As magnificent as it is to become a mom, it's hard to deny a new reality fraught with changes that relate to appearance, autonomy, sexuality, level of spousal intimacy, sleeping habits, energy, friendships, career goals and ambitions, self-esteem, and financial independence...to name a few. It's even harder still to deny the fact that these changes can, and often do, impact the integrity of a woman's sense of self if consistently perceived as undesirable. In this chapter, I describe my experience of change, give voice to other moms who shared, and examine perception, internal dialogue, verbal and nonverbal language, conflicting feelings, and the various symptoms that arise.
Listen to intro
Clearly, women experience all kinds of change once they become mothers; in fact, all women experience change. Unfortunately some women have a harder time adjusting to these changes than other women. When I think back over the first five years as a mother, I can hardly believe what a difficult time I had adjusting. It's hard to believe that I wore my hair as I did or chose the clothes that I wore. It's hard to believe that I lost interest in my favorite hobbies and neglected to see good friends. I can't believe that I gave up on my goal to be a writer and rarely had the desire to be intimate with my husband. Most especially, I can't believe that I ever had such conflicting feelings for the children I adore or such angst in a role that brings great joy to my life. Prior to having children, no one could have described motherhood to me in a way that would have prepared me for what actually happened. That is, I could not have prepared for the drastic changes that coincided with motherhood. No woman can. Women who become mothers must adjust to changes most of them never saw coming. Some changes happen instantly after a baby while others evolve slowly and clandestinely. For instance, my free time certainly changed in a heartbeat, as did my income. But I didn't wake up one day without patience or my sense of humor; these slipped out of reach as I coped less efficiently with the challenges of homemaker and mother that grew steadily toward monumental. By the time Daniel was born, I was taking daily breakdown breaks (a.k.a. DBBs) in the attic and losing the battle to convince others that I was fine.
Life with children requires a 24/7 commitment, a commitment mothers are expected to meet with abundant tolerance, selflessness, and surreal endurance. For example, I have attended numerous playdates and too many mom-and-tot events to mention. I answer an average of 90 questions a day for child, listen to every wonder a child can imagine, and sidestep, with uncanny strategy, many tantrums in the making. I've become a light sleeper so that I can hear my babies cry when they need me through the night. I have nursed in awkward places and has taken great care to ensure that my children know that Mommy is there for them. I have food for their bellies and the right clothes to keep them comfortable. I read to them and let them make some choices for themselves. I referee, discipline, sacrifice, arbitrate, negotiate, and apologize when I make mistakes. I create structure, safety, and opportunities for growth. In every action I take, I am aware that I am being watched by children who look to me for the most critical lessons in living life: the lessons to be patient, to share, and to not hurt your sister, your brother, or others; The lessons to forgive, to take turns, and to be safe; the lessons to focus, practice, and work hard; the lessons to be empathic, confident, kind, honest, and moral; the lessons to not overdue, to play fair, to be proud of themselves, and to let go when they are ready.
These are only a few of the many physical and mental “actions” involved in raising a child. Far less glamorous but equally taxing on a mother are the jobs related to the children. For example, I wash at least a load of laundry every couple of days. I shop for food, bring it home, and cook it. I cook again in the morning, and then clean the mess. I make lunch, and then clean the mess. And then, of course, it’s time for dinner, and I cook again. After I clean up the dinner mess, I am inclined to tackle the mess that the children made while I was cooking. I ask my young crew to help clean the house in order to teach them about responsibility and order, but I know I’ll be doing most of it after they are asleep. In the meantime, the house is noisy as the children plot activities to sabotage my efforts to prepare them for bed. I watch the clock as it ticks closer to the time when I can sit down alone. I finish up the night by reading to the children before putting them to bed, which takes the last of any energy I may have had for an activity that was reserved for me, like reading a novel or visiting with my husband. Instead, while I sit, I mentally review my checklist. Have I done everything that needed doing today? Is the homework finished? Did the children brush their teeth? Are the lunches packed for school? Did all the phone calls get returned? Did I turn on the dryer and start the dishwasher? How about the thank-you cards for the gifts given to my daughter for her birthday (because there is always something left to do)? I finally go to bed knowing that another day follows that will work me as hard as it has today. It will be another day with no time or energy to exercise or see a friend for lunch unless I arrange for a babysitter who is competent, reliable, and trustworthy. This, of course, requires research beyond my fully engaged schedule and existing level of burnout.
With all the work and sacrifices associated with motherhood, how could a woman not change? Change is inevitable. However, a woman’s perception of change is what will inevitably determine whether her transition into motherhood “runs smoothly or is attended with convulsions and explosions.” My model of MIA begins with change but rests squarely on the concept of perception. Perception is how we experience or become aware of the world, and it is paramount in understanding why we think and act as we do. When we perceive our environment, we gather information from what we see, hear, touch....
I just wanted to say that I'm so glad you're writing about this stuff. I guess I wasn't prepared either because things in my life changed so quickly. Like you I knew things would change but wow. Mostly my daily routine changed and I'm still trying to adjust to that. I'm not used to playing at a park most days of the week haha. It was okay at first but now I'm feeling very restless to do the stuff that I used to do
before I had my daughter. I guess I'm just venting a little.
I'm happy you're here! And I understand. It may help to acknowledge that an adjustment period is normal. In fact, you'll go through quite a few adjustment periods as your daughter grows up and/or you have more children. This is the time to establish great self-care practices and build those strong boundaries. Think about how you would ideally like your day to look when time is carved out for you. What activity could be included and how would you include it. Most likely you will be able to make it happen! So make it happen as you need it. Ask for help, and try your best to go forward with the plan you make. Create the habit of taking care of yourself as you care for others.