Spelunking the Motherhood Cave

I was probably around 14 years old and my mama took us spelunking in a cave (it was either Squire Boon Caverns or Marengo Cave). My mom had this “thing” for taking us on cave tours. Stalacites and stalagmites illuminated by flashlight or embedded lights along the path, the tinkling sound of water dripping from above, the inherent knowing that we were treading on a sacred territory.

But the spelunking was new and I was thrilled at the idea of exploring the cavernous depths on my hands and knees. We donned a hardhat with a headlamp attached, I turned my long-sleeve shirt inside out to avoid getting it too dirty, and we posed for a photo at the cave entrance (my permed ponytail peeking from underneath the helmet).

There were some tight spots where we had to crawl and the always-awaited moment where we were all asked to turn off our headlamps and flashlights and welcome the pitch black. It seemed everyone was holding their breath, as if breath would induce light.


This is what I think about when someone asks me “How would you describe Motherhood?”. (It’s also what comes to mind when I think about birth)

No one prepares you to be a mother. And they can’t. It happens in literally one instant; from maiden to mother and smack dab in a hurricane of hormones.

But if you can close your eyes and envision spelunking then I think you could get an idea for it.

Often motherhood is one big wander-fest in a dark cave. Slippery – watch out! Don’t lose your footing. Watch your head, the ceiling is low. But oh, wait…up ahead, can you feel it? An expanse, a wide open womb, the cave opens up into a glorious space with breathing room for everyone. And there is this moment where you just stop, and behold, and you suck in your breath and look around and see you’ve stepped into another world. And it’s beautiful.

The cave, it can feel enclosing and suffocating. And while there isn’t a heck of a lot of silence in motherhood, like a cave, the walls of our experience echoes back our heart’s learnings and our desires and at times, our deep loneliness.

It’s the underworld. Literally. But there is always the opening, always the light.

And there is always your headlamp. Your heart. Turn it on, it will guide.


“We are all doing the best we can”. It’s a saying I hear alot around motherhood.

But you know what? That’s not true.

There are many times where I KNOW I am not doing the best I can. Maybe I’m zoning out, ignoring, trying to rush things, not tuning in. And I feel it, in my shoulders and spine. But the things is, there doesn’t need to be judgement around these moments. There only needs to be awareness. A conscious nod to it. And mental note to take a moment and stop and breathe and take care of ourselves. That’s the root of it: self-care.

When we find ourselves not “doing our best” it’s likely because we haven’t taken care of ourselves. How can we mother when the mother isn’t being mothered? Or, how can we mother when the mother is being smothered?

There is no one to blame because life is sometimes just too damn wild to discern reality from untruths. Maybe we’ve descended too far into the cave and cannot get our bearings. Maybe we’ve listened for a little too long to the voices that tell us we aren’t enough. Maybe we’ve punched those voices in the mouth and are recovering from the adrenaline rush with blood still on our hands.

So. Sit down. Look up. Look down at your toes. Look at the chaos around you and cry. And then see if those tears flow into laughter; maniacal and brilliant laughter. The kind that can often spill out more memories and emotion than even the river of tears. Think about the little people that depend on you and know you as the one true person they can count on to show up. They really don’t expect much more than that and that’s the truth.

It’s our culture, and us, that put the added pressures on ourselves to mother “perfectly” or “pinterestingly”. It’s us that say “They depend on me for everything; to feed them and entertain them and wipe their bums and listen to their stories and their whines. And to play Barbies and Trains and Pretend with them. Oh my god, the Pretend…”

Of course we have obligations. But the times I’ve noticed that make the most difference, the times my kids have this look in their eyes that says “THIS I KNOW” is when I just show up. Often it’s in the middle of their “mess” (play) and when the faux chicken patty has been in the toaster oven for 30 minutes since it turned off. Often it’s when I am unshowered and trying to finish a million things. It’s always when we’ve run out of toilet paper.

