I've spent the majority of my time, as a parent, pushing back against the idea that in order to be a "good mom," I must sacrifice every single aspect of who I am, what I want, and the things I deserve. OK, I've also spent time living in a constant state of fear (because babies and toddlers are terrifying) and never sleeping, but fighting against the "mom = martyr" stereotype is high up there. It turns out, there are things I absolutely refuse to sacrifice for my kid; things that I need and deserve to experience in order to be a well-rounded, happy, healthy, thriving human being. In fact, they're things that I need in order to be the mom my son deserves to have.
I didn't always have this (now, honestly, steadfast and unapologetic) mindset. Directly after my son was born, I refused to let anyone else care for him. I thought I was "failing" as a mother if I didn't feed him every single time he was hungry, change him every single time he was wet, hold him every single time he cried, and tend to his every single, solitary need. I was sleep deprived and depressed and exhausted, but I refused to ask for help because, well, I thought that meant I had failed. Finally, my partner stepped in, took the baby from my I-can-barely-lift-a-thimble arms, and told me to sleep. He reminded that he was a parent, too; that I do not, and will not, do this thing called parenthood on my own; that I cannot take care of my son if I don't take care of myself, first.
That moment solidified what I now consider to be my foundation of motherhood. I made the silent promise (and repeat that promise when necessary) to never allow myself to get to that point again. I will care for myself; I will demand things for myself; I will go after the things I want, separate from my son, because I deserve to. I still have a life that doesn't involve motherhood, and that life is worth living, too. So, with that in mind and because we need to put this "all good mothers must sacrifice themselves to an unhealthy extent" conversation to bed, here are just a few things I refuse to give up for my son.
My career has always mattered to me. It mattered long before I met my partner. It mattered long before my partner and I found out I was pregnant. It continued to matter during that pregnancy, even when I was fired for being pregnant and even when growing another human being in my body made finding additional work more difficult. It mattered before my son was born and it mattered a few days later, when I started working-from-home; writing and meeting deadlines while my newborn son nursed.
I "joke" that my job was my first baby, but it really is true. I nurtured my career, invested time, money, energy, sleepless nights, and early mornings into it. I've cultivated a space in the workforce that makes me feel validated, worthwhile, and gives me a true sense of self and purpose. Abandoning my career would, for me, feel like abandoning my son. So, never going to happen.
Now, will I miss out on certain aspects of my job (usually the perks, like holiday parties and happy hour "meetings") because I have my kid at home? Of course. Will I have to rearrange schedules, re-book a meeting, leave work early, and sometimes show up late, because my son needed extra time, attention, and care? Absolutely. However, I will not quit my job in the name of motherhood. It was there before my son was born, and (I hope) it will be there when he leaves and starts a job — or whatever it is he decides to do — on his own.
Of course, some friendships just end for one reason or another. They either burn out in some spectacular, usually hurtful way, or they just quietly diminish until you realize someone who was once so very important to you, isn't.
Still, I am lucky enough to say that there are a few friendships I cherish with an intensity that my son hasn't "stolen" from me. There are some friends who were there through every horrible, wonderful, difficult, easy, joyous, and mournful part of my life, and to tell those friends they're no longer a priority because I'm a mother is to do an extreme disservice to them, to our friendship, and to myself.
For example, two of my best friends (who, for the record, do not have children) were in the room with me the day I pushed my son into the world. It mattered that, along with my partner, they were there. They've been there every step of the way since, and motherhood won't be changing that anytime soon.
My Romantic Relationship
I love my son immensely and there are more than a few occasions in which I will, for lack of a better word, essentially "choose" my son over my partner. After all, my son's father is a grown-ass man. My partner doesn't need me in the same ways my son does, so my son's needs do take a certain amount of precedence over the needs of my significant other.
However, that doesn't mean my partner no longer matters. In fact, he matters greatly, as without him my son wouldn't exist and without him I'm not sure I would be the mother I am. I rely on him in a way I didn't when we were just dating, so I am acutely aware that he is an essential, important part of my life. Our relationship is just as important to me as it was the day he told me he loved me; the day we found out I was pregnant; the day he held our son for the first time; and every instance in between. I won't ignore him and call it "good parenting." While he is an adult, he is still a human being who needs conversation, intimacy, understanding, and everything I need and want and deserve in a relationship.
My Sense Of Self
It can be so damn easy to lose yourself in motherhood; to wake up one morning and question who you are because you realize you are completely overwhelmed with diapers and breastfeeding and varying colors of your baby's poop.
Still, I will not allow motherhood to steal myself from, well, myself. I was a human being before I became a mother, and procreating didn't magically rearrange my DNA. Motherhood does not, and will not, define me; it's simply one aspect of who I am.
My Mental Health
I've noticed that most moms say phrases like, "My kid is driving me crazy," or, "I'm about to lose it," and, "I can't remember the last time I did something for myself," in this disturbingly proud way. It's as if a deteriorating mental health is a badge of honor amongst mothers; that in order to prove you are doing all you can to provide for your child, you need to let people know that you're suffering.
My mental health matters, and I will not whittle it down into a proverbial toothpick in the name of parenthood. If I need a break, I will demand it. If I need to spend some time alone, I will tell my partner to take over or I will call a sitter. If I need to do whatever it is I think I need to do for my mental health, I will do it. After all, I can't parent my son the way he deserves to be parented, if I'm "losing it."
My Physical Health
OK, I will admit: to a certain extent, your physical health will suffer in the name of parenthood; especially when you're a new mother and experiencing those first few postpartum months. I mean, sleep is few and far between, and the detrimental effects of minimal sleep are no joke.
Still, I make sure to get my sleep when I can. I make sure to get my butt to the gym. I make sure to do the little things in order to take care of myself. The few times I've been sick have made it abundantly clear that I can't take care of my son if I don't take care of myself, first. Plus, I deserve to be healthy and feel powerful and wonderful; mom or not.
Being someone's mom doesn't wipe my identity slate clean, dear reader. I am a mom, but that is not all I am. I'm also a friend, a daughter, a sister, a partner, a writer, an editor, a feminist, an activist, an avid and probably unhealthy fan of The Office, and someone who knows way too much about Jacques Derrida.
I am still me. It's just that, when my son entered the world, I was able to expand another, specific side of me. One day, my son will go out into the world and he will have the beautiful, painful task of finding out who he is. I will encourage him and support him in that journey, but I will make sure I haven't lost myself in the process. I want to tell him that I know who I am, as his mother, because I never lost sight of who I was before I was his mother.
Ha! Who am I kidding? I lost that long ago, probably around the time I threw up in the middle of a restaurant because I couldn't make it to the bathroom in time (thank you, morning sickness). Then again, it could have been the moment my son pulled my skirt down at the (very public) playground. Then again, I can definitely blame the time I cleared the room during a work meeting, because pregnancy farts are no joke. Of course, the time I had seven strangers starting at my vagina while I pooped on the delivery table, could have definitely killed any remaining dignity I may or may not have had.
So, yeah, my dignity? I'll definitely sacrifice that (and sleep, and a slew of other things when the situation calls for it) in the name of my son's happiness, health, and overall wellness. However, will I buy into the dangerous cultural rhetoric that convinced mothers in order to be a "good parent" they must sacrifice every single bit of themselves? Hard pass, my friends. Hard pass.