Friday, 6 October 2017

Be a Mother, not a Martyr

"Enjoy going to the bathroom alone while you can!"
"You should cut your hair short; you'll never have time to maintain it once the baby arrives."
"Make the most of your freedom to go to the cinema because soon you won't be able to go again!"

As soon as you start sharing the news that you're pregnant, you quickly become inundated with horror stories of how your world will suddenly spin the opposite way on its axis, life as you know it will be altered irreversibly forever, your relationship with your partner will become non-existent for the foreseeable future, and you'll 'never sleep again'. Ever.

It is undeniable that parenthood changes your life a lot. A LOT. In fact, in the first four weeks of motherhood, I even believed all of the above. I felt like I had lost myself and would never get myself back. But it doesn't have to be that way forever, and your day-to-day really doesn't have to change so drastically that you don't even recognise yourself anymore.

There seems to be a trend these days - particularly online, and particularly in the UK, if my perception is correct - to show off about quite how much you have sacrificed since becoming a mother. You will find plenty of women online, bragging about how many days they have not showered for because they're simply too busy with their baby to even care about their own personal hygiene. They wear these claims as if they are badges of honor, and what's worse, they criticise anyone who so much as dares to indulge in a little bit of 'me' time.

You will find these attitudes rife in the comments section of any celebrity mothers' posts on Instagram. I particularly recall the makeup-famous YouTuber Jayde Pierce being vilified for posting about having a manicure a few weeks after giving birth to her (absolutely adorable) daughter Ayla. I mean, how dare she take an hour away from her baby - who was almost certainly in the safe care of her father and/or grandmother - to get her nails done?! How dare she CARE about what her nails look like now that she has a baby?!

This mentality is dangerous in my opinion. It's almost as if they are competing to say: "I have given up the most in my life, and therefore I love my baby more than you do." To love your baby wholly and completely DOES NOT require you to entirely neglect yourself! Now, if you were not the type to go for a shape and polish BEFORE your baby came, logically you will not be likely to start doing so after giving birth. But if a mani/pedi was part of your regular routine before becoming a mother, then there's no reason why you should have to totally give it up to prove your undivided adoration for your baby. Having nice nails and having all the love and devotion in the world towards your baby are not mutually exclusive.

I'm using nail maintenance as an example, but really I'm referring to any treatment, activity or pastime you used to enjoy prior to becoming a mother. Perhaps you used to love reading one book per week. In the early days of having a baby, you may not get the chance to turn quite as many pages as you normally did, but you can certainly still set aside some quiet time to sit and read, if that was part of your schedule before. Maybe you are passionate about cooking, or you were addicted to going to the gym and it makes you feel good about yourself... Whatever it is, you can and should make time to do something you love. You don't have to lose your entire identity just because you've become a mother.

Something I struggled with in the early days was the pressure I put on myself to be the one doing everything for my baby. I felt like I should be the only one to take care of him, at all times. I mean, with all these mothers online who said they couldn't even pee in peace since their little one arrived... how could I possibly take a ten-minute shower without feeling guilty? If I left my mother with my baby downstairs for a few hours so I could take an uninterrupted nap, did that make me less committed as a mother?!

With the help of my husband and my family, I banished this mindset after a few weeks and realised it was no crime to take a little time for myself, and nor was it wrong to leave my baby in the care of trusted others to facilitate that 'me' time. To quote a recent Ayesha Curry clapback after her parenting was criticised on Instagram (how dare she employ a nanny when she works full time and has two children...), "It takes a village to raise a child."

As soon as I accepted and embraced this point, I started feeling more like my old self again. I had more time to take care of myself, I had more energy, more confidence, I spent more one-on-one quality time with my husband, I felt happier, and bonded even better with my baby.

So this takes me to the rather bold statement I used as the title for this post. There is no prize for being the mother who gave up the most of her personal pursuits in order to dedicate her life to her baby. Your baby will not remember how many hours you stayed awake with them for in their early years, or how many salon appointments you sacrificed so that you could be constantly by their side; nor should you remind them of it when they're older. Yes, for the most part, being a mother is a selfless role. Your priorities will naturally shift once you have another little life to consider in everything you do. But it doesn't make you selfish if you take some time out just for you. Be a mother, not a martyr.

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