Any parent gets inevitable advice from other people. Parents, grandparents, random people on the street. But nothing is harder than hearing advice and knowing deep down that you’ve tried that and it didn’t work. Worse still if it’s coming from other moms. There are so many articles giving advice about how to keep a routine, how to not lose yourself in parenting and how to maintain your former self that it’s impossible to quote them all. But recently I shared an article from Motherly that resonated with me and yet my friends responded completely differently. For many of my mom friends it felt like mom shame. For me it sounded like my truth.
That’s the hard part. If you share your truth there is going to be someone who doesn’t relate and who it really makes feel bad. It’s part of what writing is, taking the risk of not getting it right. It’s something that I struggle with hugely because I do not have a thick skin. So here let’s look at what the author said, how we feel when we read it and go through what we wish we had heard instead.
I was freaking out because I kept thinking, “What have I done? Is my life about to change forever?”All of the mom blogs I’d read and stories I’d heard emphasized one thing: After you have a baby, your life completely changes. But what if you really liked your pre-baby life?If that sounds like you, I have good news—your life doesn’t completely change. A lot of things change, and you might not recognize yourself or your life from time to time, especially during the early days. However, overall you remain you and the important things in your life stick around. – Jessie Bohnenkamp Motherly
My point of view: I think that it’s a tough one. For me especially right after I had my baby I needed to hear from someone that is was going to be okay and that I could achieve a certain level of normalcy it would just be very different from before. I had been scared shitless by my mother in law with her over the top “YOU WILL NEVER BE THE SAME” speeches. She was right, in many ways I won’t ever be the same. However, I think I am myself. I’m a different version but my true self is the same person I was from a small child. One that is curious and ballsy and interested in music, politics (obviously once I got older), and art. Those parts of me didn’t disappear. I have lost myself in the hard moments but deep down I’m still me. My lifestyle changed immensely. I do not do the same things. But I have prioritized in a way that is possible for me because my husband works from home. I am in a band and I do a dance class weekly. Those make me feel like I’m a person outside of motherhood. But I am in a very different situation from many mothers so I’m not typical. I think if anything I became MORE myself after motherhood. Because I became aware of myself in a new way and aware of what I needed to be okay. But there is a something about the word maintain that doesn’t feel like it applies. Because all of parenthood and all of life is change.
My friend Jess Lander mother of two: The truth is there is no way to “maintain” your identity after becoming a parent. You will change. Your priorities, your lifestyle, your personality even. Some will be good and some won’t. Maintaining your old routine still won’t change the fact that you have irrevocably changed. I think that’s why there’s so many articles like this. Change is scary, and sometimes it can be hard to embrace. A lot of articles fooled me into thinking I could avoid changing, which bothered me more after gave birth when I realized how much I had changed, despite doing all the “right” things. It’s delaying the inevitable, or even just denial. Maybe if I had gone into motherhood with the expectation that change is inevitable and something like a routine won’t prevent it, it would have been less of a shock.
Me: I agree with that. I do feel like there is nothing that can prevent change. There is an acceptance of your new self that is necessary to being comfortable in motherhood. Life is different now and that is a fact. You can’t just do what feels good for you anymore it’s about what works in a group and reading that group is hard fucking work especially since they don’t talk for quite a while. Her first point is she showers daily and that really seems to be a tough one for a lot of moms but wasn’t for me.
- I still shower every day. There’s a stereotypical image of the new mother—sleep-deprived, dirty hair up in a messy bun, covered in spit-up, etc. Well, my messy-bun game sucks, and my body has a finely-tuned ability to feel like a complete greaseball after exactly 24 hours without bathing, so this wasn’t going to work for me. I vowed that I would shower every day, and unlike most of my resolutions, this one stuck.
My friend Heather Norrgard mother of 3: I sure as hell don’t shower every day. Can’t sleep train, she needs me whenever she sleeps and when I’m awake I have the other two to deal with. Sometimes I just have to leave because there’s a class to get to. And then we get home and it’s dinner and cleanup and many days no husband coming home. So then it’s off to bed with the baby and cross my fingers the other two don’t burn the house down. One healthy baby doesn’t change a ton I guess.
Me: Yes I think it’s pretty much impossible for a mother of more than one child or a sick child (of which you have both) to be compared to a mother with one single healthy child which this author clearly is. There is definitely an element of able-ism to say that this was just a resolution. But for me it wasn’t a resolution but it was my ONLY alone time. If I didn’t shower I’d never be alone for those couple months because I didn’t have other help. It was just me and Ollie and he was working a lot. As soon as he got home I’d hand him the baby and be like “I NEED to shower”. It was an active choice on my part but also felt like an element of survival. If he hadn’t come home I’d have put her in her bed to let her cry. I’d cry every shower. It was what had to happen. I’ve continued it because I feel like I should be able to get 5 minutes to myself a day even if it means other peoples needs aren’t met right that second. I do think what is annoying about this part of the article is that she stresses she wasn’t going to be like other moms all messy bun and dirty shirt. I am still a fucking mess. I just showered. I’m not better than anyone because I showered, it’s a shower not a parade. It reminds me of when I’d see a shower under self care for moms and I’d be like NAH it’s not self care. Self care is something fun. A shower is hygiene.
