Note: I found the following post while cleaning up old drafts a few days ago. My breath caught when I read it. My grandmother passed away recently and I’ve been missing her so much, then I find this post from April 2017 that I never published for whatever reason. It felt like a sign that she will always find me and guide me because of course I’ve been grappling with similar stresses recently as a mom of now two children. What a tremendous gift. If you’re a new mom, her wisdom is vital.
I accidentally unloaded some motherhood anxieties on to my grandmother during a recent phone call. I didn’t mean to, it all just sort of fell out of me in the way that worries and stresses do when you’re sharing with someone who loves you endlessly and has been there and back again more times than you can fathom.
I shared how much I struggle with guilt these days, with balancing my work and needs with those of my child, the level to which this guilt and struggle affects my anxiety. When I was done, she clucked in that familiar way that immediately tosses worries aside, a loving, dismissive flick of the tongue that assures you you’re being a bit ridiculous, and dropped some knowledge on me that I cannot stop thinking about. She said,
“Honey, kids need you to be a person. That’s how they learn to be one.”
It’s the kind of wisdom that is so perfectly stated and easily expressed that she may not have even realized just how poignant and brilliant she is, as she quickly moved on to other topics. I scrawled a note to myself while we chatted further so as not forget just how much this rocked my world and scattered my thoughts in a million directions.
Because this is an eye-opener to someone like me. Someone who has spent endless hours fretting, worrying, hand-wringing over balancing my own needs and limitations as a person, with my ideals of motherhood. Could it all be so simple?
My grandmother, a mother of four, a grandmother of ten, and a great-grandmother of seven (note: now ten!), knows what she is talking about. It is possible it is just that simple, even when it doesn’t remotely feel like it.
It merits constant reminder that in this day and age of parenting, mothers are expected to do it all in a way that is unsustainable and can be ultimately damaging to both our mental and physical health.
We are expected to give everything of ourselves to our children; to keep them close enough they don’t get hurt, but far enough we don’t helicopter over them. To attend to them and their needs so precisely that they never tantrum at Target, but to make sure we let them endure enough hardship that they build resilience. To never be on our phones, but to absolutely maintain our careers, sex appeal, identities, interests, hobbies, relationships, and make it all look good for our social media.
Just as with every societal expectation thrown at women, it is an exhausting and impossible standard to live up to. And so we must quiet the criticism, external or internal, and remember that while mothers are AMAZING, we still are just people.
We need time to think, imagine, create, build, recharge. We need space and quiet and sleep, damn it. We need breaks from our kids.
Generally speaking, mothers with older or multiple children give me hope because they personify this lesson so well. It’s like they realized somewhere along the way that if they didn’t take time for themselves, their heads would pop off their bodies from the pressure.
These seasoned moms are the ones who rely on their own intuition and experience, who actually talk with their friends on playdates instead of hovering over their children, who have no time for judgement of themselves or others because they’ve been through it all and know that every parent is just doing their damn best.
You know who (generally) also doesn’t worry about taking care of their own needs? Dudes. If my husband needs a shower, a session at the gym, a haircut, a guys weekend, he asserts what he needs and doesn’t think twice. I’ve gotten better at that, but unlike him, I hold GUILT about it. Guilt for being away from the kid(s). Guilt that I need a life outside of them. Guilt that being a mom isn’t the only thing that satisfies and fulfills me. He just looks at me like, “Babe, you getting a haircut isn’t going to traumatize the children.”
As my own mom says, guilt is a useless emotion.
Whenever I take time for myself, I’ve returned refreshed, invigorated and missing my kiddo something awful. He’s been fine (of course!) and he also is always interested in what I was doing, asking for stories from the world or what I’m working on (when I go to write).
So let’s take a cue from the seasoned mothers among us, the dudes around us, for the exact purpose of my grandmother’s shared wisdom: so our kids learn how to be people, too.
As we newer moms integrate our identities with motherhood, we all must learn to make time to balance the beautiful demands of motherhood with the essential demands of personhood. To do things like exercise, read, have a girl’s night, go on a date, go for a hike, get our nails done, play music, watch a basketball game, garden, sit. (Oh, to simply sit.)
As our children grow, don’t we want them to be independent, resilient, interested, whole beings who know how to both take and give, ask and offer, help and receive? We must model it for them.
If, like me, you struggle with this at times, consider my grandmother’s words. Our kids need us to have a life outside of them, so they can learn how to have one, too. Our kids need us to have a life inside ourselves, so they can learn how to have one, too.
Anyone who asserts that we must abandon our personhood for motherhood, is flat-out wrong. They can, should, and do coexist.
We become even better mothers, when we are the whole people our own mothers, and grandmothers, taught us to be.