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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Mother Martyr

Rachel Kramer, Flickr


I just stumbled upon this article (click here), that describes the reality of parenthood and the reasons why young parents may appear boring to non-parents.

I liked this:

"Just bring the kids" is an option. But it is one that sucks. We often decline invitations to your fun events, not because they don't sound like a blast in general, but because we know, for us, they just won't be fun. We just can't focus on you very well when we have to simultaneously keep an eye on our kids, making sure they don't choke, drown in a randomly placed vat of water or get a head injury bumping into the pointy corner of a table. We spend a lot more time and energy worrying about keeping our brood alive than you might imagine.

And this:

Leisure time is so limited that we tend to spend it on ourselves (often by ourselves). Fitting in time to relax and engage in activities we enjoy can be so difficult that sometimes we think we are being a**holes to ourselves, for not spending enough time on our own. I'm not making this up. Getting a manicure or a haircut or a taking a trip to the gym requires creative scheduling, and everything else in our life to go according to plan -- our spouse's engagements, our kid's health, work obligations. A lot of our hobbies end up being things we can do at any hour of the day, on our own time, by ourselves: jogging, reading, writing or activities that can be done just as well at 3 a.m. or 3 p.m.

Those two examples apply more particularly to parents of babies or very young children. My kids are now 8 and 10 and unlike toddlers, they are not constantly looking for ways to harm themselves. They also have become much more independent, which means two things: 1) they can do much more without my help or intervention (freeing me to do my own thing), and 2) they don't even want me to be around at all times (freeing me even more).

Since I also trust my kids' abilities, I do not hesitate to put them in situations that some parents would not even consider, for example taking them to a fancy restaurant or on long road trips. I believe that children learn to deal with those kinds of things by being exposed to them, and up to now, I've mostly been proven right. Of course there are ways to do this; for the examples above, by bringing lots of entertainment along (which does not have to include electronics). But it's definitely doable.

This is nice. I remember different times, a few years ago, when my kids' constant needs did put a damper on my social life and my life in general. Nowadays, instead of doing things for my kids (like wiping their bum), I get to do things with them (like playing a board game or going on a hike). Needless to say, the latter is much more enjoyable.


Hike. Québec, 2013.



However, I think there is a personality matter to the way we approach parenthood, independently of our children's age.

One of the best pieces of advice my own mother gave me when I became a mom was to not forget my own needs (including the need to nurture my couple). Even if I was naturally tempted to be with my kids 24/7 - not because it's always fun, let's be honest, but rather because I innately felt that they were safest when with me - I always kept her advice in mind. That and my tendency to be rather independent in general allowed me to maintain a certain level of normalcy to my life.

Some examples?

Apart for the first 6 months, when baby needs attention and nourishment at night, and during which time you should get up and give them milk, I have never allowed my children to interfere with my sleep, unless they were seriously ill or had had a terrible nightmare. I don't know for you, but sleep is among my most primary needs, and if I don't get enough of it, I simply cannot function properly. Honestly, I'm a much better mom during the day after a good night's sleep. The value of sleep is highly underrated. Parents: cherish your sleep! Nurture it! It's no less than sacred!

Another example would have to be the involvement of my kids' daddy. Right from the start he was just as involved as I was in baby matters. Of course he could not nurse, but that's where the difference in credentials ended. Because daddy and I were both equally comfortable with baby(ies), it was very easy for me to just go (to a yoga class, to have coffee with a friend)... as long as I was back for the next feeding (and still, I could always pump and leave a bottle). I never left a list of guidelines. It was never necessary. I also never commented on the way daddy took care of baby. He's a grown-up, and those are his kids! Why would he not be able to take care of them? He changed diapers. Gave baths. (Even when they were newborns.) He fed purees. Did the whole bedtime routine. Over and over and over again. This whole way of functioning made me feel lighter, and I'm sure it made daddy feel more involved and competent. What's more, it created a strong and wonderful tie between him and the kids right from the start. The value of daddy-baby relationship is also underrated, and sacred.


A with daddy, some 7 years ago.



All parents make different decisions, and nobody is to judge other parents' choices. My only concern is that some parents do not seem comfortable with the choices they are making. Sacrifices are a normal part of parenthood, of course; sacrifices are the daily stuff of parenthood. But that does not mean we should become slaves of parenthood, or Saint Mother Martyr as I like to call it. Yes, our children will be the most important part of our life for a while, but they don't need to become the only part of our life.

