When you give birth to a child, you give birth to a mother, too. Just as your infant learns to make sense of this brand new, colorful world, you are learning what it means to be a mom. More to the point, you’re learning what it means to be you and to be a mom.
There are pleasures in this process, and there are challenges. Chances are, you find yourself suddenly overwhelmed by a wealth of internal and societal pressures to make being a mom look effortless (as if you don’t have enough to do). You bear down, trying to get everything about life with a new baby just right. The good news? There’s no such thing. The bad news? Many new moms don’t slow down often or long enough to actually believe it — our desire to look good and fit in gets in our own way of having the compassion we need for ourselves and others experiencing similar challenges.
In the early months, you may start to feel like, “Well, now I’m a mom, I should hang out in mom circles.” And while being part of a community of new parents is essential for creating powerful support structures, it can also challenge our sense of identity: “Am I only a mom, now?” It can also set up an unfortunate dynamic where we feel like we need to conceal the messiness of our mom identity when we’re outside of a mom-specific context. When your baby cries around other moms, you can count on sympathy and support. When your baby cries in mixed company, it can feel like you need to apologize and like somehow it’s not OK to be sleepless, lack patience with your spouse or experience limits to your creativity and professional goals. On the flip side, you may give into the identity of new motherhood as a reason to not create the structures that would allow a good night’s sleep, a vulnerable request for what you need from your spouse, the support you need to renew the career or creative projects you love.
“Instead of acting out the role of mother that you think other people want you to play, surround yourself with people who accept you as the mother and person you are and aspire to be.”
The overall effect of this split existence can leave you confused about how to be authentic and wondering where some of the parts you love most about you are hiding. It can feel like the best it gets is striving to keep your head above water; that thriving fully afloat with all of the the metaphorical hydration and sunscreen required to avoid the burn is a pipe dream for the rich and famous.
In coaching, we talk about the difference between surviving and thriving. Surviving is what we do when we’re in the mode of reacting to a whole bunch of external circumstances. Worrying about what other people think. Trying to measure up to what we perceive are other people’s expectations of us (many of which we make up). Thriving is when we tune into the essence of who we really are, and operate from that place.
Motherhood can be about thriving from the beginning. Like with all transitions of identity it likely won’t be picture perfect, but it’s only a struggle if you make it so.
It’s not your job to perform the role of mother according to someone else’s script. If you’re so excited for that meeting or coffee date with a child-free friend, but you only got three hours of sleep, show up anyway! Own that you’re running on very little sleep and notice how your vulnerability shifts the interaction. If the other person responds negatively, consider their judgment is more about them than it is about you. Instead of acting out the role of mother that you think other people want you to play, surround yourself with people who accept you as the mother and person you are and aspire to be.
When we compartmentalize we cut off parts of ourselves. We don’t have access to our innate, intuitive wisdom. We relate to ourselves as incomplete or half or wrong. Instead of compartmentalizing your life to survive; integrate to thrive.
When my family decided to play a bigger game of life and quit our jobs to become entrepreneurs, we also recognized the need to cast a wider net of support. In the last 2 years my family has built a village that consists of other new moms, fellow coaches and business owners, clients, and friends who support with childcare and household management. Every one of these people is a stand for us to live the life we aspire to and that the journey be a joy ride.
When I put on my coach hat to work with my clients I don’t have to take off or cover up my mom cape. When I’m with my daughter, keeping the coach hat on actually makes the outfit work — and the high heels this business owner wears bring me closer — not farther — to my 6'5" husband.
The frame of new motherhood around your life doesn’t have to mean becoming someone who’s constantly behind the eight ball, incomplete, or wrong because of your lack of sleep, failed attempts, or the crying child that you’re supposed to hide away. Allow yourself to have all of these experiences, and let them be part of you. Be honest and share them.
My invitation is that we all practice being imperfect out loud. Accept your imperfection, own it, celebrate it — instead of trying to fix it or hide it away. When you’re feeling underslept or under supported, it doesn’t mean you’re wrong or that it’s not out there. It simply means it’s time to get vulnerable. Authentic. And it’s time to get your needs met.
Think of the unconditional love you pour into your child, and pour it into yourself, too.