Jessica Ehinger: I’ve showered every single day since baby was born. When Emmett was really small I would bring him in the shower with me. He would be in his little tub on the teak bench in our shower and we would both get clean at the same time. Later he would play in his pop and jump in the bathroom while I showered. Now I do shower, hair, and makeup during his morning nap. Sleep training gave us back couple time which I think is crucial. Your marriage is essentially the foundation of your family. ST also gave me 8 consecutive hours of sleep a night and my sanity back. Every situation is different of course but if you ignore those influences that confuse motherhood with being a martyr you can start being a person again within the first few months of the baby’s life.
Me: There was definitely an aspect to when I was first parenting of feeling like I had to put myself LAST to be a ‘good’ mom and that ended up being really the opposite for me. Once I stopped doing that I became a better mom for my family. But I do feel like putting it in a ‘good’ mom vs ‘bad’ mom perspective is the problem with this article and many like it. She may not say it but many people are feeling it’s implied. And that’s because not everyone’s live look the same as parents and it’s problematic to pretend otherwise.
Jess Landers: It’s the defiant title that put me off right off the bat, and the association of showering = successful mom. And it’s funny because I DO shower every day. I have never skipped showers because of kids, I just let them scream or waited for my husband to get home.
Me: Right same. Which is funny because the author probably didn’t choose the title. We don’t usually get that titling privilege when writing.
Jess Landers: But I’d never advertise it as like “look at me, I’m not a hot mess mom in a messy bun because I shower” And yeah it’s clickbait for sure. [For me]It’s more like…hey I DO do all of those things, and I STILL feel like I’m a hot mess mom.
Me: YES YES YES! I think that’s why I felt defensive of it. Because I do NOT have it together. That is the last thing I’d want anyone to think I am projecting. But I do those things most of the time. And I’m really glad I do. Those things make me feel human most days.
Me: The author suggests a blue tooth. I suggest social media. *shrug emoji* I don’t actually think long phone conversations are realistic for me as a parent or many moms. I keep in touch through Facebook and text and if someone can’t handle that I’ve decided they weren’t that good of friends. If you can’t meet me where I’m at that isn’t my fault. It’s my current life and it changes and you gotta ride with me or be out for a while. But I wasn’t one for phone conversations to start with so it was not a big change. I didn’t have time or want to do it before except with my mom and best friends so after having a baby I certainly don’t want to attempt it with a screaming child in the background. I also feel the added benefit is that I can keep up with a lot more people and have a sense of community. It was huge for my well being when I joined an online community and mom group. Though I do know there is still a sense of overall isolation that I don’t think she addresses at all. I write about it a lot. I felt so lonely the first year and even now when I have a week I don’t see people I get depressed. It felt like it took me forever to start building my village.
3. I still have time for my marriage
Me: Yeah we do. But we work from home. We also are in a band together. Togetherness isn’t an issue. However quality time over quantity is and it’s not something many other couples have to face. Most of my friends are dealing with not enough time at all. I feel spoiled by how much time we get. But it becomes an issue of none of it is fun. I know many couples do date nights and we don’t really do that though I wish we could. I think what bothers me here is it sounds a lot like “make a date night every month” which for many families is just unrealistic. It can be a money issue mostly if you don’t live close to family. It can be a huge issue if you have a child with health problems/special needs. It isn’t a matter of priorities in most cases. I do like that she admits it’s just watching tv together after the kids are in bed. That is literally what we do. But again that only works if your kid sleeps. And about sleep I feel like this is the touchiest one of her points…
4. I get plenty of sleep
Heather: Like honestly I read this and want to scream. I don’t sleep. I barely get to have a conversation with my husband. I don’t do anything for myself. Yes. One healthy baby is not so bad. Good luck with more, lady. Hope none of them are sick. Omg I’m so bitter. Sorry.
Me: No don’t be sorry. You are allowed to feel your feelings. I have no idea how hard that is. You’re child has had multiple surgeries. That is immensely difficult in a way that I and this woman don’t have any experience with. You must be exhausted.
Heather: Lol I have a baby sleeping on me right now and I fell asleep standing up in the shower earlier. 😭
Me: I didn’t sleep for a very long time and I feel so goddamn lucky I sleep now. My child is almost two. Yes she sleeps but that is a different life from early babyhood and I only had one. That is a privilege in itself. I still feel exhausted due to my chronic illness. It’s never enough sleep. We were really lucky sleep training worked so it changed our lives once she hit around 7-8 months old. Not all babies can be sleep trained. Definitely not if there is health issues that you have to check on them and be with them when they sleep. I think the “even bad sleepers learn to sleep” bothers me the most. Because I know that’s not true for plenty of kids. And that obviously will affect the next point she uses which is I still have ME time.
