Nearly ten years in on this journey called motherhood and this is one of the most important lessons I have learnt;
Becoming a mum does not mean one must lose oneself.
What does that even mean? How could you possibly lose yourself? Well the reality is you can and you do. As any parent will know, life changes drastically once you have a baby. Your responsibilities multiply, your priorities shift and as for your goals and routine? For what it’s worth, be prepared to be flexible.
The transition process began for me as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Given the fact that I was pregnant at sixteen I made a decision very early on in my pregnancy that I had to be capable; there was no other choice. If this was to be and I was going to go ahead and have a baby, then despite what anyone thought and in defiance to their objections and disapproval, I would prove them wrong; I would be the best mum.
In my mind that meant completely reinventing myself and distancing myself from the rebellious teenager everyone knew. I went from being a typical sixteen year old, with many friends and always in the mix to hiding away from the world overnight. I could not possibly continue being a teenager, doing normal teenage things as well as be a mother, the two simply did not go hand in hand, I had to pick one role; and I chose to be a mum.
There has never been a day that I have regretted my decision to bring my son into the world because I love him deeply, truly I do. However it saddens me that I did not have the guidance ten years ago to know that I could have been both, choosing motherhood did not mean Jaimeé would cease to exist. On the contrary I was told that if I kept my baby I would be giving up everything. Life would never be the same again, I would never come first and any dreams that I had, well I might as well forget them.
In truth, it was the above counsel that fuelled my desire to relinquish my old life completely, to prove that all that everyone said I would have to sacrifice did not matter to me, though it did. I loved my youth, my freedom and my friends and of course I had dreams and aspirations. Yet, society instructed that I give those up, my needs did not come first anymore. I had made my bed and now I’d have to lie in it.
Consequently my disconnection to life as I had known it prior to pregnancy very quickly ensued. I traded freedom for responsibility, adolescence for adulthood, spontaneity for structure. I stopped communicating with friends, listening to music I enjoyed (Giggs better pop up in your thoughts as an artist, haha), frequenting the youth club I’d once attended religiously, spending time with family and generally going out at all. Sure there were some positive changes as well, I stopped taking risks, I quit smoking, drinking alcohol and loitering around the estates of my youth but my identity as I had known it was gone and I quickly withdrew into myself.
When I look back, it frustrates me that I allowed stigma and the opinions of others to shape my idea of motherhood and influence my journey so profoundly that I felt compelled to disassociate from everything and everyone I knew and transform into someone I didn’t even recognise. Warranted, I evolved into a good little mum along the way however for a little while there it was at the cost of myself when it needn’t have been.
I can think of plenty of other examples where my desire to be the best mum was both unhelpful to my growth and at the expense of having a well rounded existence, though I won’t begin to list them all as it does not make for interesting reading. What I will say is that in hindsight I recognise that my dedication to demonstrating my competence as a mum caused me to not realise or accept when I needed support. It also led to me staying in an unhappy relationship long after I should have left in addition to ignoring and evading opportunities to socialise and meet with friends. My understanding of what being the best mum to my child involved was the cause of unnecessary misery and insecurity when I was unable to meet my own expectations or live up to my parenting ideals.
Conversely, as I do not want to be misunderstood, I do not believe there is anything wrong with wanting to be your best. As a matter of fact you should absolutely aspire to be your best, it is a discipline worth developing. It’s the nature of survival that we do not want to fail or fall short in any area of our lives, not of our expectations, or our peers nor our potential. The problem is, sometimes that desire to be the best & do the best can become unhealthy, destructive and tiring!
My perception of what being the ‘best mum’ entailed was warped, isolating and counterproductive. Best to me meant being wholly committed to being mum and dismissing all of the needs & wants of Jaimeé. It meant sacrificing who I was before I was a mum and who I was away from being a mum. It resulted in feeling guilty anytime I done something for myself and in reality it was a damaging mindset to have adopted. In light of this, a few years ago I decided I didn’t need to be the best mum in the world, my idea of best was delusional and subjective anyway.
Being a good mum is enough. Being a good mum is about taking care of yourself and your needs. It requires growth, practice and sacrifice as well as patience for both your child and yourself. It demands self-evaluation and elevation. It means being comfortable and humble enough to ask for help, advice or support or to lean on the village around you. Being a good mum involves work (lots of it), mistakes (lots of them), learning curves (life is no straight road) and a never ending commitment to growth.
See, in motherhood there is no peak or destination for one to stop, rest and praise one’s self for their good job. Being a good mum is a conscious effort to wake up everyday until your last, acknowledging the new opportunity to be a better you and a better mum. It is accepting that sometimes you will make mistakes and you might not always have it all together, but if your will is strong and you are prepared to grow then you are already half way there.
So ladies, don’t waste your time attempting to be the best mum, instead aspire to be the best you because believing you are “the best mum” or making that ideal your goal grounds your growth. The definition of best is ‘the most excellent’. To delude yourself that your parenting ability is or can be of the highest degree leaves no room for improvement and plenty of room for disappointment.
You don’t have to lose yourself in motherhood, consume yourself in motherhood or wear motherhood like a skin. It is perfectly acceptable to be a mum and be you too. To take breaks between the routine of life, to nurture yourself, to establish your own hobbies and invest time, effort and money into your own needs. It’s fine to have that extra drink, accept that invitation to meet friends or let your child spend a little more time on the iPad just so you can finish reading that book.
I avoided being me for a couple of years and quit investing time in myself, my goals and my relationships because I was busy devoting all of my time and energy into being mum & I am happy to hold my hands up and admit my judgement was off.
If I could give one piece of advice to any mum or mum to be it would be, do not lose yourself like I did and/or allow society to pressure or guilt trip you into thinking once you become pregnant your identity is limited to being “mum”. There is no shame in finding the balance between who you were, who you are and motherhood.