Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Phan-Quang; Design: Mary Blount/Romper.

Being A Mom Doesn’t Totally Fulfill Me, And That’s OK

It’s a Monday morning, and the low rumble of whispered arguments and little feet scampering through the house jostles me awake. I have four kids — who are clearly ready to start their week — and I'm sure every mom can easily picture this same chaotic morning scene that begins with your kids waking up at the crack of dawn. The night before, I promised myself I'd wake up before the kids, hoping it would give me some time to exercise, eat breakfast, and set the tone for my day. Instead, I bury myself deeper into my fluffy bedding until I'm finally coaxed out of bed by the promise of strong coffee and a sudden pang of mommy guilt. Once I finally join my family in the living room, my day launches into a haphazard routine of preparing meals, tackling one mess after the next, refereeing sibling disputes, seizing teachable moments, and managing bedtime routines. Then I blink, and suddenly it’s Tuesday and I'm back to square one.

As a new mom, my expectations for motherhood had been shaped by what I now realize were all assumptions. I believed motherhood would be instinctual, and that my ability to care for a needy, defenseless human being after years of caring only for myself would come naturally, but a painful birth experience and the foggy, sleep deprived weeks of infancy that followed were enough to prove this theory as flat-out baloney.

Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Phan-Quang; Design: Mary Blount/Romper.

At the time, I also believed that parent-child relationships would be reciprocal, which became clear when I realized I was expecting my newborn to provide me with some kind of affirmation before he was even capable of holding his own head up. Early on, I learned that being a mother wasn’t as second-nature as I'd expected; it was ruthless work, requiring a major shift in priorities from myself to this new life. So I continued adjusting to my new identity as a mom, but as I gave more of myself over to motherhood, the identity I held from before I had kids was slowly dulled by neglect.

Soon the physical and emotional strain of ignoring self for the sake of my kids took an undeniable toll. After years of giving pieces of myself to them, I felt run down, anxious, and resentful. Then one day at the height of my anxiety, I had a revelation of sorts while unloading the dishwasher, of all places. Rushing to unload every dish, I carelessly dropped my most treasured serving bowl onto the cold, unforgiving kitchen floor and watched as it shattered, then found myself standing in disbelief. I loved that bowl. I used that bowl. As silly as it sounds, the shards on the floor felt like a metaphor for my spirit at the time: useful, delicate, dependable, and now broken. It would have been easy to sweep up the mess and throw it away, but instead I carefully picked up the pieces and put them back together. Though it wasn't perfect, an attempt at restoration gave it a new identity, cracks and all. It was that same moment that I realized even though I love my kids, being a mom doesn't totally fulfill me, and I needed to find a way to put myself back together.

Mary Blount/Romper

As a result, I started paying closer attention to my desires and fed my curiosities. I signed myself up for a pottery class, and then took it again. I sought counsel and made my mental health a priority. I spent more time with my girlfriends. I asked for help. A lot of help. I took an overnight trip with my husband, just us. I said "no" to commitments I didn't have the resources to fulfill. I stopped covering up my imperfections and let others in. And eventually, I'd renewed my confidence in myself enough to start my own business, Clove and Whole, which lets me tap into my passion for restorative work. Engaging in my creativity and desire to do good has felt therapeutic for me, and most importantly, it's helped me find a sense of fulfillment as a business owner and blogger, and not just as a mom.

Naturally, the mommy guilt still bubbles up, especially anytime this project takes me away from my family. Taking care of myself is unfamiliar territory, and I'm still navigating my way through harmonizing my work inside and outside of the home. But I'm discovering that, for me, my creative undertakings fuel a greater capacity to nurture my children with energy and joy. In the same way, my experiences as a mother influence and bring deeper meaning to my creative pursuits.

Photo: Courtesy of Naomi Phan-Quang; Design: Mary Blount/Romper.

I am finding that there really is no perfect way to be a mother, and I want to encourage all moms to apply the same kindness and enthusiasm you have for your children to yourself. All of the perfect family pictures we see on social media are not a barometer for your success as a parent, but rather they're often the result of sifting through several outtakes and heavy editing. Those images can make us second guess our own approach to motherhood, when the truth behind them is that those moms are also tackling the same challenges and triumphs to parenthood as you are.

Always remember that you are the most qualified parent for your children, because you're the person who knows them better than anyone else in this world. And as much as a clean house, extracurricular activities and organic meals can be important, what they need and want most is a well-rested, inspired, and happy you. As you fight the good fight to be the parent you want to be, embrace the parent you already are. You are wired to be totally unique, and the world is better for it.

This post is sponsored by Baby Dove.