Posted in:Good Mother
This post is part of a series of responses asking for thoughts on “good mothering.” Please email me at TheMamafesto (at) gmail (dot) com if you would like to participate!
For me, being a good mother means balancing motherhood with the rest of my identity in a way that lets all parts of me thrive.
My husband and I never thought we wanted to have kids, and then suddenly, in my mid-30s, I changed my tune. Luckily, my husband – who, like me, performs improv comedy, and is comfortable improvising not only on stage but also in life – found his way toward changing his tune, too. When I got pregnant, we were thrilled…but there was ambivalence, too. Basically, I spent much of my pregnancy freaking out that becoming a parent was going to overwhelm the rest of my identity. There’s an entire chapter in my book about my fear of becoming, as I delicately put it, “a douchebag” – one of those moms who abandons all of the other interests and relationships in her life in favor of 100% absorption in Little Precious.
Now that my daughter is almost two years old, I look back at my prenatal fretting and think, “Why did I have so little faith in myself?” Sure, balance is hard – really hard — but it’s always been hard; being a mother just puts a new set of pressures on the scales.
I shouldn’t say “just,” because balancing the energy I put into parenting with the energy I put into my career, my art, my relationship with my husband, and all the other relationships in my life – it isn’t always easy. Not at all. But in some ways, spending my entire adult life pre-motherhood focused on attaining balance was the perfect practice for becoming a mom. It gave me self-knowledge. I know, for example, that if I don’t write, I turn into a restless, anxious mess. Does my writing time look different now that I’m a mother? Sure. But part of being a good mother is honoring all of the other parts of myself — all my other needs — because doing so makes me ME, and that’s who my daughter needs. And then when I’m with her, I can be completely present. I can lose myself with her – and find new parts of myself, too – because I am not relying on her to feed all the parts of me that need feeding.
I think I’m making it sound easier than it is, and that’s not my intention. There are days when all that my husband I do is take care of her, and work, and collapse in a heap. But the further we get from her infanthood (and what a pang it still gives me to think that’s something we’re leaving behind), the more I regain a feeling of independence, and time and space and energy to write and socialize and dream outside of the role of mom.
And while motherhood definitely introduces new limits to my life (I can’t spend a Saturday afternoon vegging out in front of the TV, for example, and the money we might have spent on travel goes to daycare), I’m finding that it also liberates me in some very deep ways. Love does that. And I love being a mother. I love being HER mother. I love spending time with her more than almost anyone else.
Does that mean I don’t regularly need time alone with my husband, friends, or relatives? No way.
I’m reminded, as I so often am, of something I’ve learned from performing improv. It’s a notion that’s gotten more and more mainstream attention in recent years, so maybe you’ve heard of it: “Yes, and.” I won’t get into what it means for the art of improv, but the way I apply it to my life is this: We can hold two things to be true. I can need time with my daughter, and I can need time away from her. I can love being her mother, and I can know that being her mother also means being a woman who’s madly in love with her husband and needs time alone with him…and an artist who needs to feed herself with new experiences and the time and space to process them creatively… and, and, and.
What does it mean to be a good mother?
To me, it means simply and profoundly this: Being myself.
Amanda Hirsch is the author of Feeling My Way: Finding Motherhood Without Losing Myself. She blogs at amandahirsch.com and Having a Ball Having it All and is on Twitter at @amanda_hirsch.