“You can’t have ecstasy without agony,” said the midwife to me whilst I was in the throes of transitional labour. She was trying to be encouraging, but at that stage I couldn’t see any relief in sight and I wanted to skip the agony part and get straight to the ecstasy! I realised, later, that she was right. The pain and pleasure were intimately linked and I needed to endure one to experience the other. In a similar way, the dichotomy of pain and pleasure typifies the motherhood experience.
One of the things I find interesting about mothering is that the very source of your happiness can also be a source of frustration and suffering. Motherhood is layered with complexity; it connects you with feelings and emotions that are new and raw, and these emotions seesaw continuously. Part of the problem, perhaps, lies in our expectations. We tend to think we should be enjoying motherhood all the time, particularly if it is something we have yearned for. So, we often feel guilty when we feel unhappy.
The truth is it’s unrealistic to think you will enjoy every aspect of mothering. Some days are wonderful, others are plain awful, and there are a lot of average days in between. And just like labour, there is often a fine line between pleasure and pain. Motherhood is an intensely rewarding experience but it is also challenging and confronting. In its good moments, it’s nourishing, fulfilling and joyous. In its bad moments it can erode your self-esteem, confuse your sense of identity and pain you with guilt.
A friend of mine once described feeling like she had “lost her sparkle” amidst the domesticity and monotony of full-time mothering. And I can certainly relate to this at times. I have found myself struggling to maintain my own identity – this is evident in the way I refer to my “present” life and my “former” life. Motherhood can be an isolating and lonely experience and if we are not mindful we risk losing a part of ourselves in our relentless pursuit to create happy lives for our children. Quite simply, we need to prioritise our own happiness.
Up until recently I felt my life was entirely one-dimensional. My sole focus was my children – to the exclusion of almost anything else. Whilst I love being a mother, and feel like it is a great privilege, I realised recently that something was “missing”. I felt like I needed something else. The parenting experts tell us that we need to find time for ourselves but the reality is this can be very hard to achieve.
I read somewhere once (I have a habit of forgetting sources), “If it is a woman’s role to give, she must be replenished too.” A wonderful expression that made me contemplate my own self-replenishment. There wasn’t any. So, slowly I have started to create some changes and add a few more layers to my life.
My writing, both in this blog, and for other publications, gives me a great sense of purpose and satisfaction. In addition to personal achievement it rewards me with connection – through my readers. I wholeheartedly believe that a sense of connection is an essential ingredient of happiness. Another dimension I have tried to add to my life is exercise. I haven’t been too successful in that pursuit, which you can read about here. But stay tuned, for a second instalment. Regular massage is also something I enjoy to ease some of the physical strains of mothering – it has great emotional benefits too.
Motherhood, particularly full-time mothering, can leave you feeling depleted. It’s an extremely draining role so it’s crucial to engage in something that replenishes you – something that is just for you.
If you are giving too much to your family and not being replenished it will catch up with you. Be kind to yourself and ensure you re-fuel in whatever way that makes you happy. It may be a hobby, a passion or a social activity or something that is purely indulgent. Every mother is the adhesive of her family. Your family will profit from you looking after yourself.
How do you make time for yourself? What replenishes you? Do you have a therapeutic ritual? I’d love to hear your comments.