More than Motherhood

a couple of years ago

In a recent grocery store commercial, two women chat lightly about the cost of groceries at the store and the ads for the week, and then one says, “Do you remember when we used to talk about the latest line of designer shoes?” “Yep, before kids!” the other replies, and they both laugh.

Immediately, I am intensely irritated and internally cringing.

I see this type of sentiment everywhere. Being a good mom means always putting your children first, before everything else, and especially before yourself. Things that used to be important, passions and dreams and hobbies and interests outside of your children suddenly seem to disappear, or at best become once a quarter or even once a year treats that you give yourself for an hour or two so that you don’t go crazy. Anything more seems selfish.

Well, I say fuck that.

Because you know what? I am more than just a Mom.

Motherhood is not all encompassing. It is not a full definition of who I am. It’s a part of who I am, for sure, and an important part. But it is not the be all and end all of me. I am a writer, an entrepreneur, a dreamer, a passionate learner of all new things. I am a traveler, a doer, a liver of life experiences, and a woman who loves lots of social nights out as much as I love quiet nights in. And I am also a mother. Sometimes I can blend that one aspect with the other aspects of me, as I should, because it’s important to share all of those aspects of me with my daughter and include her in them. Then there are other times I cannot bring her along, or times when I just don’t want to. I go and do them anyway—all the time. As much as I love living a full and beautiful life with my daughter, I desperately need the time I take away from her as well to keep my individuality.

I think that I am not alone in this, but I can never be sure because few women I know will admit to wanting a separate life from their young children. I almost never meet women who echo my feelings when it comes to motherhood. They do not openly talk about being elated, or even okay, with getting time away from their children. They don’t talk about the amazing feeling of freedom when you suddenly have days where you can decide what you want to do with your time, rather than a few hours of predetermined activity sans kids that is often as scheduled as the life with kids. A friend will post on Facebook about her amazing weeklong vacation away, and will several times mention missing her children. My 19 days in Europe? I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention missing my daughter once, because honestly I didn’t miss her at all until the very end. I was having too much fun. I was living my life, and I knew she was fine, at home living her life.

That is okay. Regardless of what anyone else might say, I’m here to admit to you that motherhood does not complete me, and that that is okay. I will not assume that all women feel exactly as I do; we all experience life differently, and there is no judgment here on how anyone experiences motherhood. But I am here to say that if you are burying yourself, all of your wants and desires and dreams and passions and hobbies and everything you ever thought you’d do, under being a mother, it is okay to stop. It is okay to not miss your kid. It is okay to want to live your life outside of them. And it is always possible to do so, with a support system built up around you through family or friends or other mothers, who all need help and time to escape, too. Find time for yourself. I understand why it might be scary to do so if you haven’t done this regularly (by regularly I mean several times per month at least, not twice a year). To admit that you want that much time away from your children means to open yourself up to judgment and criticism. To spend that much time away from your children means to give up any control issues you might have. Both can be tough things, especially in the face of criticism, and there is no other area where women are as intensely scrutinized and criticized than the area of motherhood, especially by other mothers. The prevailing sentiment seems to be that mothers are only good mothers if they are selfless mothers. To admit to wanting more than motherhood, to not being fulfilled by motherhood, is a dangerous proposition in most social circles. I get that. But I urge you to try anyway, to take the time for yourself that you need, and to let go of what people think in terms of what kind of a mother you are for doing so.

I am definitely not a selfless mother. There. I have said it. I’ll go one step further: I don’t feel bad about it, not one tiny bit. When I started openly vocalizing this, I got my fair share of criticism and judgment, and for a while, that was hard to deal with. When I honest with myself, I knew I could tell my best friend, “No, sorry, I can’t go to Europe with you, I should stay home and spend time with my daughter.” I could avoid conferences and events that are immensely self-fulfilling and soul building but which I wouldn’t take her with me to. I could choose not to take time for myself. In fact, now that I’m self-employed, I could choose to be there for her pretty much all the time when she’s not in school. I could choose to be rarely separated from her. I could choose to be a mom first and foremost and make it my sole job on the planet to be her mother. And I don’t. It’s a choice I make consciously and willingly, and one I had to own.

Once I did so, it did not take long to find a tribe of women who understood, who felt the same way, and who wanted to band together to support one another. I learned that needing to be more than just a mother is okay. Then I found that over time both my daughter and I flourished when I started to make time for me outside of her. I found an intense pride about how well I feel I parent my child that is no longer influenced by people who judge how I do so. In that knowledge, the things that used to bother me, or cause me guilt, I now see as strengths on both our parts. I don’t have to feel bad about not missing her while I was on vacation. I can be confident in the knowledge that my daughter is okay without me. When on the eve of going to her grandparents for a week because I’m traveling, I can’t get my seven year old to cuddle with me because she’s busy playing, and she isn’t concerned at all about going the next week without seeing me, I can feel assured that her lack of clinginess means she feels confident and safe in how loved she is. When I exaggeratingly whine at her to cuddle and she sighs and says, “Geez Mom, come on! I’m not going to miss you AT ALL,” I will admit to a tiny stab of hurt to my ego, but then I realize how amazing it is that she is so independent and well-adjusted at just seven years old, and I let it go. By admitting that I need to be a full and independent entity outside of her, I have given her permission to admit the same thing for herself.

I am not just a mother. I am a person, with passions and interests…and I am a mother. Sometimes being a mother comes first, but sometimes being my own person is more important. Motherhood is not an all-encompassing thing for me, a full definition of who I am…. And it doesn’t have to be in order for me to be a good mother. I can choose to be there for each field trip and also choose to dance each Tuesday night with my Tuesday girls, giving myself both the joys of being there and the joys of being away. So can you. Let go of expectations, and go dancing, or painting, or to that conference, or on that vacation. Find yourself, and allow yourself to question, what things define who you are? Are you honoring that, while being a mother? My hope for each of you is that you do.

Jennifer Underwood

About the Author

Jennifer Underwood

Jennifer is a coach, a counselor, and an entrepreneur, who lives in Seattle with her daughter. To find out more, check out the About Me page.

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