Lately my daughter, who is two and a half, has been telling me she is going to grow up into a mommy. She’s pumped. She alternates between cramming her favorite baby doll into her shirt a.k.a. “tummy”, and tying it onto her body with a blanket fashioned into a carrier. She knows the origin story of each one of her fifty stuffed animals, and attends to them at every opportunity. She naps them, sings to them, feeds and bathes them. She cuddles them. She loves them.
We have the biology to nurture. Modern parenthood, though, is about so much more than that. What my daughter doesn’t do is try to juggle a pretend household, career, or partnership while attending to her pretend children. She doesn’t ponder her shifting identity or body image. She doesn’t feel guilty. For all we learn about growing up, the reinvention of ourselves when we become mothers isn’t something we are prepared for.
We are not born knowing how to be a mom in a society that relies on two incomes per household, or requires a return to a full time job within weeks of giving birth, or a career as an essential part of one’s identity, or simply moving at the pace that many of us move at, while also “being a mom.” And we have no one to learn from, because no other generation has done it yet in a way that truly works.
What gets lost is that the evolution of motherhood that we face involves an outside job and an inside job.
Communally, we focus on the outside job. It’s a biggie. The logistics and policies surrounding motherhood – parenthood – are mammoth. Even writing from the maternity leave haven of Canada, where twelve months of government supported leave is the law (with a revolutionary eighteen months in the works), paid parental leave and job security is a game changer. Jessica Shortall’s powerful TED talk on the subject is a potent reminder of the debilitating impact of current U.S. policies (or lack thereof) on America.
We talk about career pivots, workplace culture, and the labyrinth of life hacks that go into being a working mother. We even, finally, thankfully, talk about the systemic undervaluing of motherhood as a fabric of our lives.
Changes to the way we mother in the modern world are underfoot, but there is also an inside job, and it has been getting the short end of the stick. This inside job is the silent, powerful landslide of change that each woman faces in her own way as she catapults into motherhood. It could manifest as not recognizing yourself in the mirror one day, or feeling more pulled in multiple directions than you could envision in your pre-child days, or wading through the heaviness of post-partum anxiety and depression, or just not having time to tackle that beloved “mummy tummy.”
The inside job is a big fat focus on self-care, as if your life depended on it.
I’ve wondered aloud more than once (and privately more than that) why we don’t collectively value motherhood more. As I put together New Mom Dream Team – the first resource committed entirely to maternal wellbeing – I saw how the systemic issues we are trying to overcome are connected to the way we treat ourselves when we become mothers. It’s hard to get moms to take good care of themselves. The best hook I know to convince a new mother to increase her self-care is that her wellbeing is the best indicator of the wellbeing of her child, both physical and mental. It’s never about her.
I could tell you that an even ounce of self-care will have an astounding ripple effect in all aspects of your life. Some of you would believe me, or be intrigued, but many of you will be pessimistic or too busy. I believe in you – but I am also floored again and again at the resistance moms have to focusing on themselves.
I could tell you what you already know: that trying to “have it all” (code for be it all) is impossible, even miserable, if you are functioning from an empty tank.
But what strikes me today more than ever is that battling for the outside shifts without mirroring those changes internally will never get us where we want to be. It’s like trying to fill a bucket with a big hole in the bottom. If we don’t value our role as mothers enough to care for ourselves, how can we expect others to value motherhood at work
When my girl tells me she’s growing up to become a mommy, it’s because she thinks it’s the most amazing thing she could do. I hope that when she grows up, we have evolved so that she feels the same way.
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