Do you remember those ads for baby milk, laundry detergent, and toothpaste they had on TV in the 80s, where the mother was always dressed in white and happily smiling with perfect teeth at a chubby blonde baby in perfect bliss?
That’s exactly how I imagined my life would be when I first became a mom. I had these images in my head of spending hours with my baby, watching her grow, gurgling back at her and lovingly changing her diaper while wiping milk off my crisp white shirt, and smiling with perfect white teeth.
That’s not how things panned out.
First of all, I didn’t get perfect white teeth after delivery, second of all, I hate wearing white collared shirts, and third of all, most of the time I was cranky, sleep-deprived and trying to figure out why the hell my baby was crying after having been fed, changed and napped.
The few moments that I did have where both baby and I happened to be calm and happy were great, and I admit every time I had a moment, I would tell myself in the back of my mind, ‘oh here it is! The bliss with baby begins!’
And then I would wonder, ok, I smiled at her, I gurgled at her, we had a good fifteen minutes of staring deeply into each other’s eyes. Now what? By the time she was six months old, I had the most terrible thought:
Babies are boring!
I was bored out of my brain. Now what?
By the time baby number two came around, the novelty of child birth had worn off and I found myself bored in the company of an infant by the time he was 3 months. I wanted to leave my son with the nanny and get out and do something. Read a book, go for a bike ride, write, work, anything that was more stimulating.
But the guilt was horrible. Every time I left him I felt like a terrible mother. Like I should be home reading to him while he nursed and playing Mozart to him while he napped, all with a sparkling white smile plastered on my face.
I was torn between wanting to live my own life, and feeling like I needed to sacrifice all for my kids. It wasn’t until one day, while I was crying my woes to my mom over the phone that she said to me:
“You’ve an educated, intelligent woman who has accomplished so much, how can you expect an infant to provide you with enough daily stimulation to keep you interested?”
And that was a pivotal moment for me. Yes! Exactly! Why was I expecting a little baby to provide my brain with the stimulation and challenge I needed? Where had that expectation come from? Damn laundry detergent ads.
Although I absolutely love love love being a mother and spending time with my children, the truth, it just isn’t enough for me to feel whole. And while that thought used to induce so much oozing guilt in my soul, I now realize that a happy mother means happy children.
With baby number three, I leave her almost daily for a couple hours while I get out and get my work done, read, take classes, meet with intelligent human life or give workshops. I leave her to go feed my brain really, and I manage to do it with only a trace of guilt about leaving my child with the nanny. How lucky I am to have such a luxury actually.
And you know what? When I come home, I have satisfied my hunger for mental stimulation and I’m more than happy spending the entire afternoon gurgling at my infant, roaring at my son and chasing him pretending I’m a dinosaur, and wearing diapers on my head to make my daughter laugh.
Four years and three children later, I’m finally living the ‘happy Mama, happy children mantra’ and I’m doing it mostly guilt free.
There are so many instances in our lives that are dictated by unconscious expectations of ourselves and assumptions of what is right and wrong. It just takes a little pause sometimes to redefine your needs and expectations of yourself, to chip away at the dried layers of social and cultural conditioning so that you can see beneath it all and truly respect every persona within you, the mother, the woman, the wife, the daughter, so they all get exactly what they need, when they need it.