One of the comments accompanying the above-mentioned article, by a non-parent, was that some moms cannot leave their kids behind (with a babysitter or just daddy), not even for a few hours, and that when they do, they only have one conversation topic: the kid(s) they left behind. Even as a parent myself, I have sometimes had a hard time with other parents who could not miss one minute of their kids' life, or who seemed unable to talk about anything else but their kids. I might have let one friendship go because of that. Everything that friend and I had built since we had met (many, many years ago, long before we had kids), had suddenly disappeared. All the things that we had in common, that we liked to do together or that we liked to talk about, were gone. My friend has ceased to be an individual the moment she became a mom. I grieved that friendship.

It does not have to be that way. Ninety-nine percent of my friends have kids, and most of them still find ways to have a life even though their family remains central. It's not always simple, but it's possible. We have to think outside of the box. E.g. Us missing one bedtime routine or one soccer game once in a while is not going to scar our kid for life! Kids (and daddies!) are capable of more than we think, and it does everyone good when we expect that much of them. I love when a parent, who is busy talking and gets interrupted by a child, says « can you please wait, I am talking right now » instead of instantly attending the child. I love when a parent lets the child carry his or her own backpack and jacket instead of turning into a transport donkey. It's in all those little details that our kids grow up and that we maintain a certain quality of life despite being parents.

Plus, if we let go of our life because we have kids, what are we going to do the day they leave the house and start their own life? Will we remember who we were long, long ago? Will we know who that person we share our life with (i.e. the other parent) is? By looking solely at the kids, we might forget to look at each other...

We might have a wonderful progeny, we still deserve to think about ourselves (no, it's not selfish), to attend to our needs, and to have fun, for goodness' sake!

More importantly, we have to say farewell to the omnipresent mommy guilt! We don't need to always be around and available to be a good parent.

If you are a parent, how do you make sure you still take care of your own needs?


15 comments:

  1. I loved this Julie...I think it's so easy to lose ourselves when we have kids. They are so all encompassing! Looking forward to doing less for them and see them take on more responsibilities - I'm tired!

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    1. The tendency is there in all of us to forget that we are a person (and a friend and part of a couple). We have to constantly remind ourselves. You can make it happen now! :-) Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Not lucky enough to be a parent. Love the photo of Daddy and his little girl!

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    1. Thanks for coming by Dr. J! You are not a parent, but you have been a child with parents, so I'm sure you can relate in some ways. :-)

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    2. Yes I can. I have had relationships with the benefits of children. I sent the article you recommended to one of them.

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  3. We had very similar ideas with raising our kids!! Like you, we treated bed-time as just that - a time for everyone to be in their own beds and sleep.
    And, Chris was/is like your husband - he did as much of the daily stuff required to care for babies, toddlers, preschoolers......as I did and I felt 100% happy and OK with that!!!
    I get that all of us have different thoughts and ideas and have no problem with it but I don't like it when other people (moms) feel the need to judge my parenting choices - I have never understood why someone thinks it is OK to do that.

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    1. It's nice to see that we have parenting choices in common, Kim! :-)

      Parenting is a tricky topic to tackle because everyone has different (and strong) ideas about it. Of course, I like to advocate for my parenting choices, but even though I don't always understand other people's approaches, I remind myself that different values and personalities make different parents! As long as nobody suffers from it, child or parent.

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  4. I am not a parent, but I could consider work my baby... And I definitely need to NOT be working all the time. I make sure to turn off all WORK (well stressful work) at around 5:30pm! The nights are always mine to just relax, spend time with friends, watch TV, shove salmon in my face, etc - NO work after 5:30pm... A great rule to adopt ;)

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    1. No work after 5:30 pm is virtually impossible when you have kids, LOL. My rule is no work after 7:30 - 8:00 pm (they are in bed by then). And oftentimes, I leave them with daddy so that work ends earlier. I do the same for him, we take turns. :-)

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  5. It's great to hear about your hubs. My own hubs is the same way with the kids. Just this morning he was doing the ear care thing for my daughter's newly pierced ears. He's very involved. It's a blessing.

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    1. A blessing indeed. Thanks for commenting Yum Yucky! :-)

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  6. I'm not a parent, but I had a similar "Mother Martyr" reaction to that article when it was making its rounds on my Facebook feed. Honestly, it felt a little condescending, like "OF COURSE you don't understand, you don't have kids."

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    1. And even between people who have kids, it's hard to understand each other's situation. No two families are the same. Thanks for coming by, Karen!

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  7. So true, no two families are the same, and each of us do what we feel/think is best.

    It's great being family and enjoying times together, it's also great being ME whether a parent or child. Each of us need space at times. I think your mother gave you good advice Julie.

    BTW like the photo's you've included here.

    All the best Jan

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    1. A good balance between WE, YOU and ME might be the recipe! :-)

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