Throughout 21 years of parenting eight children, I have naturally been surrounded by all types of mothers with their own unique temperaments, personalities and parenting methods. Despite the many stylistic differences among mothers, there are three striking characteristics that emotionally strong mothers seem to have in common.
1. They are moved by their children's feelings, yet maintain healthy boundaries.
Interestingly, our strength in this area is most poignantly revealed during highly emotional moments (such as epic temper tantrums). How do we react? Often we find ourselves fried and frazzled, or to the other extreme, immovable and stoic. An emotionally strong mother is one who has cultivated the ability to remain engaged with her child, yet mindfully detached from the "outcome" in a heated moment. In other words, she is able to understand boundaries and can free herself from the anxiety of "making it stop."
I remember the day long ago when I realized that my toddler's supermarket temper tantrum didn't make me sweat or leave. I was finally able to be emotionally available to my child, but in no way attached to the idea of "fixing it." This freedom liberates us from anger, frustration, and embarrassment.
This happens because we realize, on a deep level, that our strength as mothers is not determined by the behavior of our children, which is fluid and ever-changing. On the contrary, it is more defined by our relationship with our children, and our ability to cultivate a state of presence with them. Over several years of parenting, I slowly began to understand that my job was not to fix my children or change their emotions, it was to nurture and nourish their humanity so that they had space to grow, change and be more unified in heart, spirit and mind.
In this context, temper tantrums and outbursts lost their power to ruin my day and, instead, became valuable barometers that revealed my personal growth and maturity as a mother.
2. They don't create (or escalate) drama.
A strong mother actively cultivates harmony in her home, and she knows this ultimately begins with her resilience in response to dramatic situations. A mother who creates drama, however, often seeks attention and fulfillment from her children, a depressingly impossible way to find sustained happiness in her role as a mother.
Many social norms have changed over the last 75 years. But if you ask a child today, "Who is the heart of your home?" it would still be often, I'd guess, that they'd say, "My mom." This can be seen as a privilege and an honor, or it can be seen as a heavy, relentless burden that asks too much of us. But a strong mother understands her importance as an emotional center for her children, while also seeking ways to cultivate equilibrium and peace within herself first.
This sense of balance is reflected in the culture of the home where emotions are authentically expressed, and then discerned, as opposed to simply being unleashed in the immediate circumstance. How? She takes time daily for meditation, silence and other practices of self-care. She may also choose to surround herself with other women who she perceives as strong, happy and fulfilled in their motherhood, and can watch them in action with their children. Like in any lifelong, purposeful work, having a mentor, someone to learn from, is so important for continued growth.
3. They say "yes" when they mean yes, and "no" when they mean no.
I have often heard people say, "Women need to learn how to say 'no.'" This might be true. But we also need to learn how to say "yes." That is, we need to learn how to offer a "yes" without regret and quiet resentment, a "yes" without steam blowing out of our ears.
As a mother, my problem has never been about saying "no," but about saying "yes" with a truly open heart, one that was really ready to give itself completely to sacrifice for someone else: my children, my husband, my friends.
Among the many strong mothers I have met and known, they have one psychological strength in common: they are not passive-aggressive. This is incredibly important for honest and confident communication, which includes learning how to say "yes" and "no." These mothers aren't afraid of making a mistake; mistakes can be repaired, but mixed signals among family members erode trust and are poisonous in home life. They understand that true love and commitment is communicated through clarity, not confusion.
Of course, there are far more than three commonalities among emotionally strong mothers, but these tend to stand out, and they are very easy to spot. If you are a mother looking for community and good company, have an eye out for these strengths. They are often learned with time, observation and a strong desire to be fulfilled as a mother.