5. I still have time for myself
Me: I do. I fought really hard for it. I take dance classes for myself. It’s been a struggle to get to them and it’s been a lot of conversations about how I’m just as important as anything else my husband wants to do. But again we live a weird lifestyle and that enables us to have more free time than others. Again we are lucky. When we didn’t live like this I went to the YMCA to get alone time. That way someone else could watch her and I’d just sit on my phone decompressing and barely moving my legs on a stationary bike. Sometimes I’d just snack in the lobby. If I didn’t have that privilege I’m not sure what I’d do. Nap times help. I hate when she doesn’t nap because it means no decompression. Some kids don’t nap well. Some kids only sleep with their parents. That eliminates the ability for me time.
6. I exercise
Me: I think it’s just a gut reaction to this one that throws people off. I had no problem with it, because if you read on she actually doesn’t. She’s joking about the things she does as a stay at home mom that she counts as exercise. I do exercise but it took like over a year to get back to. But I do think it all comes down to feeling like this woman is saying because she does it anyone can do it. I don’t think that is true. And I think that can be really hurtful to mothers in the thick of it. I do not think it’s how she meant it however.
Jess Landers: That’s why those kinds of articles ring false with me. They’re band-aids slapped on already stressed, scared, depressed, worried mothers who don’t need to hear more about what they should be doing. I wish someone had told me, “you are more than just a mom,” and “it’s okay to not be okay.” But mostly, “It’s okay to change. Things are going to look very different, but that’s not always a bad thing. You will adjust and find a new normal.”
Me: I think I just want us all to remember that we are more than this moment. I am more than motherhood. This is hard. But right now I’m finding my ways to make it work. They won’t work for everyone, but they work for me. I think articles like this and the reason it resonated with me is because we wish that for all our friends. That it was as simple as “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “spend time with your husband after the kids are in bed” but that just isn’t true for everyone and hearing it when you know it isn’t can be another drain on an already exhausted mother. But if it lacked some smugness and some of the implied YOU CAN DO IT TOO, it would be a different article and have a different response. Hopefully this one will.
Jess Landers: My article would be like “here’s 5 things I was able to continue to do after having a baby and I STILL feel like a failure” I get annoyed because I have friends who can’t do any of those things and they are better moms than I am. Meanwhile I do them all and I’m like wtf am I doing.
Me: Right like I know I’m not as connected to my child or playing as actively as I should/could be. And I have guilt about that. But I also know this is me, this is how I parent. What the fuck am I supposed to do, be a different person? Nope. And neither should our friends who can’t shower every day and don’t have any personal time. We are all doing our best and we all think we are somehow failing. I can’t work around my kid, I HAVE to have her sleep or go somewhere else. I am extremely lucky my husband works from home so in the morning he takes her out for two hours so I can work and that Thursdays is my day to leave. I feel like I’m failing when I see someone else works successfully with their kid in the room. It’s all different when we sit and compare but it be great if we didn’t compete. It reminds me once again that there is no right kind of mother or motherhood.
Jess Landers: I think it [the article] promotes a lot of guilt. Like you’re failing because you can’t do those things.
Me: Right and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way. But I do sometimes wonder if there is any allowance for saying I’m proud I’m managing to do this in my life. It really works for me, I’d like to share it. I know I appreciated more experienced moms telling me what worked for them. And if it didn’t it was okay because that just wasn’t me as a parent. I think sometimes as readers we fail to realize how difficult it is to write and not upset someone and be humorous.
Jess Landers: Yes but it has to not be as a humble brag. There is a distinct difference in sharing advice and making it a humble brag.
Me: I think I’m grateful in some ways that Juniper wasn’t an easy sleeper, because I really have seen both sides. I co-slept for the first few months and then did sleep training but it wasn’t an easy process or a quick fix at all. But it changed a ton in our lives once she was sleeping obviously.
Jess Landers: It was harder with Harper because she slept in a crib, so I got up 4-5x a night for 2 YEARS. A lot of people experience this and it was the hugest shock for me. And I tried all the sleep training.
Me: I was so upset co-sleeping didn’t work for my family. I grew up that way. All of my family did it. I heard from tons of people sleep training was abuse. And that hurt because co-sleeping wasn’t working and I was falling apart. But it was like I’m damned if I do damned if I don’t. I tried it all. I think this woman found things she wanted to share that worked for her, with humor but sometimes that is really really difficult to do with sensitive topics. When writing I just want to stress for all of this stuff that there is no right way, and what works for one mother won’t for another etc etc etc. And if nothing is working then we should just have sympathy. It’s why I started writing this blog regularly in the first place. So the advice I needed to hear and I want to say is
“It’s okay if it feels like everything changed and you don’t know who you are. Deep down you are still you. You are still important. It’s okay if you feel like you’re failing, that is part of it all. Just do your best. Whatever you choose will be the right thing as long as they are safe and loved. As you put everyone’s needs on the list of things to do, add yours too. But know if they aren’t met, you are enough and you’re doing an amazing job just loving them.”
*The quotes in this article are taken from comments and conversations in direct messages and have been condensed for ease of reading. *