To say motherhood is relentless, demanding and all-consuming is nothing revelatory. Sacrifices are part of the orientation to motherhood and they are infinite. Our pelvic floors and sleep are often the first casualties, and older children put a dramatic halt to freedom, spontaneity, and that elusive thing called personal space.
Admittedly it’s not only mothers who sacrifice. Fathers give up a lot too. But five years into parenting I am learning that there is one sacrifice that remains largely a mother’s sacrifice: the loss of self.
This sense of losing oneself seems to be part of becoming a mother, almost like a rite of passage. It’s virtually impossible to reconcile your own needs with those of your children. And yet this is one sacrifice that we should not make.
I have been grappling with this hurdle for a while now. The closer I am to the mother I want to be, the further away “me” seems to be. It’s almost as though the two personas can’t co-exits — at least not with a modicum of equality. You see, to be the “perfect” mother, I must put my children’s needs ahead of my own. To be myself I must put myself first. To succeed at one, means to lose sight of the other.
Recently as I sorted through the ever-building pile of kinder notices, birthday invitations and extra-curricular forms encroaching on my workspace (read: kitchen table) I felt utterly overwhelmed. It struck me in that moment that I was being engulfed by motherhood. Totally and utterly wiped out. I am suffering from mothering burn out, and no one is to blame but me.
For the past five years I have poured all my energy into my children, to be the best version of a mother that I can. Pursuing a professional life is virtually impossible in my current domestic arrangement. With three pre-schoolers at home, and three sets of activities and conflicting schedules, and limited child care options, my writing self must be squeezed in around naps, kinder and burning the midnight oil.
I’ve neglected all other areas of my life; health and wellbeing included. Pap smears are delayed, dentist appointments missed, and yoga classes researched but never enrolled. I have come to realise that perhaps I am not doing my family any favours by dedicating myself entirely to their needs. I have favoured child rearing over my own personal growth.
I don’t want to miss a mothers’ day event at kinder. I don’t want to miss their ballet performance and I don’t want to miss kinder duty. I want to look after them when they’re sick, teach them to write their own name, and foster their emotional and physical development. I want to be involved in it all but this comes at a cost; a cost to myself.
While mothering duties account for the largest part of my time and energy, I am also a wife, sister, daughter, aunt, friend, writer, sister-in-law and daughter-in-law. Yet once I have finished giving to each of these roles there is very little leftover to simply be “me.” The “me” without expectations. The “me” without obligations. The “me” who is not a mother. The “me” who is free to simply be….
Mothering intrudes on my evenings as well. I am too exhausted and depleted at the end of the day to have anything left to give to my husband who, patiently, hopes his wife will one night have time for a cuddle on the couch and a conversation that doesn’t revolve around our kids. And when I should be sleeping my mind races, occupied with frantic activity that concerns me the least.
Something has to change, and it begins with me. Only I can redress the imbalance. My kids aren’t going to tell me that it’s OK to put them second once in a while. And my husband dares not complain that I have neglected to ask him how he is for quite some time.
It’s time to grab that oxygen mask, strap it on tight and inhale deeply. Because to be a good mother, friend and partner, I must first be “me.”