A Balancing Act
I recently read an article about mothers who regretted having children. More and more parents, particularly mothers, are speaking out about the demands of parenthood and how unhappy they are in the role as mothers.
The article pointed out that “it’s motherhood these women regret, not the children.”
That may seem like a meaningless distinction, but it does make sense. All of the women featured in the article explained that they love their children, but not “the demanding, exhausting, self-sacrificing and often thankless work of mothering.”
In our world today, there is the concept that children will make women feel fulfilled, when often it’s the opposite: children make them lose themselves.
In reaction, there’s a growing movement of couples who are “childless by choice” and declining birth rates across the world as well.
Those who still chose to have children find themselves facing impossible standards. Fathers are more involved in child raising than ever before, but the bulk of child care and work around the house still falls to women. It is women whose identities are inextricably connected to parenthood.
The article explained, “Men’s identity is never collapsed into their parental one; if you’re a bad mother, you’re a bad woman. If a father is late at daycare, it’s ‘Poor thing, he’s busy.’ A mother who’s late is viewed as selfish and irresponsible.”
What exactly has changed? These days, parents spend four times as much time as they did four decades ago with their children. Parental standards are ridiculous, with parents feeling pressure to perform on social media as the best family on the block. Celebrities do not help matters, presenting a picture perfect view of parenthood where particularly mothers are able to do it all, with no signs of any help in sight.
Motherhood has become intensive, with the reality of our lives far different from the happy lives we depict on Facebook. Sarah Fischer, author of “The Myth of Mothering Joy” wrote that “The reality of motherhood is incontinence, boredom, weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, lack of sleep, dumbing down, career downturn, loss of sex drive, poverty, exhaustion and lack of fulfillment.”
So how do parents find happiness?
The first step is developing a separate identity from just a parent. What else are you? Is your job part of your identity? Your hobbies? Your friends?
Parents—particularly mothers—must understand that they can exist separately from their children. Being a mother is incredibly important, but it is not all that a woman is. It does not have to be the most important aspect of her life.
Before having children, self-care was not something I had to schedule in. I simply took care of myself. This meant regular check-ups at various doctors, regular massages or mani/pedis, haircuts, dinner dates with girlfriends, movie marathons on rainy Sundays, dates with my husband or a glass of wine and trashy TV on a Friday night.
I never had to think about taking care of myself because I automatically did it. And then came motherhood and the concept of self-care because lost. I was hormonal, exhausted and entirely focused on my infant daughter.
Still, I was determined not to get lost in a hole of motherhood.
Initially, I made sure that I took a daily shower, which was enough to help me feel human again. I got fresh air by taking long walks outside, pushing the stroller. I made friends through a breastfeeding support group and scheduled regular playdates to have company.
After moving to the suburbs and having a second child and a house, self-care once again became harder. I had even less time between two children and a home to take care of. I did not know many people and lost that support system of mom friends who lived close by. My husband and I had fewer opportunities for dates.
My identity was solely as a mother. However, I recognized that this was incredibly unhealthy for me which launched me into a new chapter of my life. I was not only a mother. I was a wife, a writer, a reader, a neighbor and a friend. I had to learn to draw out the aspects of myself that were floundering since becoming a mother. I had to remember who I was and keep that person healthy and alive.
This is still a work in progress.
Some advice I’ve taken to heart: self-care is a commitment. It is a key part of our lives that we must devote time to. That may mean skipping the laundry that day or leaving the bathroom uncleaned. As busy parents, self-care has to be do-able. It probably needs to be scheduled. It likely will not look the same as self-care pre-children, but that does not mean it is any less helpful for you.
Think about what is manageable for you on a daily, weekly, monthly and even seasonal basis.
For me, daily self-care means a good night’s sleep, exercise, and a shower. I relish in quiet time when my daughters nap in the afternoons, using that time to write, read and listen to relaxing music. Cooking and doing dishes may seem like chores, but I often find it a relaxing time where I can work with my hands, while still being (mostly) alone with my thoughts. Because I have emphasized independent play among my children, I have more time on my own.
On a weekly basis (if not daily), I find time with my husband in the evenings, whether that means having a drink together or planning a night out, like a game night with our neighbors or a dinner date. Now that our daughters are older and we have family close by to babysit, we are dedicating ourselves to planning more dates. My parents usually come for dinner once a week and entertain my kids and it gives me a chance to run some childfree errands.
Every few months, I also try to get a haircut, mani/pedi or massage. I also try to schedule adult only time with my girlfriends.
Work will also give me an identity outside of motherhood, although I will lose some of my current self-care and will need to work harder to find moments for myself.
Mothers are expected to do it all, which is an unhealthy impossibility. We must learn to put ourselves first sometimes. We must communicate with our partners and families about our own needs. No one is going to give us the time to take care of ourselves, so we have to make an effort to schedule in time. Identify what YOU need for self-care and carve out that time for yourself.
Making some time for myself has helped me to be a better person. I like myself more as a mother, a wife and a person. I am starting to recognize myself again as someone other than a mother. Unlike the women in the article that inspired this piece, I do not regret having children.
I am working to find happiness as a mother, as well as a woman, through taking time for myself.