I remember the day I realized I was pregnant with my son. My now ex-husband and I were amused that God thought our young, very silly selves should be entrusted with a baby. A whole baby? Surely You jest, God!
There was a sense of wonder about the changes happening in my life, my body, and my spirit. One minute I was excited and coming up with baby names, and the next I was filled with uncertainty, doubting my capabilities to be a good parent. I read articles in magazines and online about motherhood. I combed through blogs and message boards on the topic. In between tips on sleep training, breastfeeding vs. bottle, working vs. stay-at-home moms, and how to prepare your newborn for college, I began to notice this underlying theme: sacrifice.
It was very clear that being a good mother meant giving your all until you had nothing left—and then finding even more to give. When it seemed you weren’t giving enough, you were critiqued, challenged, and often called a bad mother. Any moment you took for yourself was accompanied by tremendous guilt. I cannot begin to count how many of my mom friends shared that they couldn’t use the bathroom in peace. Odes are written about the love and sacrifices of mothers.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that sacrifice is needed in all areas of life, especially when you’re responsible for another life that is completely dependent on you. However, there’s a particular brand of sacrifice expected of mothers that’s akin to martyrdom, asking us to give our lives in service to motherhood. I learned quickly that that particular brand of motherhood would not work for me. I wanted to pee in peace.
I LOVE being a mother. I especially love being a mom to my son. He’s the best thing ever! He’s a center of my joy, not the center of it. All my mom friends talk about the beauty and gift of motherhood, and there this a unique joy in the honor of parenting. However, the other side was the challenge of it and the feelings of losing myself. A number of my friends have children leaving for college soon, and they are at a loss for what to do with their lives once the children are out of the house. I spoke with a friend at a homecoming party whose son wasn’t leaving for a couple of years, yet she was already struggling.
I knew if I wanted to be an excellent mother—the mother my son really needed—I had to lean away from that definition. I could not make ‘mom’ my sole identity. I had to redefine motherhood for myself. I decided to be a mom, not a martyr.
I had to find a way to hang onto the things that were most important to me, things that brought me peace and kept me grounded. I couldn’t do all the things, so I prioritized what was most important. Sometimes that was just an hour to myself—to be still and quiet or to read. It looked like a short run (or a long one, if I was lucky), either alone or with the local chapter of Black Girls Run! It was time with my friends and line sisters or a solo adventure to the museum or a tropical island. Of course this wasn’t every day or even every week. My son’s needs were still a priority, but that never meant that I stopped being one too.
I gave myself a few rules to help guide me and set boundaries.
- Love the child I have, not the one I imagined. This helped me to see my son’s gifts and nurture them, so he could become his own person, not just an extension of me.
- Allow my son to see me take care of him and continue to nurture myself and follow my dreams. It was important for me to not only take care of myself, but for my son to see me do it. I didn’t want his example of womanhood to be one of labor in service to others at the expense of oneself. I believed this would give him a healthier view of women as he began to date, possibly marry, or be a parent if he chooses to do so.
- Create a village of support and actually use it. We say it takes a village to raise a child, but for so many it can be hard to ask for help. I realized quickly that I needed an extended village in addition to our families to help guide my son. (Honestly, I needed my village for myself too!) There was nothing like a good friend checking in to make sure I was taking care of myself.
These things helped me to experience all the joys and to handle the pressures of parenthood with more grace than I may have been able to have on my own. And I have a squad helping me to celebrate as well. Sometimes I still wonder did I do okay? When I see him growing, following his passions, and being a good human, it helps me know that I did.Leave a Comment