Like Riding a Bicycle
You had all sorts of hobbies and interests before you had kids. Why can’t they also be part of your life as a parent?
You join a special club when you become a mom. The daily dues require you to talk endlessly with other mothers about diapering, sleep routines, feeding, and pediatricians, and later, when your children are older, playdates, schools, and bake sales. You seem to spend most of your formerly free time with the other club members or tending to the club’s main focus — kids. It’s perfectly understandable — becoming a mom is, after all, a unique, life-altering event. In fact, many women choose to let motherhood define who they are (have you noticed the explosion of mommy bloggers and tweeters?) and allow many of their pre-parenthood interests and hobbies to fall to the wayside.
While it’s natural to shift a huge part of your attention to your children, it’s really not the best thing for them, or you, to shift all of your attention. “If you try to give 100 percent to your kids, that means you are leaving 0 percent for yourself,” says parenting expert and mom Amy Tiemann, Ph.D., “and that sets you up for burnout and depression.” Not to mention guilt. Dr. Tiemann, author of Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family, says it’s important to follow your own star both for your personal well-being and to teach your children by example. Think of it this way: You’re still the same person inside that you’ve always been in most ways, you’ve just shoved that part of you into a storage closet. The ideas that follow can help you open the closet door, rummage through, and find yourself again in the sometimes messiness of motherhood.
Talk to Your Partner
Some women are lucky enough to have husbands who seem to simply shine as intuitive partners. But many moms get what they need because they are good at asking for help and being specific about what they want. Whether your husband naturally steps up to the plate or you have to nudge him into the batter’s box, talk to him about what you think works best for both of you. When you’re shouldering uneven loads in terms of caregiving, breadwinning, or household duties, it’s hard not to let frustration build in one or both of you. But when you’ve got the support you need, you’ll feel lighter, and you’ll have more time for your own extracurricular activities, like a morning bike ride or a dance class. When you need time to yourself, ask for that, too — you can’t expect your partner to read your mind.
Be a Role Model
Your children shouldn’t see themselves as the only planet in your universe. Connect with a passion you have, whether it’s one that excited you before motherhood or one you’ve always wanted to try. Maybe you join an art class, a sports team, or a foreign language–learning club. You deserve to have time to develop your personal identity. Doing so is great for your mind, body, and soul, and it benefits your family by providing your little ones with a role model — a strong woman who has personal interests, skills, and talents. Little girls need to see Mom as a bright force with determination and a distinguishable style so they’ll be encouraged to follow their own hearts as they grow older. And boys will learn that women are admirable and determined people who aren’t just there to take care of kids, but have full, complete lives.
When your romantic life is just a collection of moments grabbed in between bedtimes and bottles, it can be hard to remember who you and your husband are as a couple. It can even be hard to remember what it feels like to be an attractive and interesting woman. (That’s why finding time alone — even just 10 minutes — to exercise, take a nap, or wash your hair is just as important as making time to be with your partner.) Try setting a breakfast date. Lots of people do the date night thing (and we recommend that, too), but something unique and unexpected makes things even more exciting. Make eggs or pancakes together, just the two of you, once a week. Instead of going to a movie where you can’t talk to each other, go bowling or take an evening hike under the stars. Life is sweeter when you’re more closely connected. We think you’ll find the time investment is well worth it. Don’t forget, you’ll be together even after your children (far, far in the future!) leave the nest.
Think About the Long Run
Right now, you might be a full-time mom, but this stage of your life won’t last forever — even if you are raising the equivalent of two baseball teams like reality TV mom Michelle Duggar. “I encourage mothers to stay connected to paid work in the long run,” says Tiemann. The economy may make it tough right now, but if you can find something that fits with your schedule, you’ll expand your world. You’ll also meet new friends and gain experiences and stories to share with others. The possibilities are up to you: It could be freelance Web site building or waiting tables on the weekends while your little ones are at soccer practice. Whatever your current situation, staying in the loop means some networking, whether in person, by phone, or by e-mail. With the abundance of online social networking tools (Facebook, Linked-In, blogs, virtual communities), it’s easy to do without having to leave home. “You need to nurture your ties so that those connections are available to you when you’re ready for them. I think of it as keeping a small flame glowing, even in challenging times, so that you have a spark to restart your bonfire later,” says Tiemann.
Add Yourself to Your Schedule
Take a look at your calendar — Gymboree class? Check. Kids’ dance lessons? Check. That mommy time we mentioned a minute ago? That’s what we thought. You need to actually put time for yourself on your calendar. By formalizing a standing commitment to “me time” in writing you’ll get a sense of permanence — and you’ll be more likely to make a habit of it. Agree to meet with a friend every Sunday, for example, or read for half an hour after lunch. You should also feel free to take a spontaneous breather when you need to, whether downtime is on your schedule or not. Even Superwoman took a siesta or had a cocktail with the gals every now and then. Resist the urge to simply power through when you know you need a break. Hanging out with the girls might give you a few more ideas about new museum exhibits opening, a must-try restaurant in town, a play you’d like to see, or an art studio offering Tuesday night pottery classes.
Easy ways to start feeling more centered
Write: About anything but your children. You might start a journal, send an e-mail to a friend, or pen a silly story to send to your sister.
Read: A chapter of The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal by Renee Trudeau or Momma Zen: Walking the Crooked Path of Motherhood by Karen Maezen Miller.
Visit: Your favorite museum or art gallery. For inspiration, you might virtually visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current collections at metmuseum.org or the Chrysler Museum of Art’s collection at chrysler.org. They’re two of our favorites.
Browse: Amy Tiemann’s website, mojomom.com. Try her podcast and the Mojo Mom Party Kit (for planning a girls’ night out).
Subscribe: To a magazine that inspires you. Travel? Food? Sports? Get in touch with whatever lights your fire just by turning a page. Bonus points if you do it while soaking in a tub.
Amy Levin-Epstein has been published in Glamour, Self, Prevention, Pregnancy, and All You, and on Web sites including Babble, WomansDay.com, and Details.com. Read more of her work on amylevinepstein.com.