QUESTION: I have an eight-month-old
son whom I love with a passion -- he has brought me to another level
of loving. However, I got pregnant just when I had figured out what
I wanted to do with my life. Then we moved to Los Angeles, because
of my husband's job, and now can't afford to buy a car or pay for
daycare, so I'm unable to return to work. I find it difficult to be
at home when there are so many things I'd like to do with my life,
outside of mothering. I am torn between my desire to create a loving
environment for my son and fulfilling my own creative needs. How can
I balance motherhood and my own interests?
ANSWER: What a wonderful observation
you have made about the value of motherhood to your own development!
Your maturation is the key to inner strength that can be tapped for
other challenges in your life, including your creative development.
However to do so you do need to take yourself into account.
Mothers are family members, too. Their health,
well-being and happiness matters. Healthy, happy mothers contribute
to the overall health of the family and family health decreases
when mothers are depressed or chronically unhappy with the direction
of their own lives. Giving to yourself is a must, not a luxury.
Katie Breckenridge and Lynn DelleQuadri, authors of "The New Mother
Care" made the point many years ago that mothers are people who
have needs that must be filled in order to have the energy to mother.
Perhaps postpartum depression in the first year following the birth
of a baby is caused in part by the myth that "good" mothers do not
have needs of their own outside of motherhood. Or if they do they
certainly should repress them instead of address them!
So, let's take a look at how priorities are set
in your family. Some daycare may be a necessity in order to return
you to yourself. Particularly when you have moved away from your
old support system and your husband is away much of the time. If
baby-sitting trades are not possible or too draining you may need
to sit down with your husband and re-evaluate your budget so that
it includes some time away for you. Even two hours twice a week
would be a beginning. Weekend time could be scheduled with Dad caring
for his son, while you take one day a week or one day a month. Half-days
or less time is okay too if you and your child are not ready for
more separation. But you need to start with some personal
time to answer the questions and needs coming up inside. I often
remind parents of the instructions they hear about the use of oxygen
masks in the event of a drop in cabin pressure in an airplane: Secure
your own masks first, before putting a mask on your child. It
seems obvious that we cannot care properly for our children if our
own well runs dry.
Finding answers is a process. Naturally, you will
weigh the fact that babies are only this small and completely dependent
for a short period. Taking out a loan to allow you some increased
time for yourself in the next year will bring you to the toddler
stage. You will make your decisions with your husband as to how
resources are spent and what priorities you agree to revolving around
your son's care and development as he grows. But remember always
to include yourself in the formula!
And do you know that your child is stimulated by
your growth as well? In a recent study conducted by General Mills
self-esteem was found to be higher in teenagers whose mothers worked
outside the home when compared to counterparts who did not have
mothers with this outside focus. If a mother's self-esteem was heightened
by her work, it was found to have a positive effect on children.
So taking care of yourself by acting on your needs to develop your
creativity is healthy for your child. Starting some level of activity
towards your creative development sets a good example for your child,
and the first year is a place to begin, no matter how slowly.
Making yourself a priority and taking your needs
seriously are reflected by including yourself. In the uniquely automotive
culture of Los Angeles not having access to a car can exacerbate
your loneliness at a time when connecting to others is primary to
your mental health. Your sense of isolation will be lessened if
you and your husband take your needs into account, requiring some
accommodation that will enable you to have increased freedom and
autonomy. Carpooling for your husband, occasionally taking him to
work, or getting a used car loan might be possibilities that need
to be researched if you are not to feel hostage in this situation
of enormous transition.
It is useful to keep in mind that children learn
from example. If you develop a habit of ignoring your needs, your
children may pick up this message and feel sad and/or guilty. Or
they may internalize the message that mothers do not have lives
of their own and carry this unrealistic vision forward into their
own adult relationships. A son may grow up to expect his wife to
sacrifice more than himself. A daughter may grow up failing to address
her own needs as legitimate when she becomes a mother. Either of
these things can seriously damage the marital bond which is based
on equality and reciprocity.
Becoming a mother is a major life transition which
can leave even the most well-connected new mothers feeling lonely
and isolated. Your situation calls out for more attunement to your
needs and developing a plan to meet them. Without carving out a
plan to meet your own needs and goals you may find yourself depressed
and losing your sense of identity. If you are feeling undernourished
in your life, you will not have the same enthusiasm for your child.
We can't very well expect ourselves to be a "guide" to our children
if we lose ourselves in the process.
When you do make some time for yourself, you may
be surprised to find that the resources you are developing in motherhood
are transferable to other areas of your life. Motherhood is an incredible
opportunity for growth under pressure. The newfound depth in your
ability to love in these last eight months will strengthen other
endeavors in a manner which may amaze or delight you. Your pain
is a sign that a new labor is beginning. Integrating your needs
into your picture of family health is a birth waiting to happen.
You have already become a mother. Now it is time to begin the life-long
journey of weaving this part of you into the whole of who you are
and who you will become. Happy birthing!