*Yes, that is my son holding a muffin cup in his mouth that he made into a parachute with some string and a stick*
My husband was ready to have a baby before I was. I think it was like three days after our wedding festivities ended when he told me he wanted a baby. I was 34 years old and had hoped to put off that decision for at least a few more years. We had often discussed having children, and we were both open to it, but neither of us felt totally committed to it…until this.
I took all my hesitations, feelings, and questions to therapy, and found out I had many fears. I would not be walking into motherhood with a fantasy about it how great it was going to be, that was clear. I was afraid of getting lost in my family’s needs, prioritizing my husband and child(ren) and putting myself last, and of looking around in twenty years realizing I took good care of everyone but totally forgot about myself. I was afraid of losing my connection to my dreams, aspirations, identity, career, needs, spirituality, independence…all of the things I deeply valued.
Basically, I was afraid of loss. And accepting loss would inevitably be part of making this decision.
As I faced all of these fears, what kept rising to the surface was the experiential knowing that I had a partner, my husband, who would not allow me to become invisible nor lost in whatever family we created. I knew he had my back. Gradually, I realized that I could wholeheartedly take the leap into the unknown of motherhood, if he was with me.
But as comforting as his presence was for me in this massive life decision, it wouldn’t protect me from feeling whatever I needed to feel to evolve into being a mother.
I did feel loss in becoming a mother. Of course I did. Anytime we grow, anytime we gain something, there is loss. However, I was no longer afraid of the losses that came with motherhood. Tears of grief for my former life came right alongside the deepest feelings of gratitude for my babies and the opportunity to be a mother. Aspects of my former life just peeled away into the compost heap of my past, without much consideration. Through the rigors of mothering and family life with two young children, I got down to the bones of who I am, what I believe, and what I want for my life now.
I did, however, lose something I never imagined I would. I had thought in those months I spent pondering motherhood, that if I did become a mother, I would probably struggle the most with trying to get enough time alone. Would I have enough space for myself? I thought I would have to put a lot of energy towards, and even fight for, making sure there was enough time carved out for me.
ME. Me. me…
It’s not surprising, really, that I was afraid of not having enough time alone. If you look around, all of the advice for mothers out there has something to do with this idea of needing to take space, finding time for oneself, and making more time for “self care.”
It seems we all agree as a society that the loss of our independence is the hardest part of having a family, and that we should do everything we can to protect it. As if we think that if a woman has time to do things alone, that will preserve and protect her best in the rigorous demands of mothering.
Well the weirdest thing happened for me when I became a mother: I no longer wanted, or needed regular periods of extended time alone. I didn’t really care if I couldn’t get to yoga, or a retreat, or get outside alone, or sit on my meditation cushion. (One of our meditation cushions actually became a booster seat at our kitchen table eventually, which it worked great for, even with the food stains and all). I was completely focused on my baby’s and family’s needs. I was surprisingly CHILL about the complete lack of space, privacy, quiet, and separateness that I used to value so much. In my early years of motherhood, the most physically, emotionally, and mentally overwhelming, demanding, exhausting, confronting years of my life, I didn’t want space.
All I wanted was to be as close as I could to the people I loved…WTF?
I had expected myself to crave alone time, and to have to fight to get it. I hadn’t prepared myself for craving the connection and closeness available at home. And I really didn’t anticipate feeling so enormously nourished by my relationships with my husband and children.
For a while, I judged myself for not leaving home more. I was completely suspicious of the part of me that wanted to be with my husband and babies as much as I could. This isn’t what I heard other mothers talking about, for the most part. After some experimenting, and making and breaking plans, I had to look closer at what I was actually experiencing. What I found was that I felt more resourced and inspired about my entire life when I was with my husband and our children.
It’s important to note that I also dealt with deep exhaustion a few years into motherhood, and was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, too. One would think I REALLY needed more time away from the demands of motherhood. But I felt more stressed, anxious, and unsettled when I was without them after a certain amount of time. It was more restful, less stressful, and even replenishing to be home.
And that is not because home was “easy” or even quiet, far from it. But there was a ton of love and care there, and that was good for me.
I didn’t know how to trust that I actually did better amidst the fullness of family life, with the love and care of husband and the bond I was forming with my children, than when I was by myself, alone. No one had EVER said THAT could happen. Or, I definitely wasn’t listening if they did.
As a new mother, what I needed to feel resourced for the job of nurturing my little tribe was connection. Deep, quality, satisfying connection, especially with my husband. Whatever you do, mama, if you are married or partnered, do not underestimate the importance of your relationship on your well being, physical health, and nervous system. I also benefited tremendously from a few dear friendships, where we could hold space for each other and have conversations that helped me find my way as a mother. As a mother I knew how vital my connection with my baby was for his development, and I was also learning through my own experience that my connections were just as important for me.
The way I see it is that the mother needs what the baby needs. She needs to be held, loved, and attended to as if her well being was the most important thing. Because it is. As if her well being was important and necessary to be cared for emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually not just by herself, but by others. Because it is.
A well resourced mother can provide a world of goodness to her child, let alone her whole family. She can even be a grounding resource for her community when she feels well cared for. But mothers can get into a deep hole when all we focus on is what our child needs, and completely lose touch with our own needs. Especially our need for nourishing relationships.
I know that some mothers (as I have, too) feel spent emotionally after being with a baby or two all day, or working and then getting dinner made and kids to sleep and having not had 10 seconds alone in days. I know you are tired, and just want some quiet and sleep. But if I could plant any seed in your tired sweet head, it would be that what you ALSO really need is a warm, safe, and loving embrace that is just for you, your mind, heart, and body, and all that you are giving with all day, every day.
I say all this because not only do we tend to underestimate what we need as mothers, we tend to underestimate what others (especially our husbands and partners) can do for us. We think no one can really help us with the stress of the demands, the intensity of the needs, the difficulty of putting our life and identity together in a way that works for who we are now. We think we have to do it alone, like we always have.
And we couldn’t be more wrong.
So mothers. I hear you. Perhaps you do need more time alone, to even get a sense of what you might need amidst the onslaught of early childhood and a growing family’s needs. But I’m here to assert that what you need beyond that step is far more powerful and restorative than more time alone. You need supportive, loving, consistent connection in your life.
I hope this inspires you in some way to lean in to your partner, or whoever is your biggest support, even more. Emotionally and physically, put yourself in the position of having needs, putting voice to them, and seriously prioritizing them. As mothers, we must practice this. Most of us dearly want to impart to our children the message that they are loved no matter what they need. We want them to know their needs matter, they can be met, and are welcome with us.
But the best way to get this message deep in their bones is to live it ourselves.