But I walk into this, into our space, and I stand or sit or crouch in front of them and I simply say “Hi!”. And I reach my arms out and they smile and I hug them. And that’s it. Dammit, that’s enough. The rest – the parties and the crafts and the outings and hikes and healthy meals – that’s icing on the cake.

My rules? I have four only. And I think that attempting to remember these makes me human, which is ultimately what I’m hoping my children will remember.

  1. Don’t hit your children.
  2. Don’t shame them.
  3. Apologize often, authentically, and in-arms (especially if you break #1 and #2)
  4. And look at them when they have something to tell you.

BONUS RULE: Leave the house when you feel the spinning, the descent, the overwhelm, the spiral. If you can do it without your kids, AWESOME. If you can’t, take them. Anywhere. To a park. To the library. To freakin’ McDonald’s playland. To get ice cream. On a walk. On a drive, over the mountains and to the lake.

Things I Like To Keep in My Pocket to Help Stave off the Overwhelm and Conquer the Chaos

These are things I can bust out on a moment’s notice and usually the kids will respond…

  • Popcorn and a cue of tons of kids movies
  • A hidden stash of lollipops (for them)
  • A hidden stash of chocolate (for me)
  • A family bed and/or nap
  • A deep, warm bath with lots of bubbles (my kids also love to take long showers)
  • A very tall stack of library books and 10 minutes to sit with children all around you and read
  • An essential oil diffuser (mine has an LED light that changes colors) at bedtime
  • Gas in the car. Or an emergency gas card tucked in the glove compartment.
  • Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and cocoa powder. Always. These are the makings of magic.
  • A shit-ton of stickers and construction paper and glue sticks. Bonus for googly eyes. Double bonus for glitter.
  • Magnesium and B12 (for me)
  • Melatonin (for them)
  • Nail polish
  • Candles. And incense.
  • “Massage/spa time”! My kids love when I set up a quick area for massage, with candles and spa music, and soft blankets and pillows, and massage oil. They can’t rush fast enough to lay down for a little relaxing massage. And we reconnect so deeply in this simply ritual.
  • Christmas music
  • A mantra: “Messes are temporary. Love is Forever”
  • Even though it’s really, really hard: one room that is “mostly” clean. That you or your kids can all retreat to when the crazy is too much; to read, or color, or watch a movie. Hell, it can even be a closet.
  • Healthy protein or green smoothies/shakes/powder or whatever. Luckily, my kids love these and I use them when I’ve had a wild day and feel like they’ve eaten just crap. Dumping powder in a cup and adding some milk is so easy and makes me feel like they at least have a little healthy boost and something in their bellies.


Hey mama, screw what’s you’ve read about motherhood. Screw this even.

But maybe do this:

  • Write down YOUR four rules (and share them with me!)
  • Rewrite them until you feel they are devoid of any preconceived notions, past stories and hurts, and ego trips.
  • You’ll know when they are right for you because your heart will suddenly feel settled in your chest.

And then, take care of your beautiful self. Stop and eat something. Guzzle a glass of water and say thank you to the faucet (or the bottle). Bless your tired body with a bath and some rose petals. Forget the mess – allow yourself to even for 15 minutes – and write. Or paint. Or dance. Use your warm hands and gently touch your entire body in one motion from head to toe – slowly and methodically. Ground yourself. Say “I am Human. I am Love” or “I am Human, I am Rage”, Or “I am Human, I am ____________”.

And then, look at your child(ren). See their curls, and their messy smiles, watch their play, and let their screams pass through you like the gentlest of breezes. You can do this. You can transmute.

Remember that the sun will set, and the moon will rise, and the next sun will appear just when it needs to.

All you have to do is exist. Because existence is all we have.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. rritchie says:

    Okay, I am your mom. I will always love you and will always be proud of you, but gee whiz – this is one wonderful piece of goodness. Can I be your kid for a while?

    1. Leigh says:

      I love you forever and always, mama, and am so thankful you had a “thing” for caves. 🙂 xoxo

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