What did you think of mothers before you became one?
Better yet – if someone had asked you to imagine a stereotypical Mom, what would you have come up with?
Chances are one of a few stereotypes would have come to mind. Perhaps you would have imagined the Earth Mother; long flowing hair, long skirts, herbs drying on the kitchen racks and advice ready for any conceivable scrape her kids got into.
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Or perhaps you imagined the more modern Soccer Mom image, with the infamous haircut, nice jewelry and fierce determination to see her kids succeed.
Stereotypes are fun – so long as they’re not being used pejoratively of course – but they’re also somewhat reductive. When you give birth, that doesn’t immediately mean that everything you were before has to vanish… does it?
Moms Have No Time!
It’s a common refrain and often from mothers themselves. They’re so busy parenting the next generation that they don’t have time to go to the gym or do any of their usual hobbies.
It’s a natural way of thinking; when you have kids, it’s never long until you feel that the world centers around them. Some may even prefer this, the idea that they can absorb themselves in their new role and watch the other aspects of life fade away. Motherhood can be like that; dominating, but in a way that you welcome.
Mother + Individual
For others, things are not so simple. There is no harm at all in wanting to retain a sense of individuality. Both ways of parenting should be supported, utterly dependent on the individual and their life situation at the time.
If you find yourself in the bracket of wanting to retain a sense of your past self, find some way of absorbing it into the present and your motherhood itself – then that’s great too. There’s a lot kids can learn from independent mothers, those who continue to strive for their individuality.
Does It Make You A Bad Mother?
Let’s address this aspect first and foremost: no, of course it doesn’t!
Many women feel guilt over wanting to have a life outside of motherhood, but it’s an unnecessary emotion. Of course none actively choose to feel this way, but it happens regardless – you have no control, so the nagging thoughts eat away inside your head.
If you want to work, retain a sense of style, stay fit, have child-free time – then of course that doesn’t make you a bad mother. It just makes you a person. We can’t be selfless all of the time. In fact, having a little time to yourself can mean it makes you a better mother in general, because you have a widened range of experiences from which to draw upon.
You’re still going to take the time to do the “Mom thing”. You’re going to make sure your child is exercising, do the necessary research with the likes of BabySeats and safety resources when it comes to selecting the correct lifestyle equipment for your child, keep up-to-date on developments in health care. You’re going to be there to patch up every scraped knee and offer a shoulder to cry on and a hug when needed. Being an individual and a mother isn’t a total abandonment of these fundamental principles; the two can line up alongside one another.
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What If I’m Not Sure How To Unite The Two?
This is a common concern.
On one hand, you want to be a mother with all that that entails. Your primary focus in life is your child.
On the other, you have a nagging memory of a time when you cared about more than the pros and cons of the Ferber method and which baby food had the highest nutritional content.
How can you be your sole focus if your child is?
It’s easier than you would think. If you love playing with makeup, it’s finding an extra 10 minutes every morning to try the latest experimental look. If you always loved to craft, you can craft things for your child.
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If you have a passion for politics, then take five minutes out of your day during nap time (or when your kids are at school, for Moms of older children) to go through the latest news cycle. If your idea of a perfect evening is a hot drink and a historical documentary, then the cartoons and educational kids shows can take a break one evening out of the month.
Having too high expectations of yourself has a tendency to doom mothers to misery.
You’re Probably Not Going To Be The Perfect Mom
Do you react somewhat badly to that? Find yourself feeling attacked? It’s not meant that way at all; in fact, it’s an encouraging statement.
You’re not going to be the “perfect Mom” because that person doesn’t exist. If someone tells you they have got this parenting thing nailed then, chances are, they’re not that great a parent. Parenting is about adaptation, change, concern – it never stops, there’s never a point where you can tick a box and think you’ve reached the top of the mountain.
If you’re shooting for perfection, you’re going to harm your mental health – especially if, in the quest for that perfection, you deny yourself your rights to an individual life. If you think you can’t take an afternoon off to go shopping with girlfriends because that’s time you could spend helping your child with their homework, then soon, that loving parenting task can feel like a chore. It’s because you’re telling yourself constantly what you have to do, not what you want to do.
Of course, we all have things we have to do – that’s part of life. We don’t go for a routine dentist visit or separate the trash into recycling because it makes us happy; we have to, so we suck it up and do it. And for most Moms, very little of parenting will fall into the “have to” pile. There’s moments to be enjoyed, bonding to be had, all those little moments of fresh flowers as a gift or sweet kisses on the cheek to be treasured.
No, Moms should not feel guilty about wanting to have individual interests and hobbies. It’s not selfish; in fact, it might make you a better parent. If you’re more relaxed, sustained by your quality time with yourself, then you’re in a good position to be as good a parent as you can be.
If you have previously not subscribed to this idea and are now tempted to dip a toe in, then be gentle with it. Don’t expect yourself to suddenly feel comfortable with taking some “you” time – those nagging thoughts in the back of your mind are unlikely to vanish overnight.
Just give yourself an evening to enjoy a new book, perhaps roping your partner or parents in for a spot of free childcare. Relax, kick off your Mom shoes and let your mind explore another world. If you’re not one for reading, then we have more access to TV shows than ever before – so go for a spot of other-world escapism.
Over time, as you get used to it, you’ll feel your stress lift and the process become a part of life. Then when you’ve had enough of your own company, you can head back into the motherhood role. There’s always going to be at least one person delighted to see you when you do. So think of them, but don’t forget you’re a person too, and you have every right to want to be a mixture of both.