You might occasionally wonder, what was the last book you read that made you stop and think?
When was the last time you spent a whole hour enjoying something you really love to do and lost yourself in the moment?
When did you last spend a happy few hours shopping for clothes or getting your hair done?
Chances are those things are distant memories that you can just about recall before you rocked elasticated maternity jeans. Does this lack of time for yourself mean that your identity as a mother has taken over the person you were before?
Losing ourselves beneath the load of motherhood
Motherhood is always being switched on and ready to react and listen to, or soothe or guide your child.
Motherhood is the rocking, the endless washing, the remembering of the millions of things we have to do to keep all our plates spinning in the air.
It’s the most rewarding job in the world but it can also be relentless and it’s often exhausting. After a while many mothers feel that they can barely remember who they were before they became a mum.
You matter as well
Mums often neglect their own needs completely in order to meet those of their children.
We sacrifice our sleep to comfort and soothe our children back to sleep.
We spend time and effort to give our children nutritious meals but can end up eating the leftovers cold ourselves, while standing up and clearing the dishes.
We make sure the children have clean clothes and look presentable. At the same time we throw on the same outfits we’ve owned for years and scrape our hair back into another ‘messy hair, don’t care’ style.
When we’re rushing to look after others as well as we can, it can mean that our own self-care goes to the bottom of the list of priorities. After a while mums can even begin to feel guilty if they take any time out for themselves.
Psychiatrist, Dr Gail Saltz, says:
There is some maternal ideal of being self-sacrificing that just isn’t consistent with having time for yourself.
She feels that it is vital for women to look after themselves.
She says that self-care and taking time out for yourself is not a bad thing to do, but a healthy choice that benefits both mums and their children:
You have to put on your oxygen mask first. If you go to pieces, everyone is going down with you. So you have to give time to yourself. That is healthy, not selfish or narcissistic. That is a tough concept for a lot of women.
Motherhood today is harder than in previous generations
One of the reasons we struggle with our identity as a mother is because today, parenthood is harder than it was a generation or two ago.
They say it takes a village to raise a child but nowadays many mums live far away from their extended families. This sense of village is being eroded and more mothers are feeling isolated.
It’s much easier to take a bit of time for yourself, if you know that there is a wider community of family and neighbours who are there to watch over your children.
Back in the day mums could let children go out to play on their own, on their bikes and in the streets, while they finished their jobs and grabbed a breather.
Nowadays with more traffic on the roads and less of a community around us this is no longer possible. Instead we often have to sit awkwardly on the pavement while our children play out to make sure they are safe.
Research shows that parents now spend twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago.
Another recent study highlighted the fact that mothers spend, on average, 7 hours a day carrying out tasks to make sure their children are cared for and organised for their day.
It broke down the tasks mums carry out each and every day. It showed that mums manage at least 26 separate tasks while also juggling at least 12 major jobs.
The school run, organising meal times and doing all the household chores are just a few.
It’s no wonder mums have little time or energy left over to give to themselves. We’re busier than ever before but does that mean we’re better?
We are ‘mum’ but we are also ‘ourselves’
It’s easy to understand how being a mother can become your whole identity.
Those little people you brought into the world have helped you grow and love in a way you could never have imagined before. But it’s still hard work keeping up with the increasing demands of motherhood.
If we don’t have family or community around us to help out, it can leave us feeling claustrophobic and frustrated.
Know that it’s OK to want more. To want to have opportunities to be seen and valued as a woman and as yourself, together with as a mum.
Your identity as a mother can include your passions and hobbies as well as your children.
Writing for Scary Mommy, Holly Lee, recalls the moment she realised how much she had lost herself to the role of motherhood. She says:
Looking in the mirror, I had no idea how I had changed so much. I didn’t recognise that woman as anything other than the shell of a mother. Where had my personal identity gone? I realised that I had to be more than a mother, not just for myself, but also to teach my children the value of putting yourself first sometimes.
For Holly it was carving out the time in her days and weeks to go running and to write that helped her find herself again.
She started to give herself permission to rediscover her strengths and do the things she loved again. It not only empowered her and helped her develop her identity as a mother, but it also made her children proud.
She recalls the pride she felt when she overheard her young son telling a friend at the park that his mummy was a runner and a writer. He recognised and saw that these were important parts of her identity, as well as being his mum.
Why it’s important to find your balance
Julie Ross, Owner and Executive Director at Parenting Horizons believes that a good mum is one who finds the balance between being a mother and taking care of her own needs. She says:
I think a ‘good mom’ is a balanced mom. Being balanced means taking not only your children’s needs seriously but also your own. When mothers practice self-care, they impart the importance of that on their children as well. I think that more and more, the world is becoming imbalanced, ‘success’ being determined by how many hours one works and how much money one makes. To create balance (for themselves and for their children), moms need to show that it’s ok to take a break, read a book, have a nice long bath, take a walk by yourself. In that way, they can come back to parenting refreshed and renewed.
Mamas, wear your badges proudly
Being a mum is a badge you should wear loud and proud, because you are amazing.
Remember that the demands of being a mother today are more than they were 50 years ago as our lives have become busier and our children need more supervision to stay safe.
In the thick of it all, it’s easy to feel you’ve lost yourself and that you can now only see your identity as a mother.
You are the bedrock of your family. Your own happiness and well-being matters. That little break you can take to have some time out makes a difference.
Making a bit of time in your week to pursue the things you love can make a difference to you as a person, as well as to you as a mother.
You will benefit from it and your children will benefit from seeing you fulfilled and happy. They will learn more about who you are, and also about the importance of self-care for themselves.
So the next time you feel guilty about doing something for yourself, remember that who you are as a mother can also include looking after your own well-being, and developing your interests and passions.
- “In ‘doing it all,’ moms neglect an important person: themselves”, Today
- “Mothers have 26 morning tasks, study shows”, The Telegraph
- “Parents now spend twice as much time with their children as 50 years ago”, The Economist
- “It’s Okay To Remember That You’re More Than A Mother”, Scary Mommy
- “Mothers Who Put Themselves First: Selfish Or Sane?”, Huffington Post