Child rearing is difficult beyond measure. There’s nothing that could have prepared you fully for this, and no end in sight to the multitude of tasks that lie ahead. Some of you have slowly begun to forget the world outside, the work you did, the things you learned, the dreams you have. The strength, ambition and drive that you had before have been severely depleted. Your relationship with your spouse has slowly changed. You want to be the you that you once were, but you can’t gain sight of her. You may not even know who you are anymore.
Before we look at how you might restore your strength, ambition and drive, let’s make one thing clear: in order to regain that strength, ambition and drive, you must take short-term risks with your child, your reputation and your relationships. There is simply no way to reinvigorate your life without risking or sacrificing something else.
Let’s look at the challenges to restoring strength, ambition and drive through self-care, and work at solutions to them.
Challenge 1: You won’t hand over responsibility
Being responsible for a new baby is frightening. A fright that eventually evolves into a tremendous weight of responsibility. You constantly question your competence. You hesitate to put him/her in someone else’s care. This robs you of time for self-care
Solution: Take risks
Experiment with giving others responsibility for caring for the child in small ways. Accept that the child may not react well to them, or to new environments, foods, and so on, and take risks anyway. Don’t take foolish risks, but take reasonable risks. This will build your confidence to leave the child in the care of others while you engage in self-care.
Challenge 2: You don’t want to miss a beat as a mother (i.e. Perfectionism)
You may want to fulfill every expectation of what motherhood means. You may be facing a lot of pressure from family or others to meet their expectations. That social pressure can become unbearable and succumbing to it will leave you dazed, angry and overworked. You’ll lose energy and drive.
Solution: Embrace imperfection
Meeting all of these expectations is simply impossible. Even when you fulfill some expectations, you’ll definitely fail at others. Accept that no one can possibly be the “best mother.”
More to the point, if you constantly strive to be perfect, you won’t have time for yourself. If you really want to reinvigorate your life, embrace imperfection. Experiment with allowing some things to slide while you take time for self-care. I don’t mean leave your child unfed and messy, but let go of the little things you might be doing to prove yourself. It’s really okay not to be “the best.” It’s really human to be imperfect.
Challenge 3: You lose sight of everything because you’re not sleeping
Parenthood involves what seems like an endless stream of horribly tired days and nights that blend into one another. You enter into survival mode, you stop exercising and you eat whatever you can reach. After taking this big hit, you may remain in this mode, or only partly recover.
Solution: Strategize to recover fully
It may take a long time, but have a long-term plan in place to recover your healthy habits. Start now with strategizing for more sleep. This involves several risks that you may not be willing to take as yet, so brace yourself before you read on.
In order to get more sleep, you’ll need to take 3 risks: One, hand your child over to your partner or a relative whenever you can and get some sleep. Fifteen minutes here and there can make a world of difference. Two, train your child to self-soothe (within reason) rather than responding to him/her each time s/he cries. This will train the child out of calling for you too frequently and allow you to remain in bed more often during the night. Three, put your child on a sleeping routine so that s/he sleeps at (somewhat) regular times and you can sleep at somewhat regular times. Many parents aren’t willing to let their child cry without responding, or force them into routines. But these will get you more sleep, and slowly you’ll begin to recover some form or normalcy in your life.
Challenge 4: Hits to your self-esteem may become long-term setbacks
When you become a mother, you may leave your career or job, your body will change, you may move in with additional family members, and all sorts of other changes may happen that may make you feel badly about yourself. If you don’t recognize that your self-esteem has taken a hit, it may get weaker with each additional delay or change, resulting in very low self-esteem during motherhood. You may spend lengths of time lamenting the life you had, opportunities you had, the way your body has changed, the pre-parenthood relationship with your spouse, and other changes that have come along.
Solution: Self-Compassion and Self-Love
First, accept that you may never restore the pre-motherhood you. You’ve just undertaken what is arguably the most trying, complex, difficult job that any human being can take on. You couldn’t possibly stay the same. Your focus, priorities, values, choices, behaviours, feelings and so on, will change. Second, talk about it with a therapist, friend, mentor or your partner. Overcoming low self-esteem requires intentional, structured, planned work wherein you look at thought patterns and challenge yourself head-on. Third, take time to celebrate yourself, whether its through dressing the way you like, doing things you like, enjoying intimate moments with your partner, or pursuing your passions (at least part time). These small actions may not address the roots of low self-esteem, but they will slowly rebuild your confidence in yourself. Do it for you, not for anyone else.
Challenge 5: Giving your life over to your child
When you become a mother, your child naturally becomes the centre of your world. Your happiness and sadness are often determined by your child. You derive meaning and purpose from serving your child and raising him/her properly, especially because you’ve left your other callings to respond to your child. While this is good in and of itself, you may simultaneously lose sight of other meaning or goals you once had. You may sacrifice your relationship with your Creator to serve your child better. Your personal sense of security and success may rely mainly on your child. While serving your child is good, finding purpose through them may not be healthy. It may lead you to sacrifice yourself and your well-being to serve your child in the short term. What’s worse, if anything goes wrong for your child, or with your child, you may not be able to recover.
Solution: Practice putting yourself first
For the sake of your child, make a conscious decision to put yourself first at times. Let go, let others take care of them, and focus on something else, even for a very short time. Experiment with doing this in small ways, and you’ll find that you’ll have more perspective on your relationship with your child; while you’ll be affected by what happens to him/her, you won’t be destabilized by it. You’ll be more whole, and you’ll be able to use that wholeness to serve your child and others.
In conclusion, motherhood poses a huge challenge to self-care because it’s about the person(s) closest to you: your children. You see them as a part of you and giving yourself over to them is quite natural. But you’re separate beings and you’ll have separate lives. You are the person closest to you. Yours is the only body, mind and soul that you’ll actually carry with you your whole life through, and you need to cherish it. To do this, you need to take risks sometimes and that may mean putting yourself ahead of your children.
But here’s the bonus: if you do, you’ll actually be of greater benefit to your children:
- You won’t be destabilized when something happens to them or they separate from you. This will allow you to serve your other children/partner consistently, and to keep things in perspective during inevitable conflicts with your child.
- You’ll have greater chances of being available to your children as a nurturer, educator, adviser and role model their whole lives through (perhaps the next 50-60 years).
- If you’re married, you’ll have more opportunities to work at your marriage. The central institution in your life is your marriage and like it or not, it takes a hit when children come along. If you engage in self-care and take time out for your partner, you’ll have more opportunities to improve your marriage and keep it strong in the long term.
Self-care requires risk-taking, sacrifice, and hard work, but it’s worth it. And once you strengthen yourself, you’re empowered to help those around you in a consistent, stable way your whole life through, a process that I call “Concentric Care.”
Asma is a certified therapist, educator and the founder and Director of Concentric Care Wellness Services. Asma has counselled individuals, couples and families through mental health and relationship issues since 2012. She also focuses on holistic wellness and runs wellness programs and retreats. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Education, Master of Arts in Education, and Master of Arts in Psychology. Check out her work at www.concentriccare.com.