Motherhood. An endless pit of happiness where all of the lines between who we are, who we need to be, and who we need to raise or feed, are blurred. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beautiful, warm, love-filled-abyss of motherhood. Understandably so. Once a woman is told they’re pregnant, or even well before that, their whole life is consumed with taking care of something other than themselves. Making sure that something never stops breathing, needing, or wanting.
We even start taking VITAMINS! V-I-T-A-M-I-N-S!!!!!!
Within a year, you’re in deep. Instead of online shopping and watching cat videos, you’re googling baby sleep solutions. Instead of spending your tax return on a Bahamian vacation, you’re buying 37 different sound machines and a baby bed that “rocks more the louder your baby cries.” Sooner than later you’re walking by yourself down hallways saying “excuse us” and you LITERALLY use “we” for everything because “I” just doesn’t come out. This causes slight confusion when you ask “where should we park,” and no one else is in the car (the “we” will likely not play over well if pulled over for driving solo in a carpool lane, unless you fully commit to being crazy, then only maybe.)
Next thing you know you’re responding to an “introduce yourself” post in your newly joined Facebook mom page and all you can think of is “My name is Jessica. I have two kids. These are their ages. This is what my husband does for a living. I love lamp.” Then you worry about not being original and scroll through the entire post only to find out you all may as well have answered the same “fill-in-the-blank” prompt.
How do we dig ourselves out of the pit of happiness and just enjoy our happy lives? How do we break the Facebook post response cycle? We keep the Mom in Motherhood. I like to think of it as a progressive art form. One that takes A LOAD of practice. There are ways to do it. Here are TEN.
1. Make goals, not resolutions, that involve you and only YOU.
Resolutions are SO much pressure. It’s like a do-or-die, violent resolve to do something. That’s too much commitment. Goals are much better. They can be large or small, but setting small goals for yourself is the best way to accomplish both small and large goals. You could decide that you want to read a book once a month, learn a new word every day, run a marathon, or change your career. I’m a LONG-TERM planner. I decided on law school at five and finished 20 years later. If you have a HUGE goal in mind, that’s wonderful, but remember that it is SO important to break it down into step-by-step goals and accomplish ONE step at a time, even if some of those steps may seem menial. Create a plan that includes “deadlines” for yourself, all in baby steps. Set a date that you’d like to visit a campus, enroll in classes, complete your degree, qualify for a promotion, or a day that you’ll have perfected your layup, then do it. Take a few minutes every day or every week to work towards it.
2. Take time for yourself every day, 15-minutes at minimum.
My favorite thing to do is to get my nails done twice a month. It forces me to sit down and do NOTHING for a couple of hours. During that time I can’t tend to any screaming children, I can’t clean, cook, change diapers, and it’s really hard to respond to work emails when your fingers are covered in wet polish. Plus, I feel like a real person with a fresh mani-pedi. Make a schedule to run, go to the gym, or go out to dinner with your husband or a friend, on a weekly or monthly basis, even if you have to write it in your calendar. Make sure that you have time for yourself every day. Even if it means hiding in the bathroom or taking the dog for a walk, disappear with a book or enjoy the silence and take 15 uninterrupted minutes for yourself. Do something that doesn’t involve cleaning, organizing, or cooking. If you have to hide in a dark closet where no one will find you, do that.
3. Decide “what you want to be when you grow up” and then be it.
More than making goals, it is important that we follow the dreams we had before we were mothers. This includes a career, if that’s what you wanted. It’s not fair that we had to answer “what do you want to be when you grow up” a million times when we were kids and then think we’re asked to give it all up when we become mothers. If that was the case they should have provided a GED alternative called “You want to be a mom, no point in pursuing an education.” Keep the dreams that you once had. If those dreams have changed, GREAT, pursue those new dreams. If your answer was lawyer, doctor, real estate agent, or professional basketball player, develop a plan for yourself and then follow it. So many people say that they’ll “wait until the kids are older,” but what is older? When is older? Will something else get in the way? It is never too late, but the later it gets, the harder it may become to push yourself to start. I am all for taking time off to be a parent, I’ve done it. But have an end date and work towards some of your goals in the interim, or get a plan together so that come that end date, you’re up and running. Then STICK TO IT. If the date is pushed, push it only if you’ve set a new deadline. Then only push it ONCE, twice MAX. If what you always wanted to be is a mother, than you have arrived at your destination. But you can always add something to yourself, like becoming “a mother that cooks super amazing” or “a mother that can tight-rope.” Find something to aspire to and then get to work (see, number 1, GOALS). Children benefit from seeing their mothers working to progress. YOU benefit from working towards your own ambitions.
4. Make new friends and keep the old, one is silver and the other is sanity.
Like I said in Mom Life is Hard: Coping with Postpartum Depression, it feels good to be understood, emotionally and phonetically. No one will understand motherhood like other mothers. If your friends aren’t moms, there’s a whole community of them online. Connect, share, vent, and support others. But don’t just stick to talking to moms. Talk to your friends, old and new. Talk about things that have NOTHING to do with your children. Even if you have to download an app with “dinner conversation questions” until you learn how to speak about things other than your kids, do it. Play that baby shower game that you can’t say “baby” or you’ll lose a pin, but raise the ante. If you talk about your kids, you lose a dollar, or five. Just SPEAK to someone that understands complete sentences.
