Recently, my local moms’ listserv has had a discussion about parenting blogs, started by someone asking for suggestions. One of the women on the list put in a plug for her blog, Beyond Moms, which is based on the theory that we are people in addition to just moms. I really support this idea, but more than that, I think it’s vital that we talk about it. At the new moms’ group I attend, the facilitator often starts off with an ice-breaker question as we go around the circle introducing ourselves and our babies. Sometimes this is parenting-related (for instance, why did you pick the name you chose for your baby) but often it isn’t. She says she thinks it’s important to get to know each other as women before we get to know each other as moms. Particularly in the post-partum, newborn haze, I think this is an important acknowledgment to make — we are more than just our babies’ mothers, as important as that role is too.
I think there is often an adversarial tone to a lot of parenting discussion on the internet, and that bothers me — I like finding the middle ground, and part of that is that I want to find space for me and space for my relationship with husband somewhere in the chaos that can be parenthood. I think sometimes we try to push people into boxes — this mom is “free-range,” that mom is an “attachment parent” etc. Personally, although outwardly you might think I exhibit a lot of AP traits, the motivations are often not coming from there: I babywear not so much for my baby’s development, although that’s a nice perk, but because I like being able to go stroller-less and be more mobile, especially in the winter — it makes my life better in allowing me to more easily get out and see other adults, for instance. The firmer attachment is nice, but I think my son would probably do just fine without babywearing if that was what worked better for me (*gasp* I know, I know, it seems blasphemous, especially given how much I really do think babywearing can be incredibly helpful).
I was once told by a health professional that
When you have a baby at home, you really can’t expect to get anything else done at all — you shouldn’t expect that you’ll have time to cook, clean the house, or whatever else is on your agenda — you need to let the baby drive the agenda.
To be honest, I found this to be profoundly disturbing. It seemed like she was implying that, by becoming a mother, I basically ceased to exist — I had become a femme covert, not “covered” by my husband, but by my child. I get what she was trying to say, I think. I think she was saying that it’s vitally important that the baby’s needs get met, and in that I wholeheartedly agree. But I don’t think mothers need to be completely subsumed by their children in order for that to happen. I think that taking care of myself and my mental health helps my child because that then gives me the mental reserves to take care of my child.
I also take issue with the notion that seems to abound in some circles that you have to provide activities for your child every waking moment (ok, I may be using a bit of hyperbole here). One of my favorite things to do after a long day at work is to sit on the livingroom floor with my son while he plays with toys (or “reads” to me, by babbling while turning pages of one of his favorite books). I chat with him a little bit, but mostly, I’m just sitting and letting him explore and having a little bit of my own down time (and knitting time, which is always good for my mental health). When I need to cook, I bring his toys into the kitchen and he can play, and we can chat while I cook. When I hang laundry, sometimes I put him in a carrier on my back and he giggles while the laundry flaps in his face. In all these situations, I am making sure that Jesse’s needs are taken care of, while still getting done the basic chores of living, and I don’t think it’s bad that he sees that these things need to get done.
I’ll get off my soapbox now, and leave you with the thought that I am a mom, but I am also a person who loves to knit, cook, and have a relatively clean living space, and those are all important. Tonight, I’ll be going out to dinner with a former professor and some friends from college, to talk about getting together an “alumni council.” Jesse will be home with his dad, but this is something that I care about doing, and every now and then, I can put me first, and that’s ok.
What do you do to keep your non-mom identity after becoming a mother?