Our children and our life partner inspire us to be the best we can be. To strive for more, to become better people. The world becomes a beautiful place, filled with endless possibility. Look at any new or expectant mom and you’ll see her eyes shining with optimism.
The poet Sylvia Plath was a mom and felt this way about her children too, and when she looked at her baby girl’s eyes, she felt inspired to write the words:
“Your clear eye is the one beautiful thing…
I want to fill it with colour and ducks
The zoo of the new…”
Sylvia, ever the perfectionist, drove herself to excel at everything – to be the best academic, daughter, wife, mother and poet. Sadly her quest for perfectionism was her undoing – she didn’t make it to her 31st birthday, and the world lost a gifted woman.
Maybe we can learn from the example of other women, too. Like Kristen Richard, the ex-wife of cyclist Lance Armstrong, who published a book after her divorce. Soul searching had led her to understand a lot of the mistakes she’d made during her marriage and she realised she had turned into a Stepford wife.
The woman who used to be opinionated and interesting to be around, disappeared. Instead, she became what she thought was expected of her: the perfect wife and mother.
She’s quoted in her book as saying: “Society and life left me ill equipped for the task at hand. I felt like there had been a big party – the run-up – after which I was unceremoniously dumped at the school gate and told to get on with it. I felt very alone and very ignorant.”
Kristen, a beautiful, vivacious woman, forgot who she was. She allowed herself to be submerged under a mountain of childcare duties and her husband’s career. Now, when asked, she can rattle off a list of things she loves: “I love God, my family, my friends, red wine, fireworks, going for a sweaty run, laughing until no sound comes out… and taking my time.”
I’ll never forget the excitement and anticipation leading up to my daughter’s birth. She was wanted and loved. And yet, a few weeks after she arrived, I found myself floundering under a tsunami of nappies and baby blankets, struggling to get breastfeeding going.
Standing next to her crib at 3am one morning, I found myself thinking, “I want my life back!” I never really articulated it, but I was depressed for a long time.
I mourned the passing of my old self, simply could not accept the paradigm shift in my relationship with my partner. I missed him, he missed me, but we just did not seem to be able to get back to a comfortable place with each other.
We fought a lot. I cried a lot – even thought about running away. It was a very hard time.
Tips for a happy mom
Four years or so later, here’s what I’ve learned:
- Don’t underestimate the revolution in your life that happens with the arrival of your child. Everything is different. You are treated differently by everybody and you become a different person. Your relationship with your partner is radically different too.
- Put support structures in place. Now is not the time to be proud. Call in favours, get all the help you can, and don’t try to be supermom.
- Make time for your relationship. For this, you will need the support structure. Even if you only manage 2 hours, one evening a week at a mall, where you talk, drink coffee and walk around together. You need to connect with each other away from the baby.
- The truth of a household is that if mom’s not happy, nobody’s happy. For this reason, you need to be selfish. If you need time alone, move heaven and earth to get it. Do something you love to do. Go for a walk, a drive in your car or meet a friend for coffee.
These days, I’m the mother of 3 children – a 4-year-old daughter and 19-month-old twins. I love them fiercely, but I leave my house to go to work every day… this might not be the right solution for you, but it keeps me focused and balanced.
My days have become noisy and pressured and it’s quite a luxury to drive to work in silence. Sometimes I listen to music, but more often than not, I’m content to hear my own thoughts for a while, without any demands being made on me.
Do what works for you. Remember the creative child you once were. You liked making things, or you liked to dance, or collect things from nature, or read stories.
I promise you that by giving yourself permission to play for just one or two sessions a week, your family will benefit and you’ll all be happier for it. It’s not silly or selfish – it’s mandatory.
Without play, and the joy and delight that goes with it, your life will feel like something vital is missing from it. Fewer women would suffer from post-natal depression if they opened their hearts to the whimsical and pleasurable experience of self-discovery.
“It is hardly an exaggeration to assert that flying to the moon is nothing in comparison with raising a child.” – Irwin Matus, clinical psychologist