5. Be authentic and love your authentic self. Do not compare yourself to others. “Judge ‘lest ye be judged.”
This is a three-in-one. Be authentic. Imitation may be the best form of flattery but it’s also the easiest way to lose yourself. Stop trying to match up to other moms and other women. Find out what your likes and dislikes are and be disagreeable when you disagree (in the kindest and most respectful way possible, of course.) Do not ever compare yourself, that’s the speed train to crying over tacos. No mother is like you, no woman is like you, our DNA is different unless you’re a twin, but even then, twins are different too. As much as you can’t compare, you cannot judge. Judging is comparing your value to someone else’s even though you think you scale slightly or greatly better. Comparing and copying is the surest way to see yourself through the eyes of the proposed “norm” and the more we do that, the more we realize we are NOT normal, no one is. You are not a canvas, don’t let anyone paint you.
6. Learn something new.
This one is simple. Try new things. In doing so you find out more about what you like and what you don’t like. In learning your likes and dislikes, you learn more about who you are as a person. At worst, you spend time doing things for yourself. This can be done with your kids or without your kids. If you can’t figure out what it is you want to learn, play a rated PG-version of “never have I ever” with some of those friends from number 4. Try to think of the last time you said “I’ve always wanted to try [fill in this blank]” and do that thing. In trying new things you learn why you were drawn to them or simply how to open yourself up to new opportunities.
7. Develop a hobby.
Remember learning something new in number 6? Try making one of those new things that you really seemed to enjoy, into a hobby. Remember the 15 minutes in number 2? Use those 15 minutes for your hobby. Make sure that it’s something you actually like to do, if not, it’s a chore. Hobbies don’t only give you a sense of self, but many hobbies come with their own forums and friends. There are also studies that show that hobbies have health benefits. Regularly engaging in a hobby that you enjoy can lower blood pressure, weight circumference, and body mass index. Those last two are unlikely if your hobby is participating in national food eating contests, but this is still on my list.
8. Step outside of your comfort zone.
Step out of your comfort zone to do new things, go to new places, with or without your children. In pushing your limits, you learn more about who you are and what you like. I try to say yes to as many things as I can (within a moral boundary) even if it means having to go out of my way a little bit. Because of this I have had INCREDIBLE experiences. Having children is one of those ways we step outside of our comfort zone. No one can tell me parenting is comfortable, but no one can deny how beautiful and rewarding it is. Not every experience will be life-altering, but some might just lead you to chatting with Chelsea Clinton in a hallway or getting an exclusive tour of Disney’s Pandora.
9. Be humble and resourceful.
When it’s the end of the day and you’ve run 145,000 steps without leaving your house because you’re chasing after your children, work doesn’t seem to be working for you, and you’ve been unsuccessful at solving world hunger, or appeasing the world’s seemingly hungriest human hippos, and you can’t seem to brush your hair, or find the brush, or remember whether or not you own a brush, and it’s really only 10:00 AM, it’s time to call on your support system. It is absolutely acceptable and encouraged. Call your husband and tell him that you need a “mental health day.” Forget that cold medicine commercial that says moms don’t get days off. Burn that image with fire. MOMS GET TIME OFF! Take your time. It is better to be sane and away from your kids for a few hours, than to lose your mind, be declared mentally unwell, and then live with a permanent guardian in assisted living. Okay, maybe there are a few-thousand steps between these two extremes, but hyperboles make points. Yes, I linked that to a dictionary just in case you needed a refresher on literary devices, I don’t know how your day is going.
10. Be kind to yourself.
We are our own worst critics. The more we fixate on our faults, the worse and more important they become. If we fixate too much and surround much or all of our attention on our flaws, it becomes difficult to notice our strengths and the parts of ourselves that make us unique. Sometimes the Impostor Syndrome gets the best of us. We lose ourselves in the image of who we want to be on one-dimension, instead of remembering and understanding who we are on a multi-dimensional level. Do not become carried away with who you wish you were or who you used to be before children. Enjoy the present. Like I’ve said before, sometimes it’s hard to push out negativity but if it doesn’t fit in the space among your other thoughts, it loses its power. Force it out by filling your thoughts with positive ones. If you can’t think of any, I will give you three. Repeat them over and over until you can think of new ones on your own. You are an EXCEPTIONAL person and mother. You are smart, kind, and brave. And, my personal favorite, you look damn good in those jeans.
I promise that if you work on getting to know yourself, building your own identity, and work to fulfill your aspirations, you will become a better mother, a better partner, and a happier and more fulfilled person. We may all be in this ride together, but we all have our own seats, it’s up to us to decide how to fill them. Every single person deserves to feel whole and love their whole selves. Fill yourself not only with experiences and personal aspirations, but with self-love and dark chocolate.