never resolved; instead the lesson lies in embracing the paradox. In his book Tuesdays With Morrie, Mitch Albom records some lessons that his friend Morrie has learned about life from his experience of dying. “Life is a series of pulls back and forth. You want to do one thing, but you are bound to do something else…. A tension of the opposites, like a pull of a rubber band… Most of us live somewhere in the middle… Love always wins.” (p.40)

We live in a culture where the media portrays images of perfection and happiness as an ideal. This sets the stage for unrealistic expectations and a tendency to want to cut off the feelings around any sorrow or challenges. Psychologist Carl Jung has said, “What we resist, persists.” The truth is, attempting to cut off pain actually creates more of it.

This is especially challenging for mothers who want to be the best they can be and try to rescue their children from pain. My research showed me that women tend to blame themselves and want to rescue their children from life’s struggles. I wonder how much that has to do with the unrealistic idea that life should be always happy and good.

A 2008 study by Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress revealed that many women today feel isolated and empty. They feel that news media, TV shows and movies don’t reflect who they really are as women and mothers. (

Life is always both wonderful and difficult. The better able we are to embrace the paradox, the better able we are to witness our children’s pain and teach them how to accept life as it truly is! Together we can hold the tension of the opposites and live the richness of the paradox.

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
–Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

About Patti Ashley: Mothering Beyond Image helps women connect more deeply to themselves and others, therefore feeling more authentic, mindful and whole. I will be presenting the five main themes from the soon-to-be-released book in a weekend workshop in Boulder, Colorado on October 7 & 8, 2011. For more information, or to register for the weekend, please visit I also will be offering this workshop again on March 9 & 10, 2012 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Please sign up to be on my mailing list to stay updated on workshop information. Mothers always want to know whether or not they are doing a good job. This workshop will help you know that you ARE!

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Photo credit: toymanron|MorgueFile


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