Finding your identity as a mum
For those of us who have become a mum, we’ll remember those simple days BC (before child) when we might have felt completely clear about our personal style – organised? Relaxed? Go with the flow? Neat freak? Messy? Social? Private?
And for those of us mums out there, it seems there is so much pressure to live up to some unattainable ‘perfect mother’ image that makes us feel completely overwhelmed and our personal style seems more of a hindrance than helpful. For instance, being a neat freak can mean you feel completely frustrated if (when) you get behind with laundry and tidying. This creates more stress as you find yourself focussing on things that need doing instead of enjoying your baby. Or, if you are naturally really social, being at home alone with a high needs baby is very isolating and you can feel quite depressed – childless friends don’t understand that you can’t just dump your baby and spontaneously go for a drink, or that you are too tired to sit up late talking to them if they visit.
Instead of falling prey to your images of ‘perfect mummy’ and focussing on the negatives, try looking at how your personal style can be integrated into your mothering style – and why this is a good thing, whatever your personality. For instance, being organised will help you to have a sense of order and reduces frustration about whether you will eat tonight; being relaxed and ‘go with the flow’ makes it easier to respond to your baby without feeling stressed about the unpredictability of his needs; being social means you feel confident about meeting a whole new group of people through baby classes and activities; and being private means you can cope well with being at home alone with your baby.
Whatever your personality or personal style, it’s helpful to be clear about what’s important to you, because if you deny parts of yourself or try to force yourself to be somebody that you naturally aren’t, you will feel resentment and your child will sense this. However, when you work out your mothering style on your terms, you will be able to eliminate stress and guilt and enjoy being a mother. You will also be able to nurture with awareness, knowing where you can make ‘shifts’ and compromises that feel comfortable to you.
For instance, if you feel out of control when you don’t have a routine, you will probably find the unpredictability of life with a baby has you feeling overwhelmed. And yet, a strict routine can also have you feeling like a failure when you can’t meet your self -imposed deadlines because your baby won’t fit into the schedule. One way to manage this is to break your day into early morning, late morning, early afternoon , late afternoon and work your tasks around your baby’s needs. It can help to create a daily rhythm, a weekly rhythm and a monthly rhythm.
If you are less organised and find yourself overwhelmed by chaos because it just isn’t in you to plan ahead, this kind of gentle planning can help you too. If things are absolutely crazy, try to list the things you do need done to help you feel a sense of order and delegate – either pay for help or ask for it.
It can also help to try and think what you enjoyed before you had a baby – when were you happiest? Was it when you completed a really challenging task and you ‘nailed it’? Or was it when you were enjoying great social or leisure moments? How you can integrate some of this fun into your new mummy life – reading, studying, exercise, sport, music, meeting new friends, a class with your baby, volunteer work, returning to paid work, but on your terms?
Consider what can you do with a baby in tow. What do you really need right now? How can you manage some of these things around your baby? And, where can you find support to make these things happen?
As you work out your own authentic mothering style, be kind to yourself and remember the old saying, ‘if mama ain’t happy, nobody ain’t happy’. Take care not to add pressure by putting too many things on your ‘to do’ list, ditch your images of ‘perfect mummy’ (whatever these are - she is a myth anyway), relax and be the mother you want to be, your way.
Pinky McKay is an Internationally Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling baby-care author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting by Heart and Toddler Tactics. Check out her website.