Becoming Me in Motherhood: Letting Go of the Guilt and Perfection
I love turning on the 90’s on 9 or Hits from the 00’s while I am in the car and sing or rap all the songs from my years past. I never realized what a cliché that was with moms listening to the songs of their youth and embarrassing their kids until, here I am. Because every time I hear one of those songs it brings me back to a great memory- of doing things. Things that brought me so much joy. Dressing up and going out on dates. Singing and dancing with my friends before we went out together to sing and dance even crazier. Running to a really good beat while I trained for a triathlon. When I hear and sing those songs in the car, I can remember a time when making those memories was my only focus.
Having kids has changed that. I LOVE my kids more than anything in this world. Becoming a mother fulfilled a lifelong wish of mine, and it’s everything I could have ever wanted. But the focus of my priorities shifted so drastically and so quickly, as I was trying to keep up I forgot to hold on to a lot of what made me, me. I was so busy trying to check all the boxes for both of my children- enrolling them in activities for their enrichment, making homemade purees, photographing all of their milestones that I forgot what I even liked to do. I work full time and my new manager asked me to write up a little paragraph of what I like to do in my spare time and I honestly couldn’t come up with anything other than “spend time with my family”. I felt fake writing down “I like to run, do pilates and travel” because I hadn’t done any of those in a while. I used to be really creative and spontaneous, and when a mood struck me I did whatever it was I felt like doing. Even if that mood was just to sleep when I was tired. On my schedule.
For two years I was still adjusting to how no matter how carefully laid out my plans were, after having kids, I had no more control. Their needs came first. Their meals, their activities, their play time and I didn’t even question if that was the way it was supposed to be. If I actually did plan to go to the gym but one baby was fussy or needy, I wouldn’t even think twice for not going because they needed me more than I needed the gym. I was meticulous with the foods they ate- all homemade and according to the latest baby nutrition books. I had perfectly planned outfits laid out for them. Until I realized the care I put into their appearance and health was inversely proportionate to mine. They were thriving, looking adorable and fully engaged in activities. I had been gaining weight, not going out with friends like I had used to, and just feeling so unattractive I didn’t even want to go out on date nights with my husband anymore. I have a quote framed in my home office that says “Happiness is pretty simple: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to” -Rita Mae Brown. I was so focused on surviving the days as the best mommy I could be that I stopped making plans I looked forward to as me. My daughter was getting older and I wanted to make it a point that she saw me have my own personality and have friends and have a healthy routine. I knew that them seeing me in action would be a better lesson than simply telling them to be healthy. I decided I needed to put my own needs into the schedule again despite the nagging excuses I had seemed to easily fall back on. Instead of my normal gym membership, I signed up for Orange Theory, an intense hour long exercise class with fun loud music and enough stimulation to make me forget I was away from the kids. The class also runs on a policy where you sign up ahead of time, and if you cancel within an 8 hour window before class you get charged a fee. It held me accountable to go when I signed up. I also made it a point to sign up in the early morning classes before I let the day get away from me and I found an excuse to not go. I could get to class and back before the kids needed to be dropped off in daycare and before my work. The first few months I struggled with letting my husband- who was completely supportive of me getting back into what I loved doing – get the kids ready. I felt guilty I wasn’t doing it, since this was the time I normally played with them in the morning, and would also get upset when he dressed my daughter in mis matched clothes and her hair was a disaster. But as my energy increased and my mood got so much better from this little me time I carved out I realized: no one but me cared that she had a bow in her hair that didn’t match. No one cared if I didn’t have homemade purees in my toddler’s lunch for daycare but me. I was becoming a happier mama to them because of the little time I took care of myself in the morning. I didn’t need to facilitate every minute of the time we were home and together- their play could be independent during the hour I was working out. I learned to practice grace for myself over perfection. I recently joined a women’s league to network with other moms. I love that I can plan ahead to these meetings, which take place after the kids have gone to bed and share in great female/mom/work conversations again. I also looked back at my quote and realized I needed to book things that got me excited in advance. I just signed up for my first race in a long time for two months from now, and a family vacation for later in the summer. Having the excitement of training for the race and planning for the vacation has me excited and focused on my goals.
I talked to a lot of my mom friends about what their thoughts and best tips were for rediscovering themselves after they had kids and I was surprised how much of the theme revolved around letting the little things go. Here are some of what they said:
“I was surprised how much of myself I had lost (and how guilty I felt for feeling that way). My whole world flipped upside down in the first two years of motherhood. When I was 7 months pregnant my dad got diagnosed with cancer, he finished his last chemo treatment the day my son was born and died right after my son turned 1. A couple of months later I was pregnant with number 2. Not only was he gone, my North Star in many ways in my life, but I had disappeared too. My life pre kids was filled with adventure, challenge, travel and well, freedom. All of a sudden I woke up in a life where I was idle. I LOVE my kids but craved anything that used to make me feel alive. I signed up for Body Back through Fit4Mom and a Ragnar race- a crazy 200 mile relay race where you run for 36+ hours. Nothing like a crazy adventure to get me back where I was. I then decided to become a Fit4Mom running coach to connect with other like minded moms local to me” -Missy, 39 Seattle, WA.
“I don’t sweat the small stuff (my kids don’t need a bath every night, they eat mac and cheese more than I thought I would be ok with and I take help whenever I can. I am ok with things not being perfect and instead taking me time in lieu of a perfectly cooked meal.” -Kate, 34, NYC NY
“I think working full time gives you extra guilt as a mother. Being away already for so long during the workday I don’t want to spend more time away from the kids. But I have had to learn to really say ‘no’ to things. I can’t volunteer for everything and I am more protective of my time so I can put my needs and my family’s on equal playing field.” Nicole, 38, NY
“As a mom I want the best for my kids. Sometimes wanting the best for them can lead you to compare your situation to others and that’s when the feelings of insecurity and nagging guilt can creep into your thoughts. I have learned that all my kids want is to be loved and feel safe. What my kids want is for me to be happy. Letting go of keeping up with what others are doing can be liberating!” Christina, 41, San Francisco, CA
“Since becoming a mom there has been an element of guilt when I splurge on something for myself. Recently I’ve realized that by not treating myself occasionally I may start harboring a tiny bit of resentment which ultimately detracts me from the fulfillment of being a mom... so now I buy the outfit or the pair of shoes. I still don’t spend on myself like I used to but I’m no longer rostering the same 4 outfits.” Rena, 39 Oakland, CA
“I realize the days of extravagant girls’ trips are on hold for now but it doesn’t mean a weekend getaway with girlfriends is impossible. I should feel confident enough in my spouse that my children will still be alive after 48 hours, after all it makes me a happier mom and wife”. R 42, CT
I will still listen to the songs and reminisce about the days before becoming a mother and enjoy the memories. I am learning and accepting that there is a difference between putting my kids’ needs first before mine vs.not tending to mine at all. I am exercising my “no” muscle and prioritizing my needs above anything else that isn’t mandatory. I’m still a work in progress, but slowly rediscovering that I am, indeed, more than just a mom.