The Importance of Being Someone Other Than Mum

This is an introspective post today.

I have learned a lot from my clients, who I have had the honour of working for for many years.

The most important lesson was holding onto who I am after having a baby.

At the time of my first child, I trained two kinds of mum:

1) The go-getter that did it all; juggled looking after herself, her family, travelled, and more.

2) The late 40’s/early 50’s mum that had spent the last 20 years on her family, lost herself, and was at the gym looking to regain a semblance of that woman.

There is obviously another mum, one who thrives on her role as mother, and this post is not a judgement on her choice. Rather, I say lucky her!! This is a comment on some women (like me) who want something for themselves, and who have to put that on hold when they have their babies (and we still love our kids!!).

What type 1 and 2 mum had in common was guilt. The first was guilty because she did a 30min session at the gym, or worked, or never did canteen duty at school. The second was guilty because she felt she’d failed; that is, her relationship was non existent, her kids generally unappreciative, or she’d stacked on the kilos.

There’s no-win for many women of today, and I must admit the balance is sometimes impossible to get right! It’s almost as if we need a objective 3rd party giving us permission to seek our own pleasure!

For me, whilst going back to work when Evie was 8wks old was hard, it was also fantastic to spend a couple of shifts each week as Clare. Not a “new mum”, mother, or any other label. I remember I cried in many sessions (something my 20 YO self would have been horrified about!), exhausted and worried about Evie’s first cold, ear infection, or other affliction. The women I was training had such a wealth of practical knowledge, that they made it possible for me to carry on!

Obviously it was my goal to be type 1 mum, but this would not have been possible on my own, without the valuable feedback from the women I was training.

Second time around, apart from a few health issues, I was far better equipped to carry on!

However to this day, I have never escaped that guilty feeling when I trot off for a windsurf or a holiday. Without the support of my family, in particular my mum, dad, and husband, the road of least-obstruction would be to stay at home and serve my family 24/7. This is fine for the mum that chooses it, as it is her idea of a happy and fulfilling life. My point is that sometimes we do not choose it, but find ourselves drowned in it 20yrs down the track, wondering what happened.

For a mum that needs to be something other than mum, these are my top tips:

  1. Do your thing – for me it was sailing. As participating in a crew (who relied on me) was not possible with a new baby, I bought a windsurfer when I was pregnant with Evie. After she was born, I learned how to use it, then raced locally whenever I could. For you it might be a creative pursuit, sport, the theatre, or even a coffee tradition down at the beach.
  2. Insist on doing your thing – no matter what. For me, Saturday afternoons are mine. I will move mountains to find a babysitter if Chris is at work and I want to go. You go do your thing whether you’re tired, sore, or the kids are mental, get out. Do it. I have even brought them along with me, and taken them hiking or sailing, whatever I intended on the day.
  3. Seek support – your husband is the obvious place, but don’t stop there if you don’t find what you thought you would. Explain that a few hours a week is important for your mental health, and you need his permission or support to help you avoid feeling guilty. With luck, your guy will be the one pushing you out the door when you’re umming an ahhing about whether or not you should go!
  4. Work or Volunteer – there’s sufficient research on working and volunteering that supports that it is important for our sense of worth and happiness. If you don’t need to work, give your time to a local charity. Even better if you can bring your baby along! However, this time is important because YOU are important in this capacity, as a human performing a function other than ensuring the future of humankind.
  5. Remember that you are ensuring the future of humankind – and be smug about it! Whatever anyone says about the “leisurely” life you chose (and this is something that gets my goat as a mum; full time mums are in a relentless cycle of serving – it is not easy, and it is WORK!), this baby would not survive if you did not grow it (all by yourself), and feed it from your own body (all by yourself). Dad, thanks for the fertilization, but mum has ensured that your genes survive, so thank her and send her packing to the beautician, or for a run, whatever makes her happy!
  6. Think outside the box- how can you make yourself happy, your baby happy, your dogs happy, and your 3YO happy? For my family, it is usually exercise. My question is “how do I train, exercise the dogs, and give the kids an activity, all in one day, and preferably all at once, since I am time-poor?”. Find the answer to that and you find yourself a happy family.
  7. Juggle – If you can’t do it all at once, then find a way to do it anyway. Remember to schedule a rest in this scenario, as it is easy to burn out.
  8. Say Yes – if someone asks you to dinner, or on a trip, and your first response is “I’d love to, but…”, stop talking and just say “yes” (provided you would actually love to). Saying yes will push you to find a way to make it happen, and keep you socialised and versatile. This in turn opens up new opportunities!

For new mums, and mums-to-be, these are some key things I have learned:

  1. You will be tired, and this is okay – Saturday afternoons are still YOURS (or whatever arrangement you come to), and if you chose to spend it in bed, that is your prerogative, you are ensuring the future of humankind after all.
  2. The baby won’t remember crying – you’ve changed it, hugged it, fed it, and it’s still crying. That’s okay, they won’t remember, and you are not harming them.
  3. Dad can do it – he’ll do it wrong (according to us!), but both he and the baby will be fine.
  4. Your baby needs to grow up knowing that you are important – one day it will be a 15 YO and the fact you breast fed it for 24 months won’t mean zip.
  5. Start as you intend to finish – if you can rock your baby to sleep for every sleep for the next 5 years, go for it. I couldn’t!
  6. Before they’re born, you need: a vaporiser, saline nasal spray, baby vicks, baby panadol AND neurofen (if they don’t take one they’ll take the other) for their first cold. It’s the most terrifying experience for you, but for most of us it will be okay.

Remember, I am not a baby expert, and I have zero qualifications in this field! These ideas of how it “should” be have come from 15yrs of working with mums, listening to their lives pre-baby, and listening to their advice post-baby. I have been very fortunate to have had these women in my life.

x